Research into female hormones has been fairly slow and underfunded so misconceptions stay mostly unchallenged. In fact, women of child-bearing age were excluded from clinical research for decades. This was because their changing hormone levels over the month were thought to make them unsuitable research participants.

Men’s bodies have been thought of as the ‘default sex’ historically and women have only had to be included in clinical research by law since 1993 . Yes, you did read that right. That was the year that also gave us the movies: The Nightmare Before Christmas, Hot Shots, Groundhog Day, Sister Act 2 and Sleepless in Seattle.

For lots of us, understanding what hormones actually do can be confusing.

Sure, they’re chemical messengers, but what does that actually mean? When we are talking about sex hormones everybody has them and while they don’t necessarily make us crazy or irrational in the ways that people often say, they can give us a nudge in that direction when we are experiencing fluctuating levels during our cycle.

Here are 5 common myths about hormones and female health.

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There’s no doubt that periods can be uncomfortable and cause pain, particularly abdominal cramping. It would be wrong to play this down or dismiss pain.

Periods should not however, be so painful that they stop you from doing normal activities like going to school, going to work, doing sports or taking part in hobbies. If this is the case for you, you may have a condition that would benefit from treatment, so definitely think about getting help from your healthcare provider.

There are plenty of options to treat painful periods and there is no reason you should just have to ‘put up with them’ and avoid living life to the fullest.

Unfortunately, this is a very common myth and it can lead to a lot of guilt for new mothers. It’s true that during pregnancy, labor and breastfeeding, certain hormones like oxytocin increase and play an important role in bonding between mother and baby.

There are differences in the levels of oxytocin (and the other key hormone for bonding, dopamine) and the way our brains respond to these chemicals vary from person to person.

One mama may feel a rush of intense love towards her newborn and another mom may not at all. Studies have estimated that around a third of mom’s don’t fall in love with their newborn child straight away, and it can take weeks or even months for those feelings to take hold.

Your emotions towards your new child will depends not only on your hormones but on other factors too, such as how easy it was for you to get pregnant, how you found being pregnant, what the birth of your baby was like, whether your child has any additional needs, past or current mental health difficulties, and how supportive your network or partner may be. There’s a lot more to bonding than just hormones.

Remember, a lack of ‘instant love’ doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom or that your hormones aren’t doing what they’re supposed to —it just means you’re a human being coping with and adjusting to a major life change.

Hormonally - your guide to women's health

You’d definitely be forgiven for thinking this one, as post-partum depression (PDD) is all about women’s hormonal state, isn’t it? Well not entirely. Up to 10% of new dads can also experience PPD (compared to the 20% of new moms that will have PPD). Studies have even shown that dads’ hormone levels change during their partner’s pregnancy and in the first year after birth too.

PPD in men often happens in the 3-6 month period after birth. Some common symptoms in men can include an increase in feeling irritable, struggling to make decisions, or holding back emotions. Treatment for PPD in men is similar to treatment for women. Antidepressants and talking therapies are usually recommended.

If you know a dad or non birthing partner that seems to be struggling after the birth of their baby, sharing information like this can be helpful. You could try telling them about an article you read on postpartum in partners. This can help to normalize what they are going through and also gives you the opportunity to share support and information with them.

Similarly to new dads, postpartum depression can occur in the partner of a birthing parent. Research into partner PPD is limited and even more so for female partners. Many aspects surrounding the risk factors for PPD in heterosexual couples are relevant to lesbian and queer couples too. Although most pregnancies in queer relationships will be planned, there are factors that can leave a partner more likely to develop PPD. How you adjust to your partner getting pregnant, possible changes in your partner’s moods, relationship and personal problems and mental health issues (both past and present) are all known to contribute to developing PPD.

Firstly, you don’t have to worry about menopause at any age, it’s not scary if you understand what’s going on and know how to get help. It can be difficult for some women but there are effective and safe treatments available for perimenopause and menopause.

This myth does cause lots of problems though, for women who enter perimenopause not knowing what’s happening to them, for their confused partners experiencing menopause by-proxy, and for healthcare providers who don’t know how common it is for women to start getting symptoms in their late 30s or early 40s.

To be really clear – you can enter menopause at any age! You may have a condition called primary ovarian insufficiency (POI). POI is where your ovaries stop producing enough of the hormones needed to support ovulation, meaning you will enter menopause earlier than expected. If you have POI you will get the same symptoms as women entering menopause later in life.

One in 1,000 women experience POI.

And one in 100 women will have their menopause before they are 40.

It is not unusual for women to start noticing signs of perimenopause in their early 40s but these symptoms are often put down to other things like stress or depression. If you’re struggling with any of the symptoms on this checker list, you should make an appointment to talk to your doctor. Hormone Therapy (HT) is safe and effective and works best if you start taking it when symptoms start. You can find more information of HT here.

This myth is now over 20 years old and has done so much to harm women’s health over that time. It comes from a poorly designed study where findings weren’t reported properly. The study wrongly linked using HT to the development of health issues such as breast cancer.

Even though these links have been disproved, the study still causes many women to feel worried about using hormones during their menopause.

The impact of this means many women suffer with awful symptoms when they don’t have to. HT has actually been shown to be good for future health (such as heart health, bone health and brain health). These benefits have been missed by many women because of this fear and it’s time we set the record straight.

The types of estrogen and progesterone used today in HT are made from plant-based ingredients and are designed to mimic the hormones naturally produced in your body. Many more recent studies show that taking HT within 10 years of menopause does not increase your chance of breast cancer and it may even decrease it.

If you’re concerned about the risk of blood clots, HT that is absorbed through the skin (patches, gel, spray) does not increase your chance of a clot.

If you have had estrogen receptor positive breast cancer and are thinking about whether or not it is safe for you to use HT, it’s best to talk to a menopause specialist who is experienced in treating women with breast cancer as there are things you will need to think about. It may still be possible for you to explore hormone therapy, but you will need to do this under the care of a professional with lots of experience.

Hormonally - your guide to women's health