One really common question I hear is, I know I am not pregnant, so why is my period late? There are a number of reasons why this might be and to get to the bottom of them, you need to know, when you ovulated and how long your luteal phase (the number of days between ovulation and the start of your period) usually is.
You can check out my posts on how to tell whether you are ovulating here.
So let's say you have ovulated and your luteal phase is hitting 3 days or longer than it usually is, and you know your are not pregnant, the only thing really left that it could be is a luteal cyst. Signs that you have one of these is that your temperature is still elevated 3 days after you ovulated and no sign of a period, but you know you are definitely not pregnant.
DEFINiTELY NOT PREGNANT, BUT LONG LUTEAL PHASE
These are cysts that form from the corpus luteum, the yellow body that the follicle sac transforms to in your ovary gets your body to ramp up progesterone production during your luteal phase. In the case of a luteal cyst, instead of degrading at the end of the cycle when you aren't pregnant, it develops a cyst and continues the luteal phase.
This is a benign cyst, but still requires you to see your doctor as it can torque the ovary and sometimes fallopian tube leading to cut off of circulation to the area or cause damage to the reproductive organs or intestines.
OK, SO THAT IS A LONG LUTEAL PHASE BUT WHAT ABOUT A LONG FOLLICULAR PHASE?
Long follicular phases (the phase between menstruation and ovulation) with an ovulation later in the cycle and a normal length luteal phases are far more common.
Most of the time when women think their periods are late for reasons other than pregnancy, it is because the follicular phase has lengthened and there has been a delay in ovulation. There are a huge number of reasons why ovulation can be delayed and I am going to cover the most common reasons I see.
This makes sense from a common sense point of view, if you are feeling stressed, your body is under stress from timezone changes, lack of sleep, burning the candles at both ends, exams, stressful situations, can all cause the body to de-prioritise your reproductive function. This makes sense, most of our organs and systems are required for survival, but the ability to reproduce, is not essential for every day living.
I usually see stress manifest itself in lady's cycles in two ways. If the stressful event occurs before ovulation, usually the process shuts down and ovulation is delayed. When looking at client charts I often see signs that ovulation was going to take place such as the cervical fluid, and then it suddenly stops but there is no temperature rise. When we look at events going on in their lives there are usually circumstances that occur in this time. It could be an exam, illness, a stressful event, a busy period at work. The list is endless.
If you are curious about what happens if an event like this happens after ovulation, check out this post. Does this mean that every time your body is under stress, your cycle will stop? Not necessarily. Each person is different and what can set off a reaction or stressor in one person, will not necessarily have the same impact on another person, or even the same person at another time.
Exercise is important for our overall wellbeing, womb position and hormonal health. But if you go too far, it can become a stressor on the body. It's common for athletes to have missing or irregular cycles when they are training hard and often when I see women who are doing cross fit 3 hours a day, 5 days a week, they often find their cycles are wonky, usually with long follicular phases or missing periods altogether. (Actually, when his happens, it's a super long follicular phase lasting months).
It is important to get the exercise balance right. Too little and you aren't getting the wellbeing benefits required for health (it's a great way of reducing PMS), but too much can do a number on your hormones too. When undergoing a new exercise regime, check in and see how it is affecting your cycle.
There are a number of factors with weight loss affecting ovulation. Too lower body weight, dropping a lot of weight (or even changing diet and exercise), and you will not have enough fat for hormone production. You need to be able to produce oestrogen in sufficient amounts for ovulation to occur.
Too much body weight can also impair ovulation too, so again, finding your goldilocks zone of body fat whilst charting your cycle will give you an idea of what your body needs, but be aware, that if you are undergoing a major lifestyle change, you will see a change in your cycle whilst your body is re-adjusting.
INSULIN RESISTANCE & BLOOD SUGAR INSTABILITY
When our blood sugars become unstable, it can have many effects on they body such as increasing cortisol (one of the stress hormones), increasing inflammation and can also lead to high levels of insulin and eventually, insulin resistance. When we have elevated levels of insulin in the blood, can lead the ovaries to produce testosterone instead of oestrogen, which is needed for ovulation to occur. This can mean that ovulation can be delayed or not happen.
High levels of insulin also affect other hormones that play a part in ovulation such as Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Lutenising Hormone (LH).
A great way to get an idea on your blood sugar levels are stable, you can test your blood sugar at home yourself with an over the counter test kit you can purchase for around £30.
CERTAIN MEDICATIONS & OVER THE COUNTER REMEDIES
This can often surprise people but there are a number of medications, both prescribed and over the counter that can affect ovulation. They don't have this effect on all women, and whether they have an effect can depend on dosage and length of time on the medication.
Some remedies to watch out for include corticosteroids and NSAIDs (Non Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs) can cause delayed ovulation in some women. There are other medications such as certain antibiotics, antimalarial, anti-depressants and a few other medications. If you are unsure on whether your medication could be impairing your fertility and ovulation, don't stop taking it, but speak with your primary care provider or pharmacist first to find out if the specific medication you are on could be an issue.
HOW DO I KNOW WHEN I AM OVULATING & WHETHER ANY OF THESE ARE HAVING AN IMPACT?
This is a great question. There are a number of methods for figuring out when you are ovulating. My preferred method is the Sympto-Thermal Method (STM), also known as Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness (FAM), which tell you when your body is trying to ovulate (by monitoring your cervical fluid) and when you have ovulated (by measuring your Basal Body Temperature).
You can start out charting your cycle by downloading my cycle charting toolkit at the top of the page or you can enrol on my introductory course that takes you through how to chart your cervical fluid and temperature using the Sympto-Thermal method.
Find Out More
Read more about Stress and Your Cycle
Read more about Sugar and Your Cycle
Read more about Should I Be Worried About Spotting?