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Understanding the 4 Stages of Menstrual Cycle

Many believe the "menstrual cycle" revolves only around bleeding days, but it's more complex. It is divided into four different phases—menstruation, the follicular, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Each phase has its own purpose to serve throughout your entire menstrual cycle. Understanding these stages provides insight into how the female reproductive system functions. So, let’s discuss them in detail, along with other important aspects when it comes to your menstrual cycle!

A Brief Note on Menstruation 

A female reproductive system undergoes a monthly process known as MENSTRUATION— characterized by the shedding of the uterine lining. Also referred to as menses or the menstrual period, the process involves the discharge of menstrual blood composed of both blood and tissue from the uterus, which exits the body through the vagina.

This phenomenon is regulated by hormones acting as chemical messengers within the body. Specifically, the pituitary gland( in the brain) and the ovaries release certain hormones at specific intervals during the menstruation cycle. The hormones released by these two are:

  1. Pituitary Gland

  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

  • Luteinizing hormone (LH)

2. Ovaries

  • Estrogen

  • Progesterone

These hormones play crucial roles in thickening the uterine lining, facilitating the potential implantation of a fertilized egg. 

Also, they trigger the egg release from the ovaries, a process known as “OVULATION.” Following ovulation, if the egg remains unfertilized by sperm, pregnancy does not occur. Consequently, the thickened uterine lining breaks down and sheds, resulting in menstruation. Your first period is called “Menarche”. 

NOTE: The menstrual cycle length can vary from person to person but generally falls within a range of 21 to 35 days. The average menstrual cycle is often quoted as 28 days.

Phases Of The Menstrual Cycle

Your menstrual cycle is orchestrated by hormonal fluctuations, which prompt responses in your reproductive organs. This hormonal interplay governs various stages of the fertility cycle. Knowing about these stages is really crucial. So, let’s learn about each phase of the menstrual cycle briefly:

1. Menstrual phase

This phase happens when an egg from a previous cycle has not been fertilized. Since the thickened lining of your uterus isn’t needed for pregnancy, it sheds through your vagina. When your uterine lining sheds and you start to bleed, that marks day one of your menstruation cycle, also known as your period. During this phase, you might experience period symptoms like:

  • Cramps 

  • Tender Breasts

  • Bloating

  • Mood Swings

  • Irritability

  • Headaches

  • Tiredness

  • Acne

  • Low Back Pain

Girls typically start their period around two years after their breasts begin to grow and a year after they start experiencing white vaginal discharge. According to a survey, the average age for girls to get their first period in the United States is around 12 years old.

2. Follicular phase

The follicular phase typically lasts from day one of menstruation until ovulation, spanning approximately 7 to 21 days in length.  

During the follicular phase, the pituitary gland releases hormones such as follicle-stimulating hormones, which stimulate the growth and development of follicles in the ovaries. As these follicles mature, they secrete estrogen, which thickens the uterine lining, priming it for potential implantation by a fertilized egg.

As estrogen levels rise, they trigger a feedback mechanism that inhibits the release of FSH, leading to the dominant follicle selection that will continue to mature. This dominant follicle secretes and maximizes the amounts of estrogen, leading to a luteinizing hormone (LH) surge from the pituitary gland.

This LH surge triggers ovulation and causes the mature egg to release from the ovary. This phase occurs on the 14 days of a 28-day menstrual cycle but can vary. The remaining follicle, known as “CORPUS LUTEUM,” begins to produce progesterone, which further thickens the uterine lining and prepares it for the potential implantation of a fertilized egg.

Various changes occur in the cervix and cervical mucus throughout the follicular phase, creating an environment conducive to sperm survival and transport. This phase is crucial for follicle development, estrogen production, and the preparation of the uterine lining, setting the stage for potential conception and pregnancy later in the menstruation cycle.

3. Ovulation phase

It typically occurs around the midpoint, approximately 14 days before the onset of menstruation in a 28-day cycle. During the ovulation phase, a mature egg is released from the ovary in response to a luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, which triggers the ovarian follicle's rupture. This surge is preceded by a gradual increase in estrogen levels, which reach a peak just before ovulation.

Ovulation is a brief window of opportunity, lasting only about 12 to 24 hours, during which the egg is available for fertilization by sperm. The ovulation timing can vary from cycle to cycle and among individuals. Below are some of the factors that can influence ovulation timing:

  • Menstrual Cycle Length: Variations in cycle length.

  • Hormonal Fluctuations: Changes in estrogen and LH levels.

  • Stress: High-stress levels can cause hormonal imbalance.

  • Illness or Health Conditions: Conditions like PCOS or thyroid disorders.

  • Medications: Certain drugs can alter hormone levels and ovulation timing.

  • Age: Ovulation patterns may change with age.

  • Body Weight: Both underweight and overweight individuals can experience irregular ovulation.

