6 Reasons Your Period Can Be Late (That Definitely Don’t Mean You’re Pregnant)

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Periods are pretty crazy. I think most of us (besides those women who really, really hope that they don’t get knocked up) pretty much hate them. Sure, they serve a good purpose, but when you’re totally out of commission for an entire week at a time (with pain that’s scientifically proven to be just as bad as a heart attack), it’s really hard to remember these good things.

Especially since, if you only sleep with women, you’re pretty sure that you’re not pregnant.

(I think we’ve all had those what-if-I’m-the-next-virgin-Mary thoughts sometimes, though.)

Unfortunately, even if you’re definitely not pregnant, your period might be a little unpredictable sometimes. Here are 6 reasons why your period can be late, without being pregnant. If you’re really concerned, take a pregnancy test just to be sure – but the odds of getting pregnant without having heterosexual unprotected sex are incredibly low.

1. You’re relying on your memory, instead of actual tracking.

For the longest time, I really thought that my period was super irregular. Of course, I never actually paid attention to when I had my period – I just knew that it had been a long time since the last time I had one, and as a super paranoid teenager, I was of course convinced that I had somehow gotten pregnant from a toilet seat.

Let me reiterate: Getting pregnant, without having unprotected heterosexual sex, is really, really unlikely.

If you don’t actually pay attention to when you have your period, and instead rely solely on your memory for how long it’s been, I urge you to start keeping track. It doesn’t have to be anything super formal – I used to have “PS” and “PE” written on my calendar. (That would be “period start” and “period end”, if you couldn’t figure that one out.) I know people who add a grumpy-face emoji into their digital calendar. This way is great, because anyone with a smartphone has a digital calendar, even if you don’t currently use it.

For those who actually do want a more formal way to track it, there are a number of period-tracking apps available for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone. Some apps even give you a push notification a few days before you should expect your period, if you’ve been tracking for more than a month or two. Tracking is super important, not only so you can plan when not to wear white, but also so that you have a log to show your doctor when he or she asks. It can also help alert you when there might be a bigger problem in play. If you’re not already tracking, please start tracking your periods.

2. Irregular cycles are actually pretty normal.

I know we’ve pretty much all grown up hearing that your cycle is 28 days long. While this is a great guideline, it’s also not exactly true. The average cycle lasts about 28 days, but cycles from 21-32 days are completely normal. It takes a few months of tracking to figure out what your normal cycle is, and it can be pretty hard if you’re a bit irregular, too.

But what if your cycle is longer than 32 days, or shorter than 21 days? Well, that’s not exactly uncommon either. Everyone is different, and there are so many factors that go into when you get your period, it’s sometimes pretty tough to estimate when you should be getting it – especially if you’ve only ever heard that whole “28 days” thing. You shouldn’t stress too much if your cycle doesn’t fit up to the normal time frame. That’s only an estimate.

It’s important to note that it’s also normal for your cycle to be totally unpredictable, especially if you’re under 21 or over 45. When you’re younger, your body still has to find the rhythm that works best for you. (We’ve already discussed that there are so many factors in play here.) If your periods are irregular and you’re definitely not within that younger, body-is-still-learning age group, there’s a chance it means you’re approaching menopause – which is, also, a completely normal part of life.

3. If you’re stressing too much, your period can get all screwed up in the mix.

Stress is a completely normal part of life, too, but with too much stress comes the inevitable health consequences. One of the most readily-identifiable problems it can cause is an unpredictable period schedule. For women who might be pregnant, and really don’t want to be, this can cause a cycle (no pun intended) of weird periods and more stress.

You see, your period is a way for your uterus to “clean house”, so to speak. Your ovaries release an egg, in anticipation of that egg being fertilized. If a certain amount of time (which, again, is different for everyone) passes, and you haven’t gotten pregnant, your ovaries basically flood the place in a fit of rage. When you’re too stressed out, though, your body takes a different approach.

Too much stress pushes your brain to tell your ovaries that you are not emotionally ready to have a child right now (ain’t that the truth) and, in turn, your ovaries don’t release an egg. Since there’s no baby being prepared for in there, there’s nothing to flood back out. Your body just needs a little time for itself right now, so work on managing your stress, and your period should be back on track before too much longer.

4. Illness and injury can screw things up, too.

I probably don’t need to tell you that your period takes a lot out of your body. It’s not really in your body’s best interest to ovulate when you’ve got too much other stuff going on, so many women just don’t ovulate when they’ve got too much going on. Of course, it would be great if we had better (conscious) control over when we got our period – no more bloody wedding nights or unplanned midnight trips to the feminine hygiene aisle – but at least we have the satisfaction of knowing that mother nature is actually looking out for you.

Honestly, injury and illness usually take up a lot more of your body’s resources than we give them credit for, but the underlying cause of your symptoms is almost always the healing process. (Obviously, if you break a bone, the actual breaking is going to hurt more than the healing, but that’s not the case with all injuries.) And, since most of these illness-and-injury-fixing processes take the same resources as getting our period would take, our body chooses to heal us instead of bringing on another problem.

Good lookin’ out, uterus.

5. Certain medications can play a role, too.

Anyone who’s ever been on chemical or hormonal birth control for any reason other than actual birth control will know this all too well: It affects your cycle. Like, a lot. It’s almost funny how this happens even when it’s prescribed to regulate your period, but honestly, any time you throw pregnancy hormones into your body “just because”, it’s going to mess things up.

But it’s not just birth control that can cause these problems. When you first start taking a new medication, it can put a lot of undue stress on your body. The affects are different for everyone, and different medications will affect it in different ways, but it’s usually nothing to be concerned with.

That being said, if you have completely skipped a period since taking your new meds, and it wasn’t prescribed specifically to give you fewer periods, you should schedule an appointment with your doctor. Remember, your period actually serves a valuable purpose, even if it doesn’t feel like it. This is why paying attention is so important – you need to pay attention in order to know when you should be concerned.

6. Losing or gaining a significant amount of weight can alter your cycle.

Pretty much any time your body goes through significant changes, there’s a good chance it’ll affect your period. Your weight, in particular, plays a huge part in determining your cycle. If you’ve recently gained or lost some weight, more than the normal fluctuations, your period could become late or non-existent. That’s because your body’s first priority is self-preservation, and it doesn’t want you to get pregnant if your weight is bouncing around all over the place – that’s not healthy, and it wouldn’t be healthy to the (hypothetical) baby.

How much weight is considered “significant”? That’s going to vary based on your own body, and how quickly the weight was lost or gained. There is no exact number for everyone, but there is a general guideline: If you see or feel a difference in your weight or build, regardless of whether it’s reflected on the scale or not, it’s significant enough to make a difference.

If you must gain (or lose) weight in order to be healthier, it’s important that you do so gradually. Not only is it less stressful on the body that way, it’s also more sustainable. It’s easier to keep up with 1% change than it is to hit your goals right away, and then push yourself to maintain right away. (Also, let me tell you, from someone who lost almost half my body weight within a year, it’s nearly impossible to do so in a healthy way. Please don’t cause yourself unnecessary extra health problems in the name of weight management.)

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