This Is Why Your Period Might Get Screwed Up When You Travel
Missing a period might normally send me into panic mode (*goes to CVS and buys all the pregnancy tests*). But when I take a long-haul flight or plan a trip somewhere where there is a time change, I know that my cycle is just going to be a little wonky. TMI, but there was a time when I didn't get my period for several months living abroad, but became regular again as soon as I moved back to the U.S. What gives, body? Is missing a period (or two) due to travel something we should worry about? We asked experts why our menstrual cycles get so screwed up when jet-setting and scored some tips on how to regulate your period while on vacation.
First, it's important to understand the basics of how your period works. So, we turn to science. "Ultimate control of your menstrual cycle resides with the hormones secreted by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland–essentially your brain," explains Joshua U Klein, MD, chief medical officer and reproductive endocrinologist at Extend Fertility. Any disruption to your physical or emotional health, which includes stress, lack of sleep, and changes in diet, can affect hormone balance and lead to irregular or absent menstrual periods, he explains. Proper hormone balance is necessary for ovulation to occur, meaning an imbalance can rock the system and cause your period to skip a beat.
While many hormones are involved in the control of your menstrual cycle, two important ones are known to be directly related to travel and stress: cortisol and melatonin. Travel often goes hand-in-hand with stress, Dr. Klein explains, and this can cause cortisol levels to fluctuate. "Changes in sleep schedules, like early flights and time zone changes, and added stress can have some effect on these hormone levels," he adds. When the levels of these two hormones in your body change, your ovulation schedule can also shift. The result? A period that might show up earlier or later than expected.
We tend to underestimate the impact stress can have on our bodies and periods. Anything that throws your body out of its normal routine can cause stress, and therefore has the potential to alter your menstrual regularity, says Dr. Klein. Weight fluctuations and changes in your diet can also cause hiccups in your menstruation cycle. And, if you are taking hormonal birth control pills and you're not taking them at the same time when you're in a different time zone, this can mess up your cycle too, points out Orlando-based ob-gyn Christine Greves, MD, a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology.Missing a pill can also screw with your period, she reminds us.
If your period does go MIA while you're on vacay, don't panic. According to experts, this is extremely common. But if your menstrual cycle is delayed a few weeks and there is a chance that you could be pregnant, it's a good idea to take a pregnancy test. On the other hand, if your period has been normal in the past and there is not potential that you could be pregnant, the irregularity is more likely due to the hormonal changes experienced during travel, says Dr. Klein. If that's the case, our experts suggest you check in with your doctor if you skip more than two cycles once you're back home.
Luckily, there are ways to help regulate your period while traveling. Women who take birth control pills should be sure to take them at the same time every day that they do at home. Maintaining regular sleeping and healthy eating habits, exercising, and staying hydrated are all ways to help keep your flow normal once you get to your destination. "Do as much as you can so your body doesn't feel the stresses," Dr. Greves tells us.
Also important: "Birth control have a risk of their own when you travel," says Dr. Greves. Contraception that contains estrogen (the vaginal ring, the patch, and of course, the combined pill) can increase your risk for blood clots, so you need to make sure you're moving your legs inflight (wearing compression socks won't hurt) and check with your doctor that you're not at a higher risk for clots.