Menstruation is one of the hassles of being a woman. You could suffer from cramps that can become extremely painful. You tend to get really moody and irritable when it is near your period. Blood stains could ruin your favorite pair of pants. Flow could leak out of your pad at an inconvenient time. You could lose your tampon while it is inserted. You can’t swim without worrying about staining the water. You can’t have sex while you have it. (Well, you could, but it won’t be pretty.)
It must be super to experience a sudden light or short menstrual period. Having a light or scanty period (hypomenorrhea) is not a problem in itself but it could point to a more serious condition.
Normal menstruation lasts for 3 to 7 days, and you will lose around 50 to 150 ml of blood, which is actually less than your regular tea cup. A light period would last around 2 days or less and you would only lose 30 to 50 ml of blood. Instead of a normal, watery red flow with clots, it could appear as brown streaks of drying blood or pink having the consistency of strawberry jam.
There are Several Possible Reasons For Light Periods
- Beginning menstruation
Even if a young girl has had her first proper menstruation, it is possible for her to experience irregular or light flow or spotting while the menstrual cycle is still in the process of establishing its correct rhythm.
Girls who have not begun menstruating may notice some dark stain in their underwear before they experience a true menstruation. It is actually old cells from the uterus being expelled in preparation for their first period. This spotting can be considered as a light period.
Along with nausea, vomiting, changes in your breast, fatigue and frequent urination, the sure sign of a suspected pregnancy is not having your regular period. However, some women would actually continue to have short, light, irregular periods early in their pregnancy.There is a danger that this would mask a miscarriage.In the beginning stage of pregnancy, a recently fertilized egg will attach itself onto the uterine wall in a process called implantation which can cause a little spotting mixed with your vaginal mucus or discharge which you can mistake as the start of your period. Women who usually experience lighter flow are not necessarily less fertile than women who have regular menstrual flow.
- The mid-cycle mini period
Vaginal discharge and menstruation are actually controlled by the rise and fall of estrogen and progesterone in your system. Estrogen levels are at its peak during ovulation and at its ebb during menstruation. However, there is a point when the egg comes out of the ovary that estrogen levels drop shortly due to the appearance of progesterone with the egg.This confuses the uterus into thinking it is time to menstruate, and will start to do so for a short time until estrogen levels start rising again until the end of ovulation. This means it is possible to have two light periods in one month.
- Breastfeeding after pregnancy
While breastfeeding women are unlikely to experience a regular menstrual period. Women who breastfeed during the day as well as the night, will have their regular menstruation return only after as much as 15 months after birth. This is due to the hormone prolactin which stimulates the production of milk, as well as disrupt the normal production of estrogen. Any changes to the frequency of breastfeeding may already lead to experiencing light periods or spotting. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of delaying a woman’s return to fertility.While a baby still needs to suckle the mother is prevented from being fertile to produce another baby that will compete for her milk.
- Hormonal contraceptives
These are contraceptives which work by influencing your hormone levels. Women on birth control medication may experience light periods or no period at all. Basically, anything that screws with your estrogen and other hormones which are responsible in regulating your period will consequently cause reduced menstrual flow.The main mechanism of hormonal contraceptives is to prevent the ovary from releasing eggs. If there is no egg to fertilize then there is no way that a baby can be made and, therefore, no way for you to get pregnant. Birth control pills are mostly made of synthetic estrogen and synthetic progesterone. If the uterus does not receive the signal of the rise of estrogen level then ovulation does not occur. Similarly, if the estrogen level does not drop at all then menstruation does not occur or is very limited.The synthetic estrogen in the pill ensures that the hormone level in your uterus remains the same, so there is no ovulation as well as no menstruation. This means menstruation can only occur at the time when birth control pills are not taken, or the so-called extra 7 placebo pills included in the monthly birth control pill pack is taken. Newer brands of birth control medication or as it is called, continuous birth control, actually cause you to menstruate only a few times every year or not at all.The makers of these revealed that it was already possible for women not to menstruate at all ever since the birth control pill first became widely available. If you continue taking regular birth control pills during the “rest period” between monthly birth control pill packs, or take regular birth control pills instead of the 7 placebo pills included in the pack, then you won’t menstruate at all.The makers revealed that the 7 placebo pills were intentionally put in to allow women to menstruate, so that they could set their mind at ease that they are truly not pregnant. They say that there really is no need for women to menstruate at all. However, effects of non-menstruation in the long term have yet to be studied. Similarly, stopping taking birth control pills will also cause irregularities as the body adjusts back to its natural rhythm.
