Understanding your Menstrual Cycle

It is vital that you understand your menstrual cycle and the hormones at play so that you can support yourself and thrive during this time. In this post we will discuss the main phases of the menstrual cycle and what happens during each phase. 

A healthy period has 4 main phases: 

  • Menstruation - 2-7 days
  • Follicular phase - 7-21 days
  • Ovulation - 1 day
  • Luteal phase - 10 -16 days 

By Elara Care - https://elara.care/hormones/menstrual-cycle-hormones-and-their-functions/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=126476211

For adults a healthy menstrual cycle can vary from 21 to 35 days. 28 days is the average. A teenagers cycle can be anywhere between 21 - 45 days due to their longer follicular phase. 

Follicular phase

The follicular phase starts when usually 6 to 8 follicles enter the final days of their journey towards ovulation. A follicle is a sac that contains one egg. It takes 100 days for your follicles to mature. In order to have a healthy period, we need to have a healthy lifestyle for the 100 days previous. During the final days of their development, the follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), stimulates your follicles to make estradiol, which is a very important estrogen. Estradiol stimulates your mood, benefits your bones, muscles, brain, heart and skin. Estradiol’s main job is to stimulate your uterine lining to thicken and grow in preparation for a baby.  

Ovulation

Eventually one of your follicles comes towards the end of its journey. The dominant follicle swells and ruptures to release its egg. A hormone called luteinising hormone (LH) aids in this process. The release of the egg is known as ovulation. Some women report a mild pain on one or both sides of their pelvis during ovulation. This will be due to the egg rupturing out of the ovary. After ovulation you will either get pregnant or roughly 2 weeks later you will get your period. On average, ovulation happens on day 14 of your cycle but this can vary. 

Luteal Phase

Your follicle is now coming to the end of its 100 days to maturity. During your luteal phase your now empty follicle becomes a gland called the corpus luteum.  Progesterone is made by the corpus luteum. The main job of progesterone is to maintain and nourish a pregnancy, but it also does a lot more. It is the opposite to estrogen and both hormones need to be in balance. Progesterone is a calming hormone. It is great for mood and anxiety as it calms the nervous system. It promotes sleep, builds muscle, reduces inflammation to name just a few. 

If a follicle doesn’t mature, you won’t ovulate or make your progesterone. This is called an anovulatory cycle. 

If you become pregnant your corpus luteum will continue to make progesterone for 3 months until the placenta takes over this job. If you don’t become pregnant your corpus luteum will begin to shrink and only survives for about 10 to 16 days. Your progesterone levels then drop which causes the shedding of your uterus lining. Your period. 

By Sydney Fought - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=118299853

Menstruation

If you made enough progesterone your period will arrive promptly with little or no fuss. Your period should last between 2 and 7 days and you should lose about 50 ml of fluid. That’s roughly 10 fully soaked regular tampons or pads. Anything less than 25 ml would be considered a light period and anything more than 80 ml would be considered a heavy period. 

It’s a good idea to track your cycle. There are many apps that can help you with this. 

To recap

For a healthy adult your period can last for 21 to 35 days. The average is 28 days. You will ovulate roughly 14 days before your next period. Your period should last 2 to 7 days and you will lose roughly 50 ml of fluid. 

If you are experiencing any PMS or painful periods you can get your hormone levels checked by a Biokinesiology practitioner.