Whether it was in school, with your parents, or from a “well-informed” older sibling, we learned during that first sex ed lesson that a missed period means “You’re pregnant!” And though being pregnant almost always means you will miss your period (more on that below), a missed period doesn’t always mean you’re pregnant. If you’re pretty sure you’re not pregnant, but still wondering why is my period late, read on to find out:

What is Considered Late for a Period?

All women’s cycles vary, so it’s hard to define what is “normal” and “not normal.” But if you’re wondering why is my period late, generally speaking, medical professionals say:

  • A period is considered late if it hasn’t started five or more days after the day you expected it to start.
  • A period is considered missed if you haven’t had menstrual flow for 6 or more weeks after the start of your last period.

I’m not Pregnant, So Why Is My Period Late?

Wondering why is my period late? “I’m pregnant” is just one of the possibilities.

When you’re not pregnant, but you’re still wondering why is my period late, you may be experiencing something called secondary amenorrhea—the absence of menstrual bleeding for three or more months. (source)

There are a variety of factors that can cause this condition, including:

1. Stress

Stress has many physical manifestations ranging from headaches, neck pain, diarrhea and insomnia, to name a few. Similarly it can affect your period. When stress levels rise, your menstrual period can temporarily stop.

Why? Stress suppresses the function of the hypothalamus, which controls the pituitary gland. When the pituitary gland isn’t operating like it should be, it affects the ability of the thyroid and the adrenal glands to regulate your body’s hormones. When your hormones are out of whack, your period may become irregular or stop altogether. (source)

What to do: 

  • Avoid stressful situations
  • Get plenty of sleep—aim for at least eight hours
  • Practice meditation and/or deep breathing
  • Try red light therapy
  • Get daily sunlight (try forest bathing!)
  • Practice gentle exercise daily
  • Get acupuncture regularly
  • Avoid refined sugar, caffeine, and alcohol

2. Weight

“Excess fat cells result in elevated levels of estrogen, which can ultimately stop your ovaries from releasing an egg,” — Veronica Lerner, MD, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at NYU Langone Medical Center

When you’re underweight, your body has the opposite reaction: It doesn’t produce enough estrogen. When your body has too little estrogen, it may not be able to produce the necessary uterine lining. (source)

Significant weight loss can also affect your menstrual cycle. If you’re ending weight is within a normal range for your height and age, this change should only be temporary as your body adjusts.(source)

What to do: 

Talk to your doctor about what a normal weight range is for you
If overweight, talk to your doctor about devising a safe weight-loss plan with a healthy diet and gentle exercise
If underweight, eat plenty of healthy fats and talk to your doctor about minimizing vigorous exercise

3. Hormonal birth control

While hormonal birth control is certainly convenient and effective, it can come with consequences. Studies link the pill to an increased risk of various types of cancer, including breast and cervical cancer, as well as blood clots and heart disease. You’re also willingly signing up for weight gain, tender breasts, and mood swings.

What’s more: If you’re on hormonal birth control, you may assume you’re guaranteed a period once a month, but this actually depends on the type you are on and how your body responds to the hormones. The oral contraceptive (aka “the pill”) essentially tricks your body into thinking you’re pregnant so that you don’t release an egg and ovulate.

The Combined Pill

If you take the 3-week combined hormone (estrogen/progesterone) birth control pill, many women will bleed the fourth week. This is known as withdrawal bleeding, when the body releases the thick womb lining. Some women, however, don’t have withdrawal bleeding as a result of the dropping hormone levels. Talk to your doctor regarding your bleeding pattern.

The Mini-Pill

If you take the 4-week progesterone birth control (aka the mini-pill), many women will not bleed at all since there is no break or withdrawal from the hormone ingestion. Some women will have light spotting throughout the month though. Again, talk to your doctor about your bleeding pattern.

Hormonal IUDs

If you’re using hormonal IUDs, it’s common to stop bleeding altogether while hormonal IUDs are implanted. (source)

There is also a condition called post-pill amenorrhea where your period does not return within six months after you stop taking the pill. (source) In one study, women who took oral contraceptives experienced major cycle disturbances were significantly more frequent in the post-pill group up to the seventh cycle. In many cases, this condition does correct itself.

What to do:

4. Cysts

A functional ovarian cyst is the sac that holds the egg on a woman’s ovary during or after ovulation. Once the egg is released, the cyst is supposed to be released with it. However, if the egg is not released or if the sac closes up after the egg is released, the sac can swell up with fluid. The larger the cyst, the more trouble it can cause, including a missed period.

What to do:

Thankfully, there are some natural remedies you can try to reduce or eradicate your cyst. Always talk to your doctor or healthcare provider before following any of these ideas.

  • Apply a castor oil pack to your abdomen for 20 minutes each day for 3 consecutive days. Take a 4-day break and then start again for 3 consecutive days.
  • Drink 1 TB of raw apple cider vinegar in water once a day, which in anecdotal cases, has helped shrink or dissolve cysts, possibly due to ACV’s high potassium content. Some people find adding 1 TB of black strap molasses, a natural sugar high in alkalizing minerals, effective too.
  • Ingest liver boosting foods/drinks to help the body release the hormone-related cyst. Some great things to try include: dandelion root tea, freshly juiced beets, sauerkraut, or other cruciferous vegetables.
  • Drink chamomile tea, which has been linked to decreased signs of PCOS.
  • Avoid refined carbohydrates and highly processed foods that contribute to insulin resistance, since research suggests there may be a link between insulin resistance and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
  • For the pain, try Epsom salt baths. Of course, always get medical attention if you experience pain or aching in your belly in the middle of your cycle, vaginal bleeding between periods, or severe abdominal pain (this can be a sign of rupture).

