Period blood (formally referred to as menstrual blood) is not just blood — it is made up of thickened endometrial cells that slough off monthly if you’re not pregnant, together with arterial blood from the arteries that feed the uterus and, sometimes, blood clots.
If you read our article about duration and frequency, you already know that a normal/healthy period lasts for four days. But even if everyone had a normal four-day bleeding phase, what that phase looks like (literally) can be very different for different people, and it can even vary for the same person. Those variations give us critical information about how your body is functioning.
How much do you bleed? What does your blood look like? What color is it? Do you have clots in your blood? What does it all mean? Let’s skip past any “gross” reactions (reminder: your period is as natural as it gets) and start decoding all the messages your period blood is sending you.
This article is all about flow and the volume of your period blood. In it we’ll cover:
- What is a healthy flow?
- What determines how light or heavy your flow is?
- What does it mean if you have heavy flow?
- What does it mean if you have a light flow?
- What can you do to achieve a healthier flow?
What’s a normal flow?
Would you say you have a heavy period or a light period?
For the sake of comparison, someone with a normal healthy flow bleeds steadily and soaks a regular tampon or pad about every four hours (if you use a menstrual cup, it should fill about half-way in the course of 4 hours). It’s normal for your flow to vary slightly throughout your period (maybe your flow is a little heavier the first couple of days, for example) but you should experience steady bleeding throughout and stay close to the four-hours-to-soak-a-tampon standard.
What does your flow tell you?
Like duration, the volume and flow of your period blood tell you how thick or thin your uterine lining is. A normal flow means you have a healthy Goldilocks lining – not too thick, not too thin, just right.
Volume and flow can also tell you a lot about the quality of your diet and how well your current diet is supporting your body. When you’re not getting the nutrients you need to make a sufficient amount of high-quality blood, your flow can let you know.
What does it mean if you have a lighter or heavier flow?
- If you’ve got a lighter flow and it takes you all day to soak a tampon, this is an indication that your uterine lining is thinner than normal. Lots of people with periods think that a light flow is a blessing, but (sorry to spoil it) like short periods, this type of light bleeding means that your body is having a hard time building a healthy uterine lining.
This could happen for several reasons, but the most common is that you’re short on nutrients – either your current diet is not giving you enough nutrients or your digestive system needs a tune-up so that you can do a better job converting the good stuff you are eating into usable nutrients.
- If you’ve got a heavy flow and soak a tampon in less than four hours, you should have a nice thick uterine lining. Sounds good, but unfortunately thick linings can come with some issues too. Women with thicker linings sometimes have a hard time shedding it as it takes your uterus a lot more work to get rid of a thick lining.
The extra work your uterus puts in leads to more bleeding (hence the heavy and/or long flow) and more resources lost. Women with thicker linings are more likely to experience cramps, clotting, inflammation, and fatigue.
How can you achieve a healthier flow?
There is a handful of seemingly general but incredibly powerful things you can do to improve your cycle and overall health, regardless of what your flow is like. You can find those tips here. In this article, we’re zeroing in on advice specifically related to your flow.
If you have a lighter flow, these tips are for you:
- Improve your diet to increase blood flow.
Your body needs more nutrients. Steer away from processed foods and opt for nutrient-rich whole foods, especially ones rich in iron and protein – those are essential nutrients for creating blood.
- Tune-up your digestive system to improve access to nutrients.
If you’re already eating whole, healthy and protein-rich foods but still have a light flow, it means your body is having a hard time processing the nutrients you’re eating. This can be a sign that your body is dealing with digestion or absorption issues. To tune up your digestive system, eat some congee. It’s a slow-cooked rice porridge that significantly improves your digestive system’s ability to break down food and use it for energy. (Here’s a recipe from our founder’s clinic.) Note: Sometimes food sensitivities, like gluten or dairy, can screw up the process of turning food into building blocks for the rest of your body. If you’re dealing with food sensitivities, avoid the foods you’re sensitive to!
- Take it easy.
Regardless of whether you need a diet change or a digestion tune-up, if you have a light flow, your body is likely asking you to get some extra rest and focus on taking care of yourself.
If you have a heavy flow, these tips are for you:
- Reduce inflammation.
You can reduce inflammation by incorporating more anti-inflammatory foods into your diet (like turmeric, leafy greens, blueberries, oranges, fatty fish, olive oil, almonds, and walnuts) and cutting back on ones that cause inflammation (like sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, refined carbs and alcohol). Our Cramp Support Formula contains powerful anti-inflammatory herbs that will also help on this front.
- Use herbs to promote healthy bleeding
We know, it may sound counter-intuitive that people with heavy flows need to promote bleeding (aren’t you bleeding enough?). But by promoting healthy bleeding early on, you’ll be helping your body shed the lining earlier. Once you’re able to get rid of it, bleeding will normalize and you should have a less painful period as a result.
The only way we know how to promote healthy bleeding is with herbs. The whole concept is rooted in Chinese medicine and our Cramp Support Formula is designed specifically to help with this. (Shameless plug, we know, but we wouldn’t be making these supplements if they didn’t work.)
Tying it all together
Now that you’ve identified whether you have a heavy, light or normal flow and unpacked the signs your flow sends you, it’s time to zoom out and reflect on the bigger picture. How does your flow relate to the length and frequency of your cycle? What insights do the color and clottiness of your blood reveal? How does all of this relate to the symptoms you’re experiencing and what does that tell you about your overall health?
Understanding the complexities of your inner workings is no simple thing. There’s a lot to consider, which is exactly why we broke this manual into sections. The next one focuses on the bloody world of colors and clots.