Women are experts at this whole period thing — we’ve had years of practice, after all! But sometimes there’s a change in our cycles that make us run to Google for answers. When it comes to the different colors of your menstrual cycle, it’s important to know what’s normal for YOU. When something changes, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything is wrong (so step away from WebMD)! It could be a variety of things, but when in doubt, call your OBGYN. We talked with Nora Lansen, MD, a family practitioner with a specialty in women’s health at OneMedical, to get the general understanding of the very limited colors of a period and what you need to know about them.
“The bright red is usually indicative of your full-on period,” Lansen said. It means that the blood is “new” and the lining has been freshly shed and is coming out briskly. Some women have this color for their entire cycle.
In general, this means that a woman is in the thick of her period, Lansen said. Some women have very heavy periods and they experience this color more. This could also be a time that you notice small clots, which is normal as well. But if you’re period is heavy and bothersome, your doctor can prescribe birth control in order to make it lighter or even make it stop.
The primary difference between the red and brown is that it’s new vs. old. Brown discharge is common at the end of women’s cycles because it’s the blood that’s been sitting in the uterus for some time. However, this varies widely, Lansen said. Some women get a few days of brown and then red and back to brown. Some never get brown discharge. Some have it just at the beginning and others just at the end. And some bleed, then stop for a few days, and then bleed again. So no, there isn’t an overall “normal,” but there is a personal normal. If there’s a change in the color you typically experience, give your doctor a ring.
“If there’s no bright red blood at all, then that could be a [birth control] implantation bleed and I would take a pregnancy test,” Lansen explained. It’s important to know your normal when it comes to brown discharge because you may think it’s your period, but if it’s not, it could lead to unplanned pregnancy. “This stuff is all so complicated, so hopefully the ideal is that every woman has a doctor she trusts and feels comfortable talking to,” Lansen said.
However, if at any time of the month you notice a greenish or clear discharge with a fishy smell, see your doctor ASAP because it may be a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or bacterial infection.