5. Breastfeeding

If you are currently breastfeeding and wondering why is my period late, know this: When it comes to your period and breastfeeding, the abnormal is normal.

Whether your period returns while breastfeeding or once you’ve stopped, it may not go back to normal right away. Or, it may return only to disappear once again. Learn more about what to expect when it comes to your period after pregnancy and breastfeeding.

What to do:

  • Remember the lactational amenorrhea (LAM) method of birth control is not foolproof—there’s still a chance of pregnancy.
  • If you want to regulate your hormones or try for another baby, try these tips to increase your fertility.
  • If you are breastfeeding and haven’t had a period within three months of weaning, talk to your doctor.

6. Medication

If you’re taking medication and you’re wondering why is my period late or acting really weird, don’t rule that out as a reason for your irregular period. (source)

  • Warfarin, a medication that helps prevent blood clots, may cause heavier bleeding or bleeding in between periods.
  • Painkillers, such as ibuprofen and naproxen, can cause a lighter flow during your period.
  • Thyroid medication, anti-depressants, and epilepsy medication may cause you to miss your period altogether.

What to do: 

  • Talk to your doctor about regulating your cycle. In some cases, if it’s safe, your doctor make take you off your medication. In other cases, certain side effects of medication—dehydration or loss of appetite, for example—can be an indirect cause of a missed period. (source)

7. Pesticides

One study found that women living on farms that used pesticides were 60-100 percent more likely to have long cycles, missed periods, and spotting between periods.

“Pesticides mimic hormones. They compete with and block the hormones in your body, making it difficult for your endocrine system to function properly.”  — Dr. Holly Puritz, medical director of OB/GYN services at Sentara Leigh Hospital in Virginia, told Health

What to do:

  • Buy organic food whenever possible.
  • Limit use of pesticides in gardens and on lawns.
  • Close windows if neighbors or local farms are spraying.
  • Increase your estrogen-fighting foods like cruciferous veggies, sauerkraut, and consider adding in a broccoli seed extract supplement (where to buy).

8. Caffeine

Caffeine is a central nervous system stimulant that affects the body in many ways. Women who consume too much caffeine may have irregular cycles that can cause fertility issues. (source)

What to do: 

9. Lack of Sleep

Research shows that sleep plays a major role in hormone function. When you’re sleep-deprived or your sleep-wake cycle changes drastically, it can confuse your body and interrupt normal endocrine function.

What to do:

  • Get plenty of sleep—aim for at least 8 hours each night!
  • Avoid blue lights for at least two hours before bed.
  • Expose your body to natural light first thing in the morning to regulate your circadian rhythm.
  • Try gentle exercises—there’s evidence that just 10 minutes can improve sleep quality and increase sleep duration.
  • Limit caffeine and alcohol consumption.
  • Get more natural sleep remedies.

How Many Days After a Missed Period Should You Worry?

As noted above, it’s normal for a woman’s cycle to vary. If you’re wondering why is my period late and it’s only been a couple of days, wait it out. A period is considered late if it hasn’t started five or more days after the day you expected it to start.

In most cases, a late or missed period is not a result of an underlying health condition. If you’re consistently wondering why is my period late, talk to your doctor to find ways to regulate your cycle and try these natural methods.

If you’re worried about a missed period, because you were not planning to become pregnant, take a pregnancy test and seek the support you need.

How Long Do You Wait After a Missed Period to Take a Pregnancy Test?

Most pregnancy tests claim they can give you an accurate reading as early as the first day of a missed period, and sometimes before. If you really want to be sure, it’s always better to wait one week after your missed period. Check out this post for everything you need to know about taking a pregnancy test.

When Do Pregnancy Symptoms Start?

Though you may have to wait up to a few weeks (i.e. eternity) for a pregnancy test to tell you if you’re pregnant, some early signs of pregnancy can show up earlier than that.

In one study of 136 women who were trying to get pregnant, 50 percent had some symptoms by the time they were 5 weeks pregnant, 70 percent had symptoms at 6 weeks, and 90 percent had symptoms by 8 weeks.

To learn more about early pregnancy symptoms, check out this post.

Can You Miss a Period and Not Be Pregnant?

Yes, as mentioned above, there are a variety of reasons a woman’s cycle can be irregular. The best thing to do to confirm you’re not pregnant is get a hcg blood test through your doctor.

If you’re trying to conceive, you could still be pregnant if you haven’t gotten your period:

  • Sometimes hormone levels are so low that at-home tests can’t detect them yet. Wait a few days and test again.
  • And it’s rare, but some women produce such low levels of HCG (the pregnancy hormone) that at-home tests can’t detect a pregnancy at all. If you think you may be pregnant, despite a negative at-home pregnancy test, call your doctor or midwife. They can confirm the results with a hcg blood test.

How About You?

Have you ever unexpectedly missed a period or experienced irregular cycles? What got you back in balance?