If you’re a woman, at one point or another you’ve probably experienced your period and wondered—is it supposed to look like that? And if it is… what does it mean?
Throughout your entire life as a female, your period will ebb and flow based on your age and reproductive changes. It’s no wonder it can be hard to determine what a ‘normal’ period looks like!
Variations in periods from woman to woman are completely normal, including different period blood colours, variations in clotting, and even in the experience of PMS symptoms. A ‘normal’ period can have blood that looks black, brown, dark red, bright red, or even pink. And to boot, your period may even be every one of those colours as you progress through your cycle. (1)
But did you know that healthcare professionals can often make deductions about your health by the colour of your period?
Period colours may be different from month to month and during various stages of life, especially when a woman starts her period or begins to go into perimenopause.
It’s also completely normal for period colours to vary as you progress through your menstrual cycle, getting brighter the heavier your flow is and darker the closer you get to the end of your period. (2)
Ovulation, pregnancy, childbirth, laying down for long periods, and even the pace of your menstrual flow affects the colour of your period. (3)
It’s important to note that having periods during pregnancy can be normal. But it can also be a very serious sign to look for if you’re concerned about a loss of pregnancy. If you experience bleeding during pregnancy, please consult your doctor right away. (4)
In the same way that you mix red and white to get pink, pink period blood occurs when menstrual blood mixes with other discharge or fluid found in your cervix. Birth control can also cause pink periods because it lowers oestrogen levels.
Lochia (the bleeding that occurs 4-6 weeks after childbirth) can turn a pinkish hue after a few days. Pink period blood, or ‘spotting’, can also be a sign of anemia, an unhealthy diet, excessive weight loss, low estrogen levels, miscarriage, and ovulation. (5)(6)
If your period is red, specifically dark red, that’s often an indicator that the blood has been sitting in your vagina or uterus for a while, but not quite long enough for the oxidation process to occur, which causes the blood to turn more of a brownish colour. (7) Dark red period blood is also known to occur after childbirth. (8)
Fresh, fast-flowing blood will always be red. Often your period blood will be bright red towards the beginning of your period or on your heaviest flowing days. But some people have bright red blood throughout their entire period. (9)
However, in certain cases, bright red menstrual blood can be a sign of STDs, cervical cancer, infections, pregnancy, miscarriage, or polyps or fibroids in the uterus. (10)
If your period looks brown and you’re not sure what it means, don’t worry! Brown period blood just means it’s old, oxidised blood that is taking its sweet time leaving your body. (11)
Sometimes brown menstrual blood can take on the appearance of coffee grounds and even look so dark it appears to be black. As scary as that may sound (and look) it’s often not a huge cause for concern. (12)
This brown colour is most common toward the beginning or end of your period, but it can also be common if you have a slow menstrual flow, during pregnancy, after childbirth, or due to a missed miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. (13)
Orange period blood occurs for the same reason pink period blood occurs. The blood is getting mixed with other fluids causing the bright red colour to be diluted to another colour—in this case, orange.
Implantation bleeding/spotting and infections are common causes of orange-coloured menstrual blood. If you’re experiencing other uncomfortable symptoms such as vaginal itching, irritation, or a foul odour, consult your gynaecologist because these are tell-tale signs of infection such as bacterial vaginosis. (14)(15)
Of all period colours, grey is the most concerning. It’s often another clear sign of infection, such as bacterial vaginosis, and can allude to a miscarriage later in pregnancy. (16)
If you’re experiencing any symptoms of infection mentioned above, go see your doctor because it’s likely you’ll need a round of antibiotics to resolve the issue. (17)
However, you know your body best and if you notice unusual changes in the appearance of your period colour, especially when accompanied by other concerning symptoms, book an appointment to see your gynaecologist.
It may be nothing and they may say you’re completely fine, but sometimes discoloured menstrual blood can be a sign of a more serious underlying issue that needs to be addressed. (20)
This simple guide to period colours and what they mean was meant to inform you about your menstrual cycle and help you spot the difference between a normal period and a period that gives cause for concern.
Period colours and the meanings behind them are mostly determined by how long blood stays in the uterus and vagina. The longer it stays in there, the more it will oxidise and the darker the colour will become. (21)
As you continue to learn more about what’s going on inside your body, consider getting one of these PMS apps to help you track your menstrual cycle! If you pay close attention, you may even be able to predict changes in the colour of your period based on what the app tells you about hormone levels, flow, and other processes involved in menstruation.And if you suffer from PMS symptoms and would like to recover the 'normal' you, explore the Hormone Harmony! This product was designed to help you get rid of your mood swings, cravings, irritability, bloated belly, and all the other PMS symptoms that affect you.