– Post by Love Wellness Advisor: Dr. Christine Sterling. Join the discussion and read more on The Love Club
Deciding you want to have children, or another child, is big, and can even be a little scary! For people with irregular periods, this journey has a few more question marks. As an ObGyn, I’ve walked this path with so many and I know these questions can keep you up at night.
“Can I even get pregnant?”
“Will I need infertility treatment?”
Before we dive in, let’s define what irregular periods are, and what they are not.
Irregular menses occur either closer than every 21 days, or farther apart than every 35 days. Your cycle is not considered abnormal if the length varies from month to month within the normal range. Though it may be more challenging to predict your ovulation, as long as you are falling within the 21-35 day range, your cycles are not considered irregular.
Here are 4 tips for those who have irregular periods. (If your cycle length varies within the normal range and you want to get pregnant, I address the extended fertile window in my Free Preparing for Pregnancy Masterclass)
Get a diagnosis
There are many, many causes for irregular periods, including thyroid issues, being under or overweight, polycystic ovarian syndrome, medications...the list goes on. If you miss 3 or more periods a year you need to be evaluated by an ObGyn, and you need a diagnosis. If you aren’t sure what questions to ask your ObGyn, or how to advocate for answers, you can download my Preparing for Pregnancy Workbook, which, in addition to a whole bundle of other things, has the information you need to bring to your doctors appointment, along with the crucial questions you need to have answered before you walk out.
Once you have at least a working diagnosis from your ObGyn as to the cause for your irregular periods, it is important, as I outline in the workbook, to leave your appointment with clear next steps. If you’ve never heard of a “working diagnosis” it is a best guess healthcare providers make when they can’t find a clear cut reason for the problem.
Often times, when it comes to irregular periods we start with lifestyle changes. Your doctor may recommend more exercise (or perhaps less), changes to your diet and sleep habits. Unfortunately, many people do not make these changes. Don’t let that be you.
The proper functioning of your reproductive system actually starts in your brain, and it also involves your adrenal glands which are responsible for the production of stress hormones. You cannot promote ovarian health and fertility without addressing ALL of you. Your doctor isn’t blowing you off when she recommends better sleep habits or weight loss as part of your care plan. She is providing a holistic plan for your fertility. The proper functioning of your reproductive organs is incredibly complex and requires a holistic, whole body and mind approach.
When you do not ovulate regularly, it is very hard to anticipate when you will ovulate. So to detect or predict ovulation you will need to track your cycles by at least one of three methods. You can follow your basal body temperature, changes in your cervical mucus, or test your urine for the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) surge that occurs approximately 24 hrs before ovulation. You can discuss which option is best for you with your ObGyn, as depending on your diagnosis and unique medical history, one option may be better for you than the other. I discuss monitoring ovulation and timed intercourse further in my Free Preparing for Pregnancy Masterclass.
Know when it’s time to call in the experts
In general, for women under 35 yrs old we recommend a fertility evaluation after 12 months of unprotected intercourse without a pregnancy. For women over 35 yrs old, that time period is shortened to 6 months. That being said, there are plenty of times I have recommended a consultation with an infertility specialist (Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility Specialist or REI doctor) before someone even starts trying to get pregnant. Again, it is important to consult an ObGyn who knows your unique medical and surgical history before making any assumptions about the best course of action.
Trying to get pregnant, especially when it seems there are roadblocks in your way, can be an emotional experience. But I want to leave you with this… Whatever difficulties, anxieties or fears you come across on your path to pregnancy will, if you let them, prepare you for the twists and turns of motherhood and pregnancy itself. You can do hard things. You got this momma.