Menstrual cycle: everything you need to know about the female cycle
Whether you want to know when your next period is going to fall, conceive a baby, or simply to understand yourself better, knowing how the menstrual cycle works is very interesting. So, we give you everything you need to know in this article.
What does the menstrual cycle mean?
From puberty, to the onset of menstruation and until menopause, women have a menstrual cycle for about 35 years. A woman's fertility is experienced in the form of a cycle, divided into 4 phases. During these 4 phases, there are hormonal fluctuations, which have an impact on many aspects of a woman's life.
The menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days but the length varies from person to person, some will have a very short cycle of 21 days, while others will have much longer cycles of 30 days or more.
What are the hormones of the menstrual cycle?
As explained earlier, hormones and their fluctuations direct the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Estrogen and progesterone: the best known
Estrogen and progesterone are the main and most important hormones in the menstrual cycle. Estrogens have a regulatory role. They are hormones produced by the follicles (located in the ovaries) and make the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) thicker and therefore ready to receive a fertilized egg. Just before ovulation, estrogen levels rise.
Progesterone is the second sex hormone. It is produced when the egg has already been released, by what is called "the corpus luteum" (the remains of the follicle). This hormone is very useful because it allows the preservation of the endometrium and the implantation of a fertilized egg. Progesterone reaches its peak on the 21st day of the menstrual cycle, which is one week after ovulation.
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH)
Follicle-stimulating hormone (called FSH) is not secreted by the ovum, but by the pituitary gland, located in the brain. What does it do? That the follicles of the ovary reach maturity. This hormone also has a role to play at the beginning of puberty.
The level of this hormone will increase during menstruation, to fall just before ovulation.
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is also a hormone produced in the brain. Its mission? That ovulation occurs by releasing the egg ready to be fertilized.
What are the phases of the menstrual cycle?
The menstrual cycle is composed of different phases, all with their own particularity:
1. Follicular phase
The first phase begins with the first day of menstruation, which is the first day of the cycle and the follicular phase. It usually ends on the 14th day, when ovulation or the ovulatory period occurs. The ovaries will actually prepare to release an egg. FSH will be secreted by the pituitary gland, which will cause the follicles to grow and produce estrogen.
At the end of the growth of the follicles, with the peak of the luteinizing hormone, an oocyte will be released. The oocyte, together with the spermatozoon, forms the first cells of the embryo during fertilization.
The endometrium will thicken in preparation for receiving a fertilized egg. During this phase, you may experience:
- an increase in libido
- more swollen breasts
The third phase isovulation. This phase usually occurs on the 14th day of the cycle. Once released, the egg takes 24 hours to reach the fallopian tubes, and survives for 24 to 48 hours. For a pregnancy to occur, the egg must be fertilized within this time frame.
Several signs may appear during this phase:
- an increase in your body temperature: to make the ground more favorable to sperm and their survival, the temperature usually increases by 0.5 degrees.
- During this period, the cervix is also more open, which makes the discharge whiter.
3. Luteal phase
Finally, after the egg has been released, the luteal phase takes place. During the luteal phase, progesterone levels increase to help the uterus mature. Then, at about 21 days, progesterone production will begin to decline. When estrogen and progesterone levels reach a very low level, bleeding will start to occur, which leads to menstruation.
During the luteal phase, you may experience different symptoms:
- First, is the arrival of PMS. PMS stands for premenstrual syndrome. It is estimated that 80% of women suffer from PMS. PMS can manifest itself in different ways: headaches, intestinal problems, joint pain, mood swings, etc.
- You can also have hormonal acne.
4. Arrival of the period
The first day of your period and therefore of your cycle also marks the beginning of the follicular phase. If your period arrives, it means that the egg has not been fertilized this month. The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, will then disintegrate and bloody discharge will appear. The menstrual flow is also composed of uterine mucous membrane. Menstruation, its frequency and pain vary according to the woman. Some will have a heavy flow while others will have a light flow. Bleeding lasts from 3 to 7 days most of the time.
During your period, you may experience various symptoms, such as menstrual cramps, abdominal pain, migraines, etc.
How to calculate the length of your menstrual cycle?
Knowing your menstrual cycle and knowing when your period is going to fall or when you are most likely to get pregnant is very practical.
What day does your period arrive?
A cycle lasts on average 28 days. The arrival of your period marks the beginning of a new cycle and the end of the previous cycle.
To better predict the arrival of your period, you can note and count the days in a menstrual cycle calendarTo better predict the arrival of your period, you can note and count the days in a calendar or use a menstrual cycle tracking application.
What should I do if I have an irregular female cycle?
Irregular cycles can be a burden and a heavy mental burden for those who suffer from them.
It is normal for cycles to be irregular during your first period: the body needs to adapt to the hormonal changes. After one year, your cycle is usually regular.
Obviously, there are periods in life when your periods can become more irregular: we are thinking in particular of pregnancy, breastfeeding, but also of periods of stress.
So, many elements of our lives can influence the regularity of your period. If your cycles are generally irregular, consult your doctor: it may be a deeper problem, such as PCOS.
When is the best time of the menstrual cycle to get pregnant?
You are most likely to get pregnant at ovulation time. Ovulation usually occurs on day 14 of the cycle. In fact, while the length of the follicular phase (before ovulation) varies, the luteal phase is always 14 days long.
Therefore, the time when you are most fertile is between the 4th day before ovulation and the day after ovulation. In fact, since sperm have a life expectancy of 5 days, you can get pregnant by having sex in the days before ovulation.
How do you know if you want to? Since ovulation usually occurs around the 14th day of the cycle, you can start by counting on a calendar, or using a cycle tracking app. Then, ovulation leads to different symptoms (more or less noticeable depending on the person). You can for example feel :
- a feeling of heaviness and pain in the lower abdomen (on the side where the egg is released)
- a change in the cervical mucus: the secretions will tend to become similar to egg white: more slippery and translucent
- an increase in libido
- an increase in your body temperature
- Some women also have spotting (light blood loss) during ovulation
What impact does the menstrual cycle have on daily life?
As explained above, the menstrual cycle is divided into several major moments, all guided by hormonal changes. And hormonal fluctuations have a global impact on your body, mind etc..
For example, during the first phase of the menstrual cycle, it is common to experience symptoms such as fatigue and sleep disturbances.
During the follicular phase (after your period and before ovulation), your libido may increase.
And during the luteal phase, the famous PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) occurs. 80% of women are affected by PMS, with varying degrees of intensity.
PMS manifests itself in different ways depending on the woman, but here are the most common symptoms
- mood swings
- increased sensitivity
- sleep problems
In some severe forms of PMS, called premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD), the symptoms are so strong that they lead to suicidal thoughts, depressed mood, etc. This disorder affects 3 to 8% of women.
Menstrual cycle FAQ
How do I know if my menstrual cycle is 28 or 21 days long?
The length of the cycle varies. If your period arrives after 21 days, then the length of your cycle is 21 days. If your period arrives after 28 days, it means that your cycle lasts 28 days.
How can I calculate my menstrual cycle?
Several methods exist to succeed in situating you in your menstrual cycle: you can simply note the days of your period in your calendar. Otherwise, there are mobile applications that allow you to follow your cycle according to the date of your period, your feelings, your presumed date of ovulation etc... Useful to plan your vacations or other!
Can I get pregnant right after my period?
It is unlikely to get pregnant right after your period. But it is not impossible: if your cycle is very short and ovulation takes place just after your period, if you have unprotected sex, you have a risk of getting pregnant.
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