Stress can either lessen your menstrual flow, make it unusually late or skip it entirely. It acts on the hypothalamus which controls the pituitary gland, which controls all other glands, including the ones in the ovaries that produce estrogen which dictates the menstrual flow. Work shift changes and lack of sleep also contribute to irregular flow.
When you are on a very rigid diet, your body might lack the nutrients to produce red blood cells. Instead of blood being expelled during menstruation, the much-needed blood stays in the starving body to keep it alive. This is also the case for those who suffer eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, as well as those who are suffering from malnutrition or anemia.
- Excessive exercise
While exercise is beneficial to circulation to help reduce or remove cramps and bloating during menstruation, as well as releasing endorphins to alleviate the pain of headaches, fatigue and irritability, excessive exercise, on the other hand, will reduce menstrual flow.Much like the effect of dieting and malnutrition, your body will conserve the nutrients and energy expended during exercise for survival instead of squandering it on menstruation.
Even in moderate amounts alcohol can actually cause your estrogen level to increase and thus cause irregularities in your menstrual flow.
Smoking can also alter estrogen levels. Smokers experience shorter periods as well as more painful PMS.
Most of anti-depressant medication has prolactin, the same hormone that stimulates milk production in breastfeeding mothers and thus suppress menstruation as mentioned above.
- Disorders affecting women’s hormonal levels
Hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease (disorder of the pituitary gland), disorders of the adrenal gland, liver metabolism, primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and the like affect the level of estrogen and progesterone and other hormones, and, therefore, cause lighter periods.
The presence of vaginal infections can be seen if you have light yellow discharge before periods accompanied by itching and foul odor. (Although normal, uninfected vaginal mucus can turn yellow on exposure to air.)Some common infections are bacterial vaginosis, and sexually transmitted diseases such as trichomoniasis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. What actually gives the vaginal mucus the yellow color is actually the white blood cells fighting the infection. Even though they have no bearing on your menstrual cycle, they cause itchiness and inflammation, which could lead to some bleeding. This appears as brown spotting in your vaginal discharge which you could mistake as a light period.
If you have a female relative who normally experiences light flow, chances are you do too.
Fat cells can actually produce estrone, which is similar to estrogen and thus cause havoc to the menstrual cycle.
- Uterine Cancer and other growths
Uterine cancer is known to cause heavier and longer menstrual flow. However, it can also cause blockage and irregular bleeding in between periods which can be mistaken as a light period.Unusual growths such as cervical polyps, fibroids and genital warts can similarly cause abnormally heavy flow as well as block menstrual flow and cause light bleeding or spotting in between periods. Left untreated they can develop into cancer. The growths affect fertility as well by preventing the implantation of the fetus to the uterine wall.
It is possible that the menstrual flow is trapped within the uterus. Not only can this lead to hypomenorrhea (light period) but also to amenorrhea (no period) as well. Restrictions or blockage to the flow may be caused by abnormalities in the passageways, such as the following:
1. An imperforate hymen, or a hymen lacking a normal opening
2. Transverse vaginal septum. This is a congenital condition, present from birth.
3. Labial adhesions, or the labia sticking together. This may be caused by vaginal inflammation or irritation, trauma or childhood sexual abuse. Surgery may be needed to treat this.
4. Atresia or agenesis. It is a defect where the vagina or cervix has failed to form properly before birth.
5. Abnormal growths such as polyps, as stated above.
If you undergo a partial hysterectomy instead of a full hysterectomy, part of the cervix is left intact and this remaining tissue can be shed as part of your menstrual cycle. However, since there is less of the former uterus to shed, then the amount is less. These mini or light periods will continue for months before completely disappearing.
As mentioned, it is the estrogen level that mainly controls menstruation. As one grows older and nears menopause, the body produces less or irregular amounts estrogen. This means lesser and more irregular menstrual flow.
What Can You Do to Return Your Period Back to Normal?
1. Make sure to be physically active. Take long walks daily.
2. Avoid undue stress. Do not subject your body to crash diets.
3. Juniper and marjoram aromatherapy oils can help stimulate hormone production.
4. Consult your gynecologist for any possible signs of vaginal infection. Along with this, be careful with whom you have intercourse with and use condoms to lessen the risk of infection.
5. Consult an endocrinologist for possible issues regarding hormone imbalance.
6. Using a panty liner or pad to observe the changes in your flow can be helpful for your doctor to make a diagnosis.