Understanding your Menstrual Cycle
Updated: Feb 10, 2019
Whatever it is that you call it, your period, your time of the month… menstruation is something we very rarely speak about openly in society. Growing up I knew that I was going to get my period, it was inevitable being a female. I was quickly aware that it would 100% be a regular occurrence unlike my older sister Kristi, who believed that it was a 1 time show and once you got your period that was the first and last time, forever! I was warned about PMS by all the females around me and accepted that this was my fate every month. However, I didn’t really know much else about this process happening in my body. I certainly wasn’t aware about the hormonal cycle and what it involved.
After having trouble with my own period, I’ve become extremely passionate about this beautiful process. It’s pretty incredible if you think about it and when you realise how delicate the hormonal cascade is. Why aren’t we taught all this vital information about our OWN bodies in school? We grow up a stranger to ourselves because this topic remains completely taboo for many people.
I have been motivated to write this post all about YOUR period, an amazing natural hormonal cascade that has the ability to create new LIFE! Therefore, understanding how this process works is critical, because you can use this information to help you fall pregnant or avoid falling pregnant. Additionally understanding the hormonal cycle will help you better manage any menstrual symptoms you are experiencing, and understand when there might be a problem.
When will I get my first period?
The majority of girls will get their first period around 12-13 years old. However, this varies due to many factors and some may get theirs earlier, some later.
How often will I have a period?
The average cycle is between 21-35 days. When you’re falling outside these numbers it’s usually time to discuss your cycle with a healthcare professional.
How long should my period last?
The average bleed is around 3-7 days and this can vary in heaviness and length amongst everyone.
What happens during my period?
Around every 28 days, the lining of your uterus, called your endometrium, builds up and thickens, becoming richer in blood vessels, in preparation to support a possible pregnancy. However, if you don’t fall pregnant, the lining isn’t required and as a result your body will shed the endometrium along with blood. This process is what we call our period which I will discuss below.
Your menstruation is controlled by a complex cascade of hormones. There are two structures in the brain involved in this critical series of events, the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus, along with the ovaries. There are 3 phases involved in your menstrual cycle; the follicular phase, the ovulatory phase & the luteal phase.
1. Follicular Phase
Day 1 = the first day of menstruation, which is the elimination of thickened uterus lining (endometrium) containing blood, endometrial cells & mucus from the body.The end of this phase is marked by ovulation
What happens in the Follicular Phase?
The Hypothalamus prompts the Pituitary gland to release Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) FSH rise causes 5-20 follicles to bed on the surface of the ovaries. These fluid filled bumps each contain 1 immature egg1 of these follicles becomes dominant and within it develops a single mature egg, leaving the other follicles to die. This occurs around day 10 of a 28-day cycle.The maturing follicle produces oestrogen, which increases over the follicular phase and peaks in the day or two before ovulation.Rising oestrogen thickens the endometrium, enriched with nutrients and blood in preparation for a possible pregnancyHypothalamus recognises the rising oestrogen levels & releases gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH) GnRH stimulates Pituitary gland to secrete luteinizing hormone (LH) & FSHOn around day 12, LH & FSH surges, causing the egg to be released from the follicle – Ovulation
The LH surge also causes a brief rise in testosterone which increases sex drive, conveniently at the most fertile time of a women’s cycle!
2. Ovulatory Phase
The release of the mature egg from the surface of the ovary into the fallopian tube happens because of the previously mentioned surge in LH & FSH, over the previous two days.Once released, this egg travels through the fallopian tube to the uterus. The egg can survive for 12-24 hours and if sperm is present, fertilisation occurs. If the egg isn’t fertilised, it disintegrates after about 24 hours.Once the egg bursts from its follicle, the ruptured follicle stays on the surface of the ovary for the next 2 weeks or so, seals over and becomes the Corpus Luteum.Ovulation usually occurs around mid-cycle, 2 weeks before menstruation begins
3. Luteal Phase
After ovulation, levels of FSH & LH decrease.The Corpus Luteum produces progesterone & small amounts of oestrogen which maintains the thickened uterus lining, waiting for a fertilised egg to implant.If fertilisation occurs, the Corpus Luteum continues to produce progesterone which maintains the thickened lining of the uterus & prevents the endometrial lining from being shed (menstruation). The fertilised egg will implant in the uterus and produce Human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (HCG) which is required to maintain the Corpus Luteum & is the hormone detected in a urine pregnancy test.If fertilisation hasn’t occurred, the Corpus Luteum disintegrates usually around day 22 in 28-day cycle, which causes progesterone & oestrogen levels to drop to their lowest and signals the endometrial lining to begin shedding as the uterus doesn’t need the nutritious endometrium – menstruation occurs & the NEW cycle begins. The cycle then repeats…
I really hope this is helpful, and gives you an insight into the basics of your menstrual cycle. I’m going to do my next post on PMS and how seed cycling can help with this.
Lots of love, Alex Xxx