Upon ovary release, an egg travels through the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If it encounters sperm along the way and is successfully fertilized, it may implant in the uterine lining, leading to pregnancy. Alternatively, if fertilization doesn't happen, the egg disintegrates. Hormonal shifts then mark the beginning of the next menstrual cycle phase: THE LUTEAL PHASE

Remember, the ovulation phase is the prime opportunity for conception to occur. Understanding its exact timing can be valuable for individuals seeking to achieve or avoid pregnancy.

4. Luteal phase

It is typically from around day 15 to day 28 of your menstrual cycle. When the egg is released from the follicle, the follicle turns into a structure known as “CORPUS LUTEUM.” This corpus luteum produces hormones, mainly progesterone and some estrogen. These hormones maintain the uterine lining's thickness, preparing it for potential implantation by a fertilized egg.

When the egg starts to release from your ovary and moves toward the uterus. There are two cases that occur here:

  • If pregnancy occurs

  • If pregnancy doesn’t occur

In case of pregnancy, your body starts producing a human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) hormone. This hormone is what pregnancy tests detect. It helps to keep the corpus luteum functioning and maintains the thickened uterine lining.

However, if you don't become pregnant, the corpus luteum will gradually shrink and be absorbed by the body. As a result, levels of estrogen and progesterone decrease, leading to the start of your period. 

Understanding the phases of the period cycle is essential for women's health and reproductive well-being. Each stage is crucial in preparing the body for potential pregnancy or menstruation. By familiarizing yourself with these phases, you can better comprehend your body's natural rhythms and detect any irregularities or concerns. Now, let’s discuss another important aspect that you must know:

How Long Does A Normal Period Last?

A typical menstrual period generally lasts between 3 to 7 days. The amount of blood discharged varies throughout this time, with an average volume of approximately 30-40 milliliters (mL), akin to 2-3 tablespoons. 

When Does Menstruation Typically Begins?

On average, the time when girls get their period for the first time is around 12 years old, although the onset can vary. Some individuals may start menstruating as early as 8 years old, while others may not begin until around 16. Generally, menstruation marks the beginning of a person's reproductive years. 

Common Signs of Getting Your Period

For many, symptoms of menstruation vary in intensity or may not occur at all. The most common indicator is often the presence of menstrual cramps caused by the uterus contracting to expel its lining. Additional signs of an impending period include:

  • Fluctuations in mood

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Headaches

  • Cravings for specific foods

  • Feelings of bloating

  • Tender breasts

  • Acne

If your period is running late compared to your usual cycle, you might want to try some tricks to encourage it to start. Here are some "how to make your period come” tips:

  • Drinking plenty of water 

  • Increase Vitamin C Intake

  • Eat papaya, pineapple or consume Ginger 

How Does Your Period Change Over Time?

Your menstrual cycle changes from adolescence through your 40s or 50s. Initially, it's common to experience longer cycles or heavier flow when you first start menstruating. It may take up to three years to establish regular cycles during adolescence. A typical menstrual cycle:

  • Occurs approximately every 21 to 35 days.

  • It involves bleeding lasting between three and seven days.

As you enter your 20s, cycles tend to become more consistent. But, during the transition to menopause, periods become irregular once again. Life events affecting hormone levels, like childbirth or lactation, can also prompt changes in your menstrual cycle.

When Your Period Raises Concerns?

Here are indicators to consider regarding your period:

  • Periods happening less than 21 days or over 35 days apart.

  • Absence of periods for three months (or 90 days).

  • Significant changes in menstrual flow, either notably heavier or lighter than usual.

  • Period bleeding lasting beyond seven days.

  • Experiencing severe pain, intense cramping, nausea, or vomiting during periods.

  • Unexpected bleeding or spotting occurs between menstrual cycles.

How to Track Menstrual Cycle and Its Importance

Tracking your menstrual cycle involves keeping a record of your period's start and end dates and any symptoms or changes you notice throughout the cycle. This can be done using:

  • Calendar

  • Journal

  • Any Specialized apps

By tracking your cycle, you can identify patterns, predict ovulation, and monitor any irregularities or changes in your cycle. This information is crucial for understanding your reproductive health, planning pregnancies, and detecting potential issues early. 

If looking for a natural way to support your menstrual health? Consider seed cycling for mensuration—a simple yet effective approach. By adding flaxseed, pumpkin, sesame seeds, and sunflower seeds into your diet at specific times in your menstrual cycle, you can potentially experience improved menstrual regularity and reduced symptoms of hormonal imbalance

Give it a try and see how it works for you!

Wrapping Up

Just like your bodies, every menstrual cycle is different and unique. What’s normal for you might not be the same for someone else. That’s why it’s crucial to keep track of your cycle—know when your periods start, how long they last, and any changes you notice. If something seems unusual, don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider for guidance.


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