Written by Isobel Davidson
We have it drilled into us from our early teens to expect our period to arrive every month, but for many women, the reality of their own menstrual cycle can be quite different. This article explores how serious a problem late periods are and some of the reasons it might be happening to you.
How Late Can Periods Be?
You may not love the bleeding, mood changes, or cramps but there’s something reassuring about your period’s regular monthly appearance, it’s often a good indicator that your body is functioning normally. So, it’s easy to be worried or confused when your cycle isn't its usual punctual self. You’re left asking: why is my period late?
What Is The Length Of The Average Menstrual Cycle?
The NHS describes the normal length of a period cycle as 28 days but this should be seen as only a loose guideline. Don’t panic if you find your average cycle is anywhere between 21 and 40 days. You may even find it varies from month to month. A period tracker may help you find your unique pattern as what’s late for one person might be a normal variation for the next.
Of course, if your period is around four or five days late it’s usually a good idea to check for the most obvious disruption to your cycle: pregnancy. A quick test could rule out this explanation.
How Late Can Periods Be Without Being Pregnant?
There are some very common reasons for a late period that shouldn’t cause any particular concern. Especially in the first two years after your period begins, when you're still experiencing puberty, it's completely normal for your cycle to be irregular. Don’t worry, it will settle into a pattern over time.
For those who are further down the line, your period is also more likely to be late as you enter perimenopause. A drop in oestrogen can disrupt ovulation, and therefore your cycle.
What contraception you’re taking can also affect if your period is late or missed. Often switching from one form of hormonal contraception to another can lead to changes in the length of the menstrual cycle.
If you happen to be an athlete and training hard your period may become irregular or even stop altogether - this is NOT ok and you should seek help from your GP and do not be dismissed with “well if you're training that hard it will happen”. It is important to have periods for hormonal development and not having them for long periods (excuse the pun!) can be damaging to you.
Is It Normal For Periods To Come Early or Late?
There are also some other reasons for irregular periods, often linked to disruption in your body’s careful hormone balance.
Some people find their bodies are particularly sensitive to stress. Pressures from exams, work deadlines, or significant life events may all throw off your normal cycle. Even jet lag can throw things out of kilter temporarily.
Other, more physical, changes can also disrupt your menstrual cycle. Sudden changes in weight, especially weight loss, are likely to upset your hormones and cause a delay in your period. Equally, high body weight may also be causing changes to your period’s regularity. Both are putting your body under physical stress and your body tries to cope by delaying your period.
In considering why your period’s punctuality has changed it’s important to consider how well you’re eating and your exercise routine. Often under-fuelling can stress the body and cause delays in your period. Similarly, too much exercise can alter your periods.
If you find your period is very long, suddenly always late, or extremely irregular then it’s a good idea to consult a doctor for their personal recommendation.
It’s important to note all these factors are very individual. Some people might find their hormonal balance, and the menstrual cycle is far more sensitive to these changes in the environment than others. Confidence in understanding your own cycle and caring for your individual body are the best ways of ensuring good period health.
It is best to be prepared so it’s good to carry around an emergency kit, all you need is a tampon or pad (whatever you prefer) and a FabLittlebag so the disposal can be easy, hygienic, and discreet, wherever you may be at the time.