By Mia Abrahams
Lots of things have changed since I got my first period — the music I was listening to (The OC Soundtrack, Volume 3), the guys I was crushing on (Seth Cohen), and the important issues of my time. (Are Seth and Summer ever going to get back together? Is Trey going to come out of a coma after being shot by Marissa??) And yes, I hear you — clearly 2005 Mia could have done with some post-2016 election Teen Vogue in her life. But not only do our interests change as we grow older, so do our bodies.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: there’s nothing wrong with aging, even if there’s a whole market dedicated to aggressively concealing the effects of aging past 30. Learning about why these changes are happening will help prepare you for when that time comes, so you can adapt — not avoid.
So, being the #PeriodPros that we are, we’re going to break down what happens to your period and reproductive system in your teens, 30s, 40s, and beyond! (Note: This article is more like a general guide — remember that especially when it comes to periods, one size does *not* fit all. Different choices like what birth control you use, whether you’ve had a child, and even your genetics can affect what goes on with your flow at any age.)
While in your teens, your period might take a couple of months (or even years) to get into a regular rhythm, but it should calm down by your 20s into a ~25-30 day cycle.
Like a lot of things in your 20s (jobs, boyfriends, girlfriends, apartments, haircuts), your period can be a li’l transient. Why? For one, you might be taking hormonal birth control, which can definitely have an affect on when you get your period, it’s consistency, and even your PMS symptoms. Not to speak for all of us, but being a twenty-something is also uniquely stressful, and can exacerbate irregular hormone issues.
If you find that your period starts becoming really irregular or stops altogether, it’s definitely worth checking in with your gynecologist to see if something else going on (like PCOS). In general, whether you’re sexually active or not, you should definitely start seeing a gyno annually by your 20s!
While, functionally, things might still look and feel the same, your ovaries start to slow down a little bit in your 30s. As a little fertility refresher — you’re born with all the eggs you’ll ever have, and pretty much start to lose them immediately. By the time you hit 35, your fertility typically starts to decline. These hormonal changes—especially producing less estrogen—can definitely mess with your PMS symptoms that you’ve been learning (or trying) to love your whole life prior.
If you choose to have a baby, as many do in their 30s, besides losing your periods for nine (or more) months, you’ll also experience hormonal changes associated with going off birth control, growing a human inside of you, and the roller coaster that is postpartum life.
Breastfeeding, for example, can delay the return of ovulation so your period might take some time to resume (but not always, so don’t skip out on birth control). If you decide not to breastfeed, or once you stop, your periods should come back in about 4-8 weeks. For some people, their period will be the same as it was before, but for others, they might have to get to know their flow all over again. (Having a vagina is fun!)
Your post-baby period could be longer, shorter, heavier, lighter — you could even find your PMS symptoms are different. This is because the endometrial lining, which is shed during a period, basically undergoes an HGTV marathon’s worth of home renovations after childbirth, so the experience just might feel different. This might be especially intense if you were on hormonal birth control before you got pregnant, because hormones also thin out your endometrial lining. Remember — checking in with your doctor whenever any changes are making you uncomfortable is a-okay!
In your late 30s, if you start to experience longer gaps between periods, this could be a sign that you’re entering perimenopause...
40s, 50s, and beyond!
You can read more about perimenopause and menopause over here, but to recap, there’s actually a range of symptoms like irregular or missed periods, hot flashes, moodiness, and vaginal dryness that start to show up *before* you actually experience menopause (officially defined by the lack of a period for 12 consecutive months). Perimenopause sometimes begins as early as your 30s, but typically will start during your 40s.
In a way, your period will go out kinda the way it came in — in spurts and sputters. Some months it might miss the memo when no ovulation occurs, some months you might get your period like clockwork. Your brain can get caught up in this ovulatory confusion and get flooded with FSH and LH, which will cause your periods, when they do turn up, to be realllll heavy. Not only are your periods irregular and heavy, you’re also hit with other menopausal symptoms. These changes might sound intense, but that’s also why menopause tends gets a bad rap. But just like puberty, arming yourself with the info you need to navigate this new phase will help.
Basically, your menstrual journey is like a bloody snowflake. Everyone’s is different!
So tell us, what changes have *you* noticed in your period and PMS symptoms as you’ve gotten older?