What are periods?

Are you experiencing your first period or curious about what to expect? It’s a natural part of development for individuals with female anatomies, and there’s no need to worry.

Keep in mind that everyone’s experience varies, including when it begins, how long it lasts, and how it feels. Stay prepared and practise self-care when it happens.

So, what exactly is a period?

A period is when you bleed from your vagina (the blood passing out of your uterus) in preparation for pregnancy. It usually happens once a month, though this can vary from person to person. It can last between 2-7 days. 

When you first start getting your period, it can take a while for your menstrual cycle to become regular. If you’ve only just begun getting your period, don’t stress if it’s not so easy to predict when your period is due. 

  • If you want to track your period each month to monitor your cycle and symptoms, check out these period-tracking apps.
What is the ‘menstrual cycle’?

We use the term “menstrual cycle” to describe the recurring changes that occur in the female reproductive system, including the shedding of the uterine lining (menstruation) and the release of an egg (ovulation), which prepare the body for a potential pregnancy.

A period is part of the menstrual cycle and it usually occurs once a month. Your menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones ‘oestrogen’ and ‘progesterone’. 

How does the menstrual cycle work? 

Basically you have 2 ovaries, and each one holds many, many tiny eggs. During your menstrual cycle, hormones make the eggs in your ovaries mature (when an egg is “mature”, that means it’s ready to be fertilised by a sperm cell). 

Your body will release a mature egg each month. Meanwhile, hormones will create a thick lining in your uterus, made of tissue and blood. If the released egg is not fertilised (and by that we mean, you do not become pregnant) the lining is released through the vagina – aka your period arrives!

There are two stages of the menstrual cycle to remember: menstruation and ovulation.  


Menstruation is when you have your period. That’s when blood and tissue from your uterus comes out of your vagina. It usually happens every month.


Ovulation occurs about halfway through your menstrual cycle (usually about 14 days before your period starts, but everyone’s different). This is when your hormones will send a message to your ovaries to release a mature egg. Once the egg leaves your ovary, it travels through one of your fallopian tubes to your uterus.

Most people don’t feel it when they ovulate. If you do, some common symptoms may be:

  • Bloating
  • Spotting (specs of blood on your underwear)
  • Pain in your lower belly that you may only feel on one side

You have the highest chance of getting pregnant on the days leading up to ovulation. These are called “fertile days”. It can be very hard to predict when fertile days are happening, so if you don’t want to get pregnant, always use contraception regardless of where you are in your menstrual cycle.

What is ‘menopause’?

Between the age of 50-60 years, people with uteruses may start to experience changes similar to puberty in some ways, except their body starts to make less oestrogen hormones. Over time, they will gradually become less fertile, until their period eventually stops altogether. This process is called menopause, and it’s completely natural. (Some people also experience ‘early menopause’ due to illness such as cancer or genetic factors.)

Worried about your periods?

If you’re worried about your period, get support. Speak to a doctor if:

  • Your periods don’t settle down to a regular monthly cycle within about a year from your first period
  • You experience awful menstrual cramps and pain, especially if it comes with nausea and vomiting
  • Excessive bleeding 
  • If you haven’t had a period for more than two months
  • If your cycle is always very short (less than 24 days)
  • If you are bleeding more than 7 days out of the month
  • If you bleed a little bit (spotting) at a time of the month other than the beginning or end of your period
  • Unusual discharge or smells

If you are worried about anything at all to do with your periods, go and see your doctor to make sure everything is okay.

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We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the lands on which Rosie has been created, the Wurundjeri Woiwurrung people of the Kulin Nation, and pay our respects to elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

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