Someone who menstruates spends about 7 years of their life on their period (on average, of course)! That’s so much time!
But many people who menstruate don’t really know anything about their menstrual cycle. They know about periods and pregnancy, but not much else.
We’re here to talk all about the phases of the menstrual cycle in simple terms. Read on to learn more.
Menstruation is the first phase of the menstrual cycle, though many people think of it as the last (especially if they take birth control pills that give a “false period” during the last week).
It’s also known as the menstrual period or simply “period.”
During this phase, the uterus lining, known as the endometrium, sheds through the vaginal opening, though many people think that the period only releases blood.
The menstrual flow consists of blood, mucus, and tissue from the uterine lining. The color and consistency of menstrual blood can vary from bright red to dark brown, and the flow can be light, moderate, or heavy. Everyone’s experience is different.
During menstruation, people experience various symptoms. These include cramps, bloating, breast tenderness, fatigue, and mood changes. These symptoms are influenced by hormonal fluctuations and can vary in intensity from person to person.
Menstruation happens when someone does not get pregnant during the previous cycle. A decrease in the levels of estrogen and progesterone triggers menstruation.
The uterus contracts to expel this tissue and blood (and those contractions cause cramps).
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The follicular phase is the second phase of the menstrual cycle. It usually lasts about 7 to 14 days. During this phase, the body starts getting ready to release an egg from the ovaries.
In the ovaries are small sacs called follicles. Each follicle contains an egg.
One of these follicles becomes the dominant one, while the others stop growing. The dominant follicle keeps getting bigger and produces a hormone called estrogen.
Estrogen helps the lining of the uterus to become thick and ready for a fertilized egg to implant in it. It also causes changes in the reproductive organs to make them ready for possible pregnancy. The estrogen level rises in the body during the follicular phase.
After the dominant follicle has grown, it releases another hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH). This hormone triggers the release of the mature egg from the ovary. When this happens, the next phase of the menstrual cycle begins: ovulation.
During this phase, many people experience bursts of strength and energy. Many people feel stronger during their follicular phase!
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During ovulation, the third part of the menstrual cycle, the body releases an egg from the ovary. It usually happens around day 14 of a 28-day cycle, but it can vary. Ovulation is a key moment for pregnancy because if a sperm fertilizes the egg, it can lead to a baby.
Many people track their ovulation when they’re trying to get pregnant.
The surge of luteinizing hormone triggers the release of a mature egg from the ovary. The egg then travels down one of the fallopian tubes, where it can meet a sperm for fertilization.
People who menstruate may notice some signs of ovulation, such as a change in cervical mucus. It becomes slippery and stretchy, making it easier for sperm to move through the cervix and reach the egg.
Some people may also feel a twinge on one side of their lower abdomen during ovulation. This is called mittelschmerz, which is German for “middle pain.” It’s like a gentle cramp, but it shouldn’t be as painful as the cramps that happen during the menstrual period.
It’s also common to feel more energetic and social during this time, though this isn’t true for everyone who menstruates.
The egg is only available for fertilization for about 12 to 24 hours after it is released. If sperm doesn’t fertilize the egg during this time, the egg dissolves and the body prepares for the next menstrual cycle.
After the egg is released during ovulation, the empty follicle in the ovary turns into a temporary structure called the corpus luteum.
During the luteal phase, the lining of the uterus becomes thick and soft due to progesterone (from that corpus luteum), creating a cozy and secure place for a fertilized egg to attach and grow. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum breaks down, and progesterone levels decrease.
If sperm has fertilized the egg, the egg travels to the uterus and implants into the thickened lining. This leads to pregnancy. The corpus luteum continues producing progesterone to support the pregnancy until the placenta takes over hormone production.
If not, the uterus begins to prepare to shed. Some people may experience premenstrual symptoms during this time, like mood swings, bloating, or breast tenderness. These symptoms are caused by hormonal changes in the body.
Some people find that they have less energy during the luteal phase. They may tick to short workouts and eat more nutrient-dense foods. They also experience more cravings.
After this, the menstrual period begins and it all starts over.
How Well Do You Know Your Menstrual Cycle?
Are you familiar with the different phases of your menstrual cycle? If you’re someone who menstruates, it’s important that you understand your reproductive system so you can keep yourself healthy!
Understanding your menstrual cycle can help you whether you’re trying to get pregnant, avoid pregnancy, or just stay healthy. For more helpful articles about health and more, don’t forget to check out the rest of the site.