Wondering how late can a period be is almost a right of passage for most women. If you’re worried about your period being late or feeling a little excited at the possibility, our expert-approved guide can help decide the next step.
This article has been reviewed and given the greenlight by expert embryologist Navya Muralidhar.
When periods begin in puberty, it isn’t unusual for it to take a few months, or even years, for your menstrual cycle to become regular.
A typical menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but, depending on the person, a healthy cycle may last between 21 and 45 days.
Which means that it’s really personal as to how late a period can be.
With a little help from a period tracker app, you may have a pretty firm idea of how long your cycle is and when you’re due to start your next period.
This can be useful for family planning when you’re trying to conceive (TTC) and for sounding the alarm when your period isn’t on time.
But if you’re nowhere near a TTC journey, these alarm bells can be concerning.
Let’s get you some clarity.
In this article: 📝
- When is a period considered late?
- Should I be worried my period is 5 days late?
- What causes period delay?
- How late of a period is too late?
When is a period considered late?
If cycles vary, how do you know you’re late, and how late can a period be?
Before we can answer this, let’s do a quick overview of how a menstrual cycle works.
A healthy menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period and carries on through until the start of the next one.
As we mentioned above, this cycle tends to last between 21 to 35 (or even 45) days.
If you’re one of the women blessed with a punctual menstrual cycle, you can expect your period to start within 21 to 45 days of your last.
Often, the general consensus is that if it’s been at least 30 days since the start of your last period, it’s considered late.
But this is based on the average menstrual cycle being 28 to 29 days long – an average that, turns out, only applies to 16% of women.
Let us also add that a period being off by one to four days is totally normal and to be expected from time to time.
Ok, when is a period considered late?
A period isn’t considered late unless it’s at least five days past its expected start date.
And if it has been six weeks without bleeding, it’s officially a missed period.
Should I be worried my period is 5 days late?
There are so many things that can cause a late period to happen so no need to worry quite yet if it’s only day five.
Whether you’re TTC or simply enjoying sexual intercourse without expectation, it’s always worth doing a home pregnancy test (HPT) if you are a few days late.
This test is simple, and checks for a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG)), which is only present when you’re pregnant, as this is secreted by the growing embryo.
These pregancy tests are increasingly accurate, and it’s even possible to get a positive result from the day your period is due. 🤯
At the same time, it’s also possible to get a false negative in the first few days after a late period.
So, testing again a week after your period was due is more likely to show accurate results.
How late can a period be without being pregnant?
You’ve done the tests, waited a beat, and tried again.
Still freaking out?
It’s 100% understandable to be worrying if your period is late and you’re not pregnant.
Even if you’re relieved your birth control is working as it’s supposed to.
If your period or cycle is becoming increasingly unpredictable, and you’re now past the seven day mark, arranging an appointment with your healthcare provider is a solid next step to try and understand the potential cause(s) a bit better.
There are many reasons for a late period, including stress, weight loss, and PCOS.
Besides, understanding what might be going on with your body is never a bad thing.
What causes period delay?
Pregnancy isn’t the only thing that can cause a late period, or even a missed period.
There are two general stages when every woman can expect an irregular period – the start of puberty and the journey through menopause.
Outside of this, reasons for a late period can vary between hormone imbalances and endocrine conditions.
Let’s go through them one by one:
1. Hormonal birth control
Ah the birth control pill.
It’s a love-hate relationship.
They can be extremely effective for easing conditions like acne, thinning bones, or even severe menstrual cramps.
On the other hand, they can cause spotting or bleeding between periods or cause you to skip your period entirely.
It’s worth looking into the type of hormonal birth control you’re on and consulting with your doctor on whether it’s still the right choice for you.
No surprise that increased stress levels can play havoc on your period.
Especially if you’re experiencing chronic stress.
This is all down to hormonal imbalances caused by the on-going spike of the stress hormone cortisol.
Disrupted enough, it can severely interfere with your reproductive system.
This can be triggered by anxiety, excessive exercise, depression, and prolonged exposure to stressful environments.
If you feel that stress may be playing a role, it could be time to reevaluate some things.
3. Weight loss or gain
Rapidly gaining or losing weight can have a big impact on your period.
It’s not uncommon for women who have eating disorders or over exercise to experience irregular periods.
Or lose it all together.
Eating disorders and amenorrhea go hand in hand, due to the lack of body fat needed to produce estrogen.
On the flipside, too much estrogen (caused by obesity) can cause irregular and late periods.
If you’ve been experiencing noticeable weight fluctuations, this could be the reason your period is running late.
4. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is an endocrine condition cause by the imbalance of reproductive hormones.
Women who have PCOS produce higher levels of the male hormone androgen.
This imbalance leads to irregular or even missed periods and makes it exceptionally difficult to get pregnant.
It’s a long-term condition that can be managed by lifestyle changes so if you’re relating to the symptoms call your GP ASAP.
And if you are experiencing PCOS, know you’re not alone – there’s a whole group of women on Peanut ready to lend you support.
Other conditions that may cause period delay include:
- Thyroid issues
- Chronic health problems (especially celiac disease and diabetes)
- Early menopause
- Primary ovarian insufficiency
Intimidating as this list may be, the reasons for your late period are often pretty straightforward.
But consistent changes in periods can indicate an underlying medical condition and when it comes to your health, we’re all for transparency and awareness.
It’s recommended to track your cycle and talk to your doctor to find out the cause.
If any additional tests, treatments, or lifestyle changes are needed better to make steps sooner than later.
How late of a period is too late?
If your cycles are usually like clockwork but things have changed enough for you to take notice, it’s time to reach out to your medical provider.
Even more so if your period is over 10 days late and you are definitely not pregnant.
The same holds true if you’re experiencing bleeding at unexpected times.
Your doctor is the best person to help you understand what could be going on.
It can be emotional and worrying if your period is late, but it’s best to not jump to worst-case scenarios too quickly.
Stress, lifestyle changes, or changes in your life stages can all alter your menstrual cycle.
You’ll know when it’s time to make the call to your trusted doctor.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of save spaces and open ears within the Peanut community to support you through the worries.
You’re not alone. 💕