Getting your period every month can be a pain (literally). Another month, another week doubled over in pain from cramps, another craving for an abnormal amount of chocolate. And then, suddenly, your period decides to go rogue and switch things up — and that can be downright terrifying.
Changes to your menstrual cycle like these are hard to predict and a major pain to deal with. But all we can say is, get used to them. Because as you get older, your period will keep adjusting and evolving, thanks in part to normal age-related hormonal changes as well as experiences such as pregnancy and perimenopause.
Let’s see, how they generally change with age.
In your 20s
It’s very typical for young girls not to ovulate regularly, says Lauren Streicher, MD, a Chicago-based ob-gyn and author of Sex Rx-Hormones, Health, and Your Best Sex Ever. And without on the regular ovulation, your periods will be more erratic. On the other hand, when your cycle evens out and comes more or less monthly, you’ll also start experiencing PMS, cramps, and breast tenderness. If you weren’t used to dealing with these side effects every month, it can be something of an unpleasant surprise.
Another major menstruation change that tends to happen in your 20s has to do with going on birth control. This is the decade many women decide to start taking hormonal contraception—they have a steady partner now, for example, and they’re too busy navigating their careers to think about kids. Going on the pill will likely trigger changes to your usual flow. Think lighter and more regular periods, less cramping, and reduced PMS symptoms.
In your 30’s
“Periods can be indicators of your health, and your thirties tend to be a time when some benign health conditions pop up,” Dweck says. Some of the most common: fibroids, polyps, and benign uterine growths. All can be treated but could be interfering with your period, making it heavy and painful.
Also at play in your thirties is…dun dun….having kids. If you have a baby in your thirties, it can also affect your cycle. It can take time for things to get back to normal, especially if you’re breastfeeding. And it’s not just actually being pregnant, but trying to get pregnant (stress) — or if you’ve suffered a miscarriage, that can cause irregular or missed periods.
In your 40’s
Here’s where the real fun starts. Your 40s mark the beginning of perimenopausal hormonal fluctuations, which are precursors to menopause. During this time, generally, the eight to 10 years before menopause (which typically happens in your early 50s), your body preps for a the-the menstruation finish line.
Normal hormone changes cause ovulation to be more irregular, and estrogen level fluctuation means you could start experiencing missed periods, a heavier flow, spotting between periods, and longer stretches of PMS. “The thing I always say about perimenopause symptoms is the one thing that’s predictable is that nothing is predictable,” says Dr. Streicher. Just don’t forget, even if ovulation is erratic, you can still get pregnant. A woman isn’t in menopause until her periods have ceased for at least a year.