Throughout my life, I‘ve been one of those lucky women who never really suffered period pain. At school I never missed games, and I could never relate to my friends who had heavy flow, or intense sugar cravings. In later life, I could never blame the urge to injure my husband on PMT like some of my friends!
I started my periods at 13, and it’s actually quite an embarrassing story. The House I was in at boarding school had an odd policy concerning sanitary towels: no girls were allowed to use panty pads. So, when I noticed the bleeding, I rushed to the bathroom and got a tampon. I remember that I hadn’t inserted the tampon fully so it was very painful and I ended up walking out of the bathroom and past the other girls in a most peculiar way!
I started taking the pill at the age of 15 (without my parents’ knowledge) and I stayed on it until early 1999. In the spring, I fell pregnant with Anaïs. After she was born I decided to have a Mirena coil (IUD) fitted. Although it doesn’t suit all women, for me it was the best thing since sliced bread. I had a bit of spotting each month but my period was exactly 3 or 4 days (4 at the most). I had the Mirena coil for a few years. I didn’t even notice that my periods were coming to an end until my then-partner reminded me that I hadn’t had one for quite a few months.
When my periods finally stopped, the reality of it did hit me. I remember thinking, “Wow, it’s truly happened now.” I felt a tinge of sadness as even though at the age of 49 I didn’t want to have another child, the choice had been taken away from me and it was now out of my hands.
At that point, I was suffering with all the other symptoms of the menopause including anxiety, foggy brain, joint pain, weight gain and night sweats. I went to a menopause clinic and was advised to take the Mirena coil out as it was no longer needed. The coil has to be replaced every 4 years and so it was time for it to be taken out in any case.
What Causes Irregular Periods?
Because your periods are regulated by oestrogen and progesterone, the fluctuations in hormone levels that signal the start of perimenopause will cause fluctuations in your periods. While the menopause leads to a depletion of oestrogen and progesterone, this depletion doesn’t happen steadily or slowly. In the same way, the consistency of your periods will tend to vary from more frequent to rare and the flow from lighter to heavier, until they finally stop. The menopause is the exact point in your life when you have stopped having periods for a total of 12 months.
My top tips
Keeping a light pad or tampon in your handbag will ensure that you’re prepared – even when you least expect it. Sometimes after months without a period, it might be tempting to assume you’re done for good, but it’s always safer and less stressful to be prepared.
Try and get some sleep
Your hormones are already in flux and so it’s best not to add any additional factors that will further shake them up. A good night’s sleep will do wonders to replenish your body and help lower your rate of stress and anxiety. In return, your hormones will have less reason to spike and drop, which will help regulate your period.
Consider the causes
While irregular periods are common for women approaching the menopause, it is important to bear in mind other underlying issues that may be the cause, especially if you don’t have any other perimenopausal symptoms, or are very young. Other causes of irregular periods include benign polyps, endometrial atrophy, endometrial hyperplasia and rarely, cervical cancer. Consult your GP for regular check-ups.
As a footnote: do also bear in mind that irregular periods can make it difficult to keep track of cycles, and even if you don’t have a period for some months, you may still be able to fall pregnant. Do make sure to take precautions until your periods have completely ceased for 12 months.