In middle school and high school, I remember multiple friends told me that their doctors had just put them on the Pill to “regulate” their periods. So many of them used that exact language—and all quoting their doctors—that it almost seemed like it was the norm to have an irregular period in need of regulating—by nothing else but the Pill.
It wasn’t until I got a little older and started learning more about the way my cycle (and the Pill) works, that I began to see that the Pill doesn’t actually “regulate” anything at all. Some women do in fact have irregular periods that may be in need of medical attention, so it’s worth exploring what that means—and what it could mean for your chances at getting pregnant.
What’s often confused with being “irregular”
First, let’s talk about what it means to have an “irregular” period. The “average” cycle length for most women is 28 days—but it’s perfectly normal to have a cycle that’s either consistently a little longer or a little shorter from that “textbook” figure of 28 days. It’s even normal for the typical length of a woman’s cycle to vary by a day or two each month. And—you guessed it—it’s also normal to have the odd period here and there that is a handful of days longer or shorter than the rest of the others—in fact, this is quite common during times of high-stress or illness. None of these typical fluctuations in cycle length have to mean difficulty in conceiving—especially if you are charting your cycle, and trained to recognize your body’s signs of ovulation.
For many girls just beginning to cycle, the typical hormonal fluctuations that take place during puberty often make for some normal irregularity in cycle length (this is also true of the postpartum and perimenopausal periods when hormones are fluctuating significantly). As the adolescent body continues to develop, it may take a while for the body—and, in turn, the menstrual cycle—to self-regulate, as it adjusts to the new hormonal fluctuations taking place. But this is by no means the time to jump to the Pill for “regulation.” In fact, the Pill does young women a great disservice by making them think it is “regulating” their period, when it is actually overriding the natural rhythm of their cycles. What’s worse, if the irregularity is in fact due to an underlying issue, the Pill will simply mask any of the underlying causes of irregularity—issues that will likely still be present once the young woman is older, finally off of the Pill, and ready to consider getting pregnant—and which may affect her chances of getting pregnant.
What’s actually irregular
There is a true definition for “irregular” periods, and it’s when a woman frequently has cycle lengths that A) are either shorter than 21 days or longer than 36 days, or B) consistently vary by 5 or more days (e.g., one cycle is 22 days long, then the next is 40 days long, and the next is 35 days long—you get the gist). Truly irregular cycles may be a sign of an underlying issue that may negatively impact your ability to get pregnant (especially compared to someone with regular cycles). Sadly, the 30-year-old woman who has recently discontinued the Pill (which she may have been put on for “irregularity” when she began cycling at age 15) may have no idea what her body’s normal cycle length actually is, and if it may or may not mean something about her chances of conceiving.
Frequent underlying issues of cycle irregularity like Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis, various types of thyroid dysfunction, and even weighing too much or too little may also have an adverse effect on your ability to get pregnant. Irregular cycles may also be a sign that your body is simply not ovulating—or at least, not as often as it should be—which can also make it difficult to get pregnant if the issue is not corrected. This is especially true if you ovulate infrequently, and haven’t been trained to look for the signs of impending ovulation through one of the many highly effective, science-based Natural Family Planning (NFP) methods or Fertility-Awareness Based Methods (FABM) available today.
If you are experiencing irregular periods—and especially if they are accompanied by a host of other tell-tale symptoms that typically accompany various menstrual disorders and/or issues like thyroid dysfunction that have an impact on your cycle—a physician may be able to help. Natural Procreative Technology (NaPro) physicians, in particular, are trained to root out many of these underlying issues contributing to irregular cycles, thereby improving your fertility—and your chances of getting pregnant, too. There are also some common-sense lifestyle changes that you can make today to help regulate your cycles (spoiler alert: none of them are the Pill!) and improve your fertility and overall health.
Having truly irregular cycles does not have to spell disaster for your chances at achieving good reproductive health and/or pregnancy. Although cycle irregularity can be a sign of underlying issues affecting your fertility, with the help of charting your cycles, improving your health through common-sense changes to your diet and lifestyle, and possibly seeking the care of a NaPro physician, you may be able to truly regulate your periods—all of which will likely improve your health overall, and your chances of getting pregnant.