Hey gals (and curious guys)! It has come to my attention that the female body remains a bit of a mystery, even to females! I believe it’s important to have a thorough understanding of your body and its natural processes, so it’s important to understand what happens down there, even when it seems as though nothing’s happening at all. What do you know about your menstrual cycle? Odds are you don’t even think about it, except at that dreaded time of the month when you begin to get all cranky and your significant other either avoids you altogether or tries to please you with loads and loads of chocolate.
The reality is, there are four key phases of your menstrual cycle, and all are equally as important to your health and fertility. Learn more about the way your body works through Udemy’s course on understanding your menstrual cycle – all you need is five minutes a day!
Hormones and Defining ‘Normal’
Your entire menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones. Yes, these are the things that make you cranky, make you happy, and make you really want to kiss people. Your menstrual cycle technically starts on the first day of your period, and ends on the day right before your next period. This cycle typically lasts 28 days, although can range anywhere from 21 to 35 days. If your menstrual cycle is on the shorter end, you may have more than one period a month. If it’s on the longer end, you may go an entire month without having a period at all (and still be normal)!
Your menstrual cycle begins with your normal monthly period, technically referred to as ‘menstruation’. Why do they call it that? Because the menstrual blood is actually referred to as ‘menses’. This blood is built up in your uterus over the course of a month, creating a lining proper for fertilized eggs to latch onto. If none of your eggs are fertilized, your uterus expels this lining. This phase can last anywhere from 2-7 days, and be very light, very heavy, or somewhere in between.
The Follicular Phase
During the follicular phase, your hormone known as estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to begin to re-form. Another hormone beings to develop your ovarian follicles, which each house an egg. Later in the follicular phase, only one of these follicles – and thus only one egg – will remain active. As your body begins to reach the ovulation phase, estrogen levels increase dramatically, peaking the day right before ovulation. The high levels of estrogen cause your body to release another hormone, which causes the one active follicle to rupture and release its egg. This phase typically lasts from day 1 to day 13 of your menstrual cycle.
The Ovulation Phase
Ovulation happens when the one active egg is released and begins to travel towards your fallopian tubes. It is precisely at this time of the month that you are the most fertile – your ‘fertile’ phase is typically five days before ovulation to one day afterwards; sperm can stay active for three to five days after sex. If you happen to be on a 28 day cycle, ovulation commonly happens around day 14. If your cycle does not last exactly 28 days, ovulation can happen anywhere from the 11th day of your cycle to the 16th day. The egg continues to travel down your fallopian tube and into your uterus; this process can take up to four days to complete. As the egg keeps moving towards the uterus, the walls of the uterus continue to become thicker and thicker. If the egg is going to be fertilized, it must happen within 24 hours of ovulation.
The Luteal Phase
After ovulation occurs, the ovarian follicles begin to produce a hormone called progesterone and even more estrogen. The uterine wall is still preparing for the fertilized egg; this process is now being run by the hormone progesterone. If you do not become pregnant during this month, the levels of progesterone being produced begin to drop and the egg disintegrates. Without high levels of progesterone to continue to develop the lining of the uterus, it is now ready to shed and begin preparing for a new month. This is when menstruation happens and the entire cycle begins again.
If, however, you do become pregnant, the fertilized egg will become embedded in the lining of your uterus. Cells will begin to produce a new pregnancy hormone, which helps continue to produce progesterone in order to further embed and protect the egg. This halts the menstruation process, leading to a missed period.
You’d think your own body would be easier to understand, but there’s a lot of mystery behind the different processes that are happening inside your body at any given second. It can be hard to wrap your head around everything that’s happening, so it’s understandable that there may still be a lot of questions left unanswered. I’ll try my best to answer the more common ones you may have.
- What does PMS mean, and how does it fit into the menstrual cycle? PMS stands for pre-menstrual symptoms, which are the easily recognizable symptoms of excessive moodiness, sadness or general emotional ups and downs that happen right before you get your period. PMS also includes physical symptoms such as feeling bloated, gaining a few pimples or having sore breasts. These symptoms are due to the fluctuating hormone levels within your body (remember how crazy those levels of estrogen and progesterone are?)
- Can I get pregnant during my period? Yes! It’s a common misconception that you can’t get pregnant during menstruation. If you have an exceptionally short menstrual cycle, leaning more towards 21 days, your phases could overlap – meaning that you could technically be ovulating while you’re on your period.
- Are my periods normal? If you are not experiencing extreme pain (I mean much more severe than normal cramps) and you are experiencing a normal flow – whether that means light or heavy for you – that is either red, pink or brown, then you are perfectly fine. It is common for women to not be on an exact menstruation cycle. You may have your period on day 28 one month, day 23 the next, and day 30 after that. If you suspect that your flow is too heavy or you have any other concerns, contact your doctor.
Don’t let your body be a mystery! Knowing the changes that happen to you throughout the month can help you better understand your emotions and physical symptoms. Through Udemy’s class on Biohacking Your Menstrual Cycle, you can learn the best types of food to eat during every phase of your cycle to minimize negative symptoms!