The Four Stages of Your Menstrual Cycle
Do you know the four stages of your menstrual cycle? If you don’t, it’s OK. Many women are in the dark about their cycle, but we’re here to change that! Knowing the four stages of your menstrual cycle can help empower you and put you in control of your body. It can also help you to know when something’s not right.
In this post, we’ll tell you about the four stages of your cycle: menstrual, follicular, ovulation and luteal as well as what to do to support a happy, healthy cycle!
What is the menstrual cycle?
First up, let’s start with the basics. What exactly is your menstrual cycle?
Your menstrual cycle is what prepares your body for pregnancy. If you are not pregnant, your menstrual cycle hormones send a signal to your uterus to shed its lining. This is what becomes your period. Once your period starts, the cycle starts again.
Your menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. Everyone’s cycle is slightly different but the average length of a menstrual cycle is 28-29 days. Don’t worry if yours is longer than this. Some people, especially women in their teens have cycles that last 45 days, whereas some women in their 20s or 30s might have cycles that last 21 to 38 days. The range of “normal” is quite big!
Your first period is probably pretty memorable - most people remember where they were and how old they were or the general awkwardness of it all! Did you know that your first period is called menarche? Most girls will get their first period when they are about 12 or 13. It can start as early as 9 or as late as 16. Again, the range of “normal” is pretty big!
Your last period is called menopause. Most women reach menopause in their early 50s though for some, it might be as late as 60. There are also times when symptoms of menopause start earlier and this is called perimenopause. You can read more about it in our post called Let’s Talk About Perimenopause.
What are the different phases of the menstrual cycle?
As we mentioned, there are four menstrual cycle phases. We’re going to break down each one so you understand what is happening in your body in each phase.
Phase 1: Menstruation
Of all the menstrual phases, this is probably the one you’re most familiar with! This is your period - the time when you are bleeding. This is the time when your uterus sheds its lining and it flows out of your vagina. It’s not all blood. Your period contains blood, mucus and some cells from the lining of your uterus. The average length of a period is three to seven days.
Women manage their periods with all sorts of different products. Sanitary pads and tampons are the most common but reusable period underwear and menstrual cups are also popular. Pads and tampons should be changed every three to four hours. Menstrual cups last longer and only need to be changed every 8-12 hours.
At Guud Woman, we refer to each of the menstrual phases by the four seasons. The menstrual phase is known as winter. To read more about the four seasons of your cycle, and how to eat and move in line with your cycle, check out this blog post.
Phase 2: The follicular phase
The follicular phase, also known as Spring, starts on the first day of your period and lasts for 7-10 days, ending in ovulation. When you’re in this phase of your cycle, the pituitary gland in your brain sends a signal to release a hormone that stimulates the production of follicles on your ovaries. For the most part, only one follicle will mature into an egg. During this phase, the lining of your uterus thickens in preparation for pregnancy. All this happens without you noticing too much! Though you may notice you’re feeling more energetic and confident. (Thank you hormones!)
Phase 3: Ovulation
Ovulation is an important phase of your cycle if you’re trying to get pregnant. This is when a mature egg is released from your ovary. It then moves down a fallopian tube toward your uterus. This happens once each month, about two weeks before you get your next period. Ovulation is a short phase: just 16-32 hours. So, if you’re trying for a baby, it’s important to know when this is so you can maximize your chances of conceiving.
That said, it is possible to get pregnant in the five days before ovulation too, but it is a lot more likely in the three days leading up to and including ovulation. Once you release an egg, it can survive for up to 24 hours. So, if sperm reaches the egg within this time, you might get pregnant!
This phase is known as Summer and that’s because you’re often feeling your best here - vibrant, full of life, confident and sexy!
Phase 4: The luteal phase
The luteal phase is known as Autumn. It’s also known as PMS season. This is caused by changes in progesterone and estrogen levels and it can cause luteal phase symptoms like bloating, headaches, skin problems and sore breasts. Mood swings, low mood and depression are also common.
But, there’s a reason for all this. These hormones cause the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. If a fertilised egg implants in the lining of the uterus, your hormones will help ensure that it continues to stay thick so the egg stays put. If pregnancy does not occur, progesterone levels drop and the uterus sheds its lining. Your period then starts again.
What can disrupt the menstrual cycle?
So, what is a normal period cycle? As we mentioned, the range of normal is very vast, and it can change every month. That said, your body should be reasonably consistent month to month. If your cycle is very irregular, there could be a reason for it. Here are a few of the most common reasons for irregular periods.
Stress triggers the release of a hormone called cortisol. While it’s not known exactly why this disrupts your cycle, it can cause hormonal changes that disrupt your period. Where possible, try to minimize your stress. Say no to things, take breaks, exercise and take care of your mental health.
Discover more about how stress affects your cycle
Birth control and medications
Some medications can mess with your cycle, even if they aren’t related to your reproductive system. For example, some psychiatric medications, blood thinners or steroids have been known to disrupt menstrual cycles. If you’re taking any of these, it’s important to talk to your doctor about the possible side effects.
Also, birth control like copper IUDs may also cause your cycle to be irregular, especially when you first start using them.
It’s also important to know hormonal birth control like the pill, Nuvaring or Hormonal IUD suppress ovulation - that’s how they work - so if you’re using one of these forms of birth control, you won’t actually have four phases of your cycle.
If you want to learn more about how this works, check out our post called How Birth Control Works for everything you need to know!
Sometimes women do not ovulate regularly. When this happens, it can cause you to have irregular periods. Ovulation is a key part of the menstrual cycle so if you’re not ovulating, your period will be impacted.
So can you menstruate if you don’t ovulate? Technically no, but you will still deal with bleeding. Here’s what’s happening: menstruation happens when an egg is released from your ovary that isn’t fertilized. As a result, the uterus sheds its lining and that’s what causes you to bleed. So if you’re not releasing an egg, technically, you cannot menstruate. However, you can still have a period because the endometrium, aka the lining of your uterus, will still shed even if you don’t ovulate. This is what causes bleeding. Instead of menstruation, this bleeding is sometimes referred to as withdrawal bleeding, abnormal uterine bleeding (AUB) or anovulatory bleeding. Anovulation is the lack or absence of ovulation (the release of an egg). It is a common cause of infertility issues. It is caused by hormonal imbalances and it could also be a result of polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Polyps probably sound scary but these tiny growths in your uterus are usually nothing to worry about. That said, they can cause prolonged periods or spotting between periods.
Fibroids are another reason for irregular periods. Again, this may sound scary but most fibroids are benign, meaning they are not usually anything to worry about. They can however, cause you to have heavy bleeding and periods that last longer than a week.
If you know or suspect you have fibroids, you may want to contact your doctor to have them looked at, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant. Some studies have shown that pregnant women with fibroids are significantly more likely to develop preterm labor and deliver preterm than women without fibroids.
How to support a healthy menstrual cycle
At Guud Woman, we believe that small changes can have a huge and lasting impact on your overall health. Sometimes, small lifestyle changes are all that’s needed to help support a healthy menstrual cycle. Your diet, exