Periods are generally not everyone’s favourite time of the month- they certainly are not mine. Cramps, bloating and having to think of one more thing than usual. As a proud lazy person, periods just add something else for me to do. Not great. One of the most common questions Lilypads get asked about periods is ‘do they smell?’ The smell of periods remains another source of stress for many during their period.
Personally, I think we need to get rid of any unnecessary stresses linked to periods. Periods are stressful enough without the constant fear that someone can somehow tell you are on your period. So let’s dive into period smell today.
What is period blood?
To understand period smell, we need to understand period blood. It might surprise you, but period blood is not the same as the blood from a cut or nose bleed. Period blood or menstrual blood is a mix of things.
So let’s go back to the basics.
The endometrium(the inner lining of your uterus) is where a fertilised egg would implant and grow. The endometrium is made up of “highly vascularised with special spiralised arteries”. This is to provide a fertilised egg with a fresh blood supply with nutrients and oxygen so it can develop.
These arteries constrict limiting blood loss just before your period. This causes the endometrium to break away from the uterus. It does not happen instantly but takes time, it then makes its way through your cervix and vagina. As this breaks away, blood vessels with torn ends continue to bleed. This causes brighter red blood to also exit the uterus through the cervix and vagina.
As the endometrium and blood leave the uterus, it will collect vaginal mucous and bacteria.
So what stops the bleeding?
Platelets (cells involved in blood clotting) group together which forms a plug, stopping the bleeding and therefore the period.
What does period blood smell like?
So blood itself has a smell however, as menstrual blood is a mixture of tissues, blood and vaginal fluid, it will smell slightly different to blood from a cut. Periods are a natural process, the natural smell which goes along with them is nothing to be ashamed of.
The smell of menstrual fluid also changes depending on how long it has taken to exit the uterus and vagina. There is nothing wrong or unnatural with menstrual blood smell and the likelihood of anyone smelling it is highly unlikely.
The cause of period smell is either bacteria mixing with old blood or bacteria in the vaginal canal that is coming out along with the period.
Do periods smell bad?
If you notice a dramatic change in the smell of your period or a fishy smell this could be the sign of an infection.
It is very common to experience vaginal infections when on your period. Due to the fact that your vagina retains moisture. When the bacteria usually found in yoru vagina is slighty out of balance, infections such as bacterial vaginosis can occur. BV can easily be treated with antibiotics. Visit your GP if you are worried.
Another reason for a stronger smell could be excess blood. The key is to stay as dry as possible. Change your period product when it is fully absorbed. Wearing tight non-breathable materials can also increase sweating, the bacteria in sweat can mix with the fluid adding to a smell. Staying clean and dry can help reduce a strong period smell, but this cleaning should be using natural non-pH soaps and should focus on your vulva only. Lilypads comfy reusable period pads are highly absorbent, helping you stay dry.
Period blood stigma
Vaginal odour, menstrual blood smell and vaginal discharge smell are very common. Trends such as douching or using highly fragranced products are not the answer to this odour. They will change your natural pH leading to bacterial infections and irritation.
Dramatic changes in odour or colour can be the sign of an infection so if you are smelling a strong ‘fishy’ smell, book an appointment with your GP to get advice on treatment.
The problem with advertising
Problematic advertising focused on ‘covering’ the smell using floral fragrances imply that periods are something dirty and need to be hidden or covered. Remember, periods are natural, the natural smell is completely normal it is highly unlikely for anyone else to smell it.