What we often think of as menopause is really the “perimenopause”, the years leading up to the actual menopause (your last period), which signals the end of your reproductive years.
On a positive note, it also signals a new start. As the anthropologist Margaret Mead said, “There is no power greater in the world than the zest of a postmenopausal woman!”
Menopause can take anywhere between two and eight years – how long it lasts varies from woman to woman: and when it starts varies, too.
During the menopausal years, levels of your reproductive hormones (estrogen and progesterone) rise and fall. Apart from intermittent periods, the most common symptoms of these hormonal fluctuations are hot flashes, night sweats, and mood swings.
Pregnancy and Menopause
Regular periods typically occur at around the same date each month, but this changes during menopause, and you may find your periods difficult to predict. Your bleeds may also be heavier than you’re used to.
Fluctuating levels of progesterone and estrogen during this stage mean that the follicles in your ovaries fail to develop and release an egg. Many of the periods you have during menopause will be “anovulatory”, without ovulation. But, during some cycles you may still ovulate and you could still become pregnant. If you aren’t trying for a baby, use contraception until you’ve had no periods for a year if you’re over 50, and no periods for two years if you’re under 50.
Stress and Your Symptoms
It’s worth reiterating that stress is a major cause of hormone imbalance. All the symptoms you may experience during these transitional years are caused by hormonal imbalance, so it’s important to keep your stress levels down. Don’t’ let yourself get bogged down in any anxiety about being menopausal or not being in control of what’s happening to your body. There are plenty of steps you can take to influence how menopause affects you.