Reviewed by

Rebecca - Midwife & Menstrual Cycle Expert

  • Hormones
  • Nutrition

Your cycle is more than just your period

You’ve probably heard us talk a lot about hormones here at Guud. You may even be familiar with estrogen and progesterone, your two most important hormones involved in your monthly cycle.

But do you actually know how it all works?

Let’s break it down, shall we?

First of all, your cycle is more than just your period. In fact, your period is just one phase of your cycle, and it typically lasts 3-7 days.

After your period, estrogen increases in your body. This phase is known as the follicular phase. That’s because small follicles start to develop on the ovary and eventually, one of these follicles develops into a full-size egg.

What’s next?

Ovulation

This is when an egg is released from one of your ovaries and at this point, your level of estrogen increases alongside another hormone called the luteinizing hormone (often known as LH). If you’re trying for a baby, this is the hormone that most ovulation trackers are detecting in your wee, and it indicates that now is a good time to have sex to increase your chances of conceiving.

Estrogen is super important in this phase because it thickens the uterine wall helping to create a friendly home for any sperm that might find their way there.

Sperm stays alive longer than an egg (up to 3-5 days) so that’s why timing conception can be a bit tricky. Your egg can be fertilised up to three days before and two days after you ovulate.

If you're trying for a baby, this is the time to have sex. If not, remember to use some form of contraception!

New chief in town

After ovulation, progesterone is in charge. If your egg was not fertilised by sperm during ovulation, progesterone decreases again and your clever body starts to break down and shed the uterine lining.

This is the start of your period.

The lowdown on PMS

Suddenly annoyed at every little thing? Are you endlessly tired or suffering from insomnia? Feeling anxious with acne and sore boobs?

You’re probably experiencing premenstrual syndrome, aka PMS. And generally, it’s not very fun.

If you struggle with PMS, first of all, know that you’re not alone! It’s very common and likely because you have a heightened sensitivity to hormonal changes in your body.

PMS usually occurs because you have an estrogen overdose in your body and symptoms range from mood swings and anxiety to cramps, acne and anger. They can also include bloating, sleep disturbances, irritability and binge eating.

Annoyingly, these symptoms are often labelled as just part of being a woman. But if you are aware of the phases of your cycle, you can help manage these symptoms. 

The leading ladies: Estrogen and Progesterone

Estrogen

Here’s a fun fact: the production of estrogen only starts in puberty!

Produced in the ovaries, estrogen is sometimes known as the “feel good” hormone because a good balance helps you feel good about yourself. It’s one of the most important hormones in your cycle, pregnancy and other processes in your body like:

  • Maintaining strong bones
  • Healthy looking skin
  • Emotional stability
  • Healthy brain function (Did you know: estrogen increases the amount of serotonin in the brain? Serotonin affects your mood, sleep, sex drive and eating behaviour)
  • The production of endorphins (Endorphins are primarily painkillers but they also make you happy!)

Progesterone

Progesterone plays a role in the production of the stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol.

It’s produced in your ovaries and adrenal glands, and it is key to helping your body prepare for pregnancy. It helps ensure good blood flow to the uterus so a fertilised egg can happily snuggle in there. It can also be associated with overwhelming tiredness in early pregnancy.

And, during pregnancy, progesterone helps make sure that your baby is growing safely and healthily.

And if your egg is not fertilised, progesterone decreases to trigger your period to start again.

A life of balance

When estrogen and progesterone are out of balance, it can wreak havoc on your cycle. It can lead to an irregular cycle or no period at all.

But when estrogen and progesterone are balanced, you’re more likely to feel good, have a regular cycle and a body that is prepared and ready for pregnancy, if that’s what you want.