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Understanding your menstrual cycle
Whether you’re trying to conceive, manage PMS symptoms or simply keen to tune into your body, understanding your menstrual cycle can help.
Here we outline the four phases of the cycle; menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase and what to expect during each.
Phases of the menstrual cycle
The menstrual cycle typically lasts about 28 days, although it can vary among women. It’s controlled by hormones, primarily estrogen and progesterone, which regulate the different stages of the cycle.
Menstruation – days 1-7
Menstruation, also known as a period, occurs when the lining of the uterus sheds and passes through the vagina. Menstrual blood contains cervical mucus and cells from the uterine lining.
Periods typically last between three to seven days and flow varies from person to person. Consistency, quantity and colour can differ from one cycle to the next.
During your period, there are various products available to absorb your menstrual flow. These include tampons, period underwear, menstrual cups and sanitary pads.
The choice of product depends on individual needs, comfort, and lifestyle.
During the menstrual phase you may experience:
- breast tenderness
- mood swings and irritability
- heavy or painful periods
- low back pain
The follicular phase – days 1-14
The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period and lasts until ovulation, generally around the middle of the menstrual cycle. During the follicular phase, a hormone is released to stimulate the development of follicles in the ovaries.
Follicles are tiny sacs containing immature eggs. As the follicles grow, they produce the hormone estrogen, which causes the uterus lining to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. Usually, only one follicle will mature into an egg. This can happen from day 10 of your cycle.
The length of the follicular phase varies from person to person and can be affected by things such as hormone imbalances or stress.
During the follicular phase you may experience:
- increased energy
- feelings of happiness and optimism
- heightened concentration
- increased pain tolerance
- glowing skin
- high sex drive
Ovulation – day 14
Ovulation typically happens once a month, around two weeks before your next period.
Ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from an ovary and moves down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If sex occurs around the same time, the egg may become fertilised, and you may get pregnant.
The egg can survive up to 24 hours after ovulation. Beyond that, the egg is no longer viable meaning it can’t be fertilised and pregnancy is unlikely until the next menstrual cycle begins.
Pregnancy is most likely to occur in the three days leading up to and including the day of ovulation. However, it is possible to get pregnant in the five days before ovulation.
During the ovulation phase you may experience:
- thickened vaginal discharge (like egg white)
- tender breasts
- slight increase in body temperature
- abdominal pain
The luteal phase – days 15-28
This phase typically lasts between 10-16 days and begins after ovulation. The cells in the ovary (the corpus luteum) start to release progesterone and a minimal quantity of estrogen to thicken the uterine lining in anticipation of a potential pregnancy.
If pregnancy occurs, the corpus luteum continues to produce progesterone to maintain the thickened uterine lining. If pregnancy doesn’t happen, the corpus luteum disintegrates, causing a decline in progesterone levels.
After this, the uterine lining sheds, leading to the menstrual period and the start of a new cycle
During the luteal phase you may experience:
- feelings of moodiness, stress and sadness
- breast tenderness or sensitivity
- changes in appetite
- changes in sex drive
- acne breakouts
Understanding your menstrual is beneficial for overall health and well-being. By gaining an insight into your body you can implement self-care strategies and navigate your menstrual cycles with greater ease.
If you have any questions or concerns about your menstrual cycle, contact us today. Our GPs specialise in women’s health and are readily available to help.