How long can a period last?
2 day periods? 1 day periods? Or maybe even 2 periods in a month? Your period can continue to surprise you and throw unexpected circumstances your way. But what does this mean and how long can a period really last?
Desperately checking your underwear to see when your period finally ends? Or maybe you’re anxiously waiting for it to start? Periods can sometimes seem to last a lifetime or not come at all; making it hard to plan ahead. Knowing exactly how long your period will last can nearly be impossible to predict precisely; making it difficult to plan certain activities, outfits or even holidays.
So exactly how long should my period be?
Generally speaking, periods work on a monthly cycle from around 21 up to 40 days1. Menstruation (your period!) then occurs within this cycle for around 4–8 days. The day your period starts is calculated as the first day of your menstrual cycle. As you can see, there’s a wide range of what’s considered to be a “regular” menstrual cycle – so try not to compare specific timelines or days with others as all our bodies and menstrual cycles are different!
On the other hand, sometimes your periods can be completely irregular and may not follow any specific pattern at all! You may experience spotting, particularly heavy periods, 1 day periods or maybe even 2 periods in a month (menstrual cycle). This may seem unsettling and worrying at the time, but often it’s just a sign of your body adjusting. Your period should eventually regulate itself naturally.
How long does your first period last?
Again, there’s no universal number for how long your first period could last for – we’re all different! However, it’s worth knowing that your first period will most likely be very light and only last a couple of days.
This is because your body is learning how to adapt to new levels of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone (which are produced during puberty).2 But after a few months your period should regulate itself and form a consistent pattern. For more information, check out our page on everything to do with your first period.
Of course, if you do persistently experience extremely irregular periods over an extended length of time, or are just worried about the nature of your periods, you can always book an appointment with your local GP so that they can best advise you and come up with a solution for you if needed.
Factors that can affect the length of your period
The length of your period can change constantly over time, and sometimes there may not be a specific explanation for why your period is suddenly longer or shorter. A woman’s body doesn’t run like clockwork so you shouldn’t expect it to!
However, hormone levels are generally the main reason as to why the length of your period may change. This is because the hormones progesterone and oestrogen control your period as when the level of these hormones fall, menstruation occurs.
Read on to find out more about which specific factors can affect your hormone levels.
Drastic changes in hormone levels occur during puberty (an increase in oestrogen) around the ages of 8–143 and then again during perimenopause and menopause (a decrease in oestrogen and progesterone) around the ages of 45–554. So irregular or frequent periods as well as spotting are common during these times in your life as your body is adjusting to new levels of hormones, and it may take some time to strike the right balance.
Some contraception can also affect the length of your period. For example, methods such as the hormonal coil or the implant contain the hormone progesterone. This added progesterone in your body thins the lining of the womb, and can cause your period to be lighter and shorter, as there is less lining to shed as period blood.5
For more specific information on how each different contraceptive method can affect your period and period length, head over to our article on how contraception can affect your period.
Hormones can change from a variety of internal as well as external factors. Health conditions such as endometriosis (which tends to increase your period length due to an increased amount of uterus lining to shed6) and PCOS (which tends to decrease your period length or stop periods altogether as eggs aren’t released regularly) can all change the duration and frequency of your periods.
Similarly, external factors such as stress can also affect the length of your periods. So try your best to listen to your body and give it time to relax. If you find that your irregular periods continue to happen, then you can always check in with your GP for some medical advice.
How can I manage the length of my periods?
There’s no failsafe way you can manage the length of your periods, but there are definitely things you can do to make it more easy to deal with, such as using birth control or making use of helpful tools like our period tracker. There are also some ways you can temporarily stop or postpone your period.
In general though, it’s a good idea to be organised and prepared for your periods by noting down PMS symptoms or period days in a diary or on a period tracker, so that you can keep track of your period patterns. It’s also helpful to keep some towels at hand just in case you experience your period at an unexpected time!
So there we have it, everything you need to know about how long a period can last, what can affect the length of your periods and how you can help manage the duration of your periods. It may be inconvenient and stressful not knowing exactly when your period could start or finish, but try and relax and give your body time to adjust to a regular pattern.
If you’re experiencing persistently long or heavy periods, you can always go and see your GP so that they advise you as why that may be and provide you with a solution.
Now that we’ve learned about how long a period can last, why not broaden your period knowledge further and check out our other great articles on period poop and why you may gain weight during your cycle.