Are my menstrual cycles “normal”?

When it comes to personal matters such as menstruation and bowel habits, most of us only have our own experience as a point of reference. This means that it can be hard to know if you are “normal” or not.

Here are some concrete information and numbers that should help you to determine whether your menstrual cycle is “normal” or not. 

How many days between periods?

We count from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period. A “textbook” cycle is 28 days long. Cycles shorter than 26 days or longer than 30 days are less that optimal. 

How many days of flow?

Ideally, flow should last from four to five days. Periods lasting less than three days or more than seven days are less than optimal. 

Although a couple of hours of spotting before your period begins in earnest is ok, you should not have days of spotting prior to the start of an actual flow. At the end of your period, it is normal for your flow to taper off for a day or two. You should not, however, have more than a couple of days of spotting at the end of your period. 

How much flow?

A normal and healthy range of menstrual bleeding is between 25 and 90 milliliters. Typically 70% of this amount is passed within the first two days of flow and 90% is passed within the first three days of flow. 

Next time you have a period, jot down how many pads or tampons you use and whether or not they are fully or partially soaked. If you use a menstrual cup, make note of how full it is each time you empty it. At the end of your period use the values below to estimate your total volume of menstrual flow. 

Fully soaked “light” pad or tampon 3 mL
Fully soaked “medium” pad or tampon 4 mL
Fully soaked “heavy” pad or tampon 8 mL
Fully soaked “super” pad or tampon 12 mL
Full menstrual cup 30 mL

Color of flow?

Normal menstrual flow is red, although it may range from bright red to a deep burgundy color. Flow that is pink, brown, or black is less than optimal. 

Clots?

It is not uncommon to pass small (the size of a pea or smaller) clots during your heaviest flow. Some women pass much larger clots — the size of a grape, a ping pong ball, or even a baseball — this is not considered normal. 

Vaginal discharge?

In the days leading up to ovulation (14 days after the start of menstruation in a “textbook” cycle), it is normal to notice mucus on your toilet paper or underwear. Often this mucus starts out looking and feeling creamy and then takes on a slippery, stretchy texture similar to raw egg white as ovulation approaches. Once ovulation takes place, this mucus either disappears altogether or changes abruptly in texture, becoming sticky or tacky (like rubber cement).

Normal mucus is white, clear, or sometimes very slightly blood-tinged (right around ovulation). It should have a neutral odor. Discharge that is yellow, green, foamy, curd-light; has a strong or objectionable odor; or is associated with itching, burning, or inflammation of the vagina or vulva is not normal and merits a visit to your healthcare provider.