How Traveling Can Delay Period

Noticing a missed period can often trigger worry (cue the urge to rush to the drugstore for pregnancy tests). However, when embarking on a long-haul flight or traveling to a destination with a significant time change, your menstrual cycle might experience some alterations from the norm.

Why does this happen, and should you be concerned about missing a period (or even two) due to travel? Health sought insights from experts to understand why menstrual cycles can become disrupted during journeys and gathered advice on how to manage and regulate your period while on vacation.

How Your Period Works 

Gaining a foundational understanding of how your menstrual cycle operates is crucial.

“The fundamental control of your menstrual cycle hinges on the hormones discharged by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland, which essentially function as your brain,” clarified Joshua U Klein, MD, who serves as the Chief Medical Officer and Reproductive Endocrinologist at Extend Fertility. As Dr. Klein informed Health, any disruptions to your physical or emotional well-being—spanning stress, inadequate sleep, and dietary changes—can perturb hormone equilibrium, potentially leading to irregular or absent menstrual cycles. Maintaining proper hormonal balance is essential for the process of ovulation, and any disturbance to this balance can trigger irregular menstruation.

While multiple hormones participate in managing your menstrual cycle, two particularly influential ones are directly linked to travel and stress: cortisol and melatonin.

According to Dr. Klein, travel often accompanies heightened stress levels, potentially leading to fluctuations in cortisol levels. Dr. Klein added that alterations in sleep patterns due to factors like early flights and adjustments to different time zones, coupled with increased stress, can influence these hormone levels. When the quantities of these hormones in your body experience changes, it can also impact your ovulation schedule. The outcome of such shifts might manifest as a period that arrives earlier or later than anticipated.

How Stress Affects Your Menstrual Cycle

The impact of stress on the body and menstrual patterns is often underestimated. According to Dr. Klein, any disruption to your usual routine can induce stress, potentially leading to changes in your menstrual regularity.

Weight fluctuations and alterations in dietary habits can also influence your menstrual cycle. Additionally, if you’re taking birth control pills and your timing becomes inconsistent while in a different time zone, this can disturb your cycle, as noted by Dr. Christine Greves, an OB-GYN based in Orlando and a fellow of the American Association of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Missing a pill can also impact your menstrual cycle.

Should your period become irregular during travel, it’s important not to panic, as this occurrence is common. However, if your menstrual cycle is delayed by a few weeks and there’s a possibility of pregnancy, it’s advisable to take a pregnancy test. Conversely, if your past menstrual history has been regular and you’re not at risk of pregnancy, the irregularity is more likely a result of the hormonal fluctuations associated with travel, explained Dr. Klein.

Once you’ve returned home, it’s recommended to consult your healthcare provider if you miss more than two cycles.

How To Help Regulate Your Period While Traveling

Fortunately, there are strategies to assist in regulating your menstrual cycle while traveling.

For individuals using birth control pills, it’s crucial to take them at the same time as you would in your home routine. Maintaining consistent sleep patterns, adopting healthy eating practices, engaging in physical activity, and ensuring adequate hydration are all methods to support the regularity of your menstrual cycle upon reaching your destination. Dr. Greves recommended these actions as a way to alleviate stress on your body.

Additionally, Dr. Greves emphasized a key consideration: “When you travel, remember that birth control carries its own risks.” Contraceptives containing estrogen, such as the vaginal ring, patch, and combined pill, can heighten the risk of blood clots. Therefore, it’s advisable to move your legs during flights and perhaps consider wearing compression socks. Before traveling, consult your healthcare provider to assess your individual risk level for blood clots.