How well do you know your menstrual cycle? Really well? Really, really well?
Let’s start here: Did you know menstrual cycles vary for every woman? Did you know there are four different phases of a menstrual cycle? And did you know a menstrual cycle is not the same as your period?
Take a breath. It’s okay if you didn’t know the answers. We’re here to discuss.
The menstrual cycle is a confusing, yet vital part of our reproductive system. There are 3.82 billion people in the world who will experience period cycles in their lifetime. It’s important for each and every one of them to understand what’s happening with their bodies on a monthly basis. After all, with a stronger understanding comes the knowledge of knowing what’s normal and what’s not.
While it may be frustrating to admit you don’t know as much as you thought about your own body, hang in there. We’ll talk all about your menstrual cycle and how it works.
The beginning of your menstrual cycle
The most common age in a young girl’s life to first experience a menstrual cycle is between 8 and 15. As we all know, this can be both an emotional and exciting time. It’s a simultaneous hello to puberty and good-bye to girlhood.
A girl’s first period often starts:
- two years after breasts begin to develop
- six months to a year after vaginal discharge appears
A first period, like every period moving forward, is brought on by the production of the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone from the ovaries. These hormones act as messengers, telling the body to thicken the uterus lining to prepare for a fertilized egg to attach.
When a fertilized egg does not attach to the lining, it breaks down and results in a period. Hit repeat and then you have a menstrual cycle.
That’s a full menstrual cycle in a nutshell. Now, let’s break it down phase by phase.
4 phases of a menstrual cycle
There are four very different phases to a menstrual cycle. When talking about the menstrual cycle, it’s important to remember that they are not the same every time nor are they the same for every woman.
Generally, an average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. However, cycles really do have a range. For adults, this range is 21 to 35 days. While for teens, it can be anywhere from 21 days to 45 days. So, what does this look like?
1. Menstruation Phase
The menstruation phase starts with day one of menstrual bleeding. This phase is what women commonly call their period. It is also often confused as the whole menstrual cycle when it is actually just one of four phases.
During the menstruation phase, the uterus eliminates the endometrium lining. The endometrium lining thickens during menstruation but breaks down when a fertilized egg does not attach to the lining. This break-down results in a woman’s monthly menses. On average, this phase can last between three to seven days.
2. Follicular Phase
The second phase actually begins alongside menstruation, but it ends with ovulation. In the follicular phase, the pituitary gland releases a hormone called the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) that stimulates the ovary to produce follicles. Of the several follicles produced, typically only one will turn into a mature egg. This phase typically takes place on day 10 of a menstrual cycle.
3. Ovulation Phase
Often occurring two weeks before the next menstruation phase is the ovulation phase. A surge in the luteinizing hormone triggers ovulation. During ovulation, the egg is released from the follicle and ovary and picked up by the fallopian tube. The fallopian tube is the location of fertilization of sperm and egg. The egg typically lives for 12-24 hours.
The Fertile Window
The ovulation phase is considered a woman’s ‘fertile window’. If you are trying to get pregnant, you can increase your chances by having intercourse as closely as possible to this phase. Your best chances of getting pregnant are within the three days prior and up to ovulation.
There are a number of tools available to help women know when they are in the ovulation phase of their menstrual cycle. You can check out menstruation cycle apps or get an at-home ovulation test to increase your chances of pregnancy.
4. Luteal Phase
Let’s talk about the final phase: the luteal phase. When the mature egg is released during ovulation, the follicle housing the egg is left behind. This follicle then creates what is called the corpus luteum. The corpus luteum starts to release hormones, including progesterone and small amounts of estrogen. These hormones thicken the lining of the uterus for a fertilized egg.
If a fertilized egg successfully implants within the lining of the uterus, the corpus luteum continues to produce the necessary hormones to maintain the thickened lining of the uterus. It is at this point that the human chorionic gonadotrophin (HCG) hormone can be detected in a urine test for pregnancy.
If a fertilized egg does not implant within the lining of the uterus, the corpus luteum does not maintain itself. This typically happens between day 22 and 28 of an average-length menstrual cycle. The collapsing structure of the corpus luteum gives way to the start of the menstrual phase, triggering the menstruation cycle to repeat.
Menstruation. Follicular. Ovulation. Luteal. Repeat.
Rinse and repeat! Not unlike the directions on a shampoo bottle, your menstrual cycle starts all over again after the luteal phase.
If this sounds nothing like your menstrual cycle, it may be time to consult a professional. Make an appointment and have all your questions or concerns about your own menstrual cycle discussed.
Call us at (920) 886-2299 or visit KaldasCenter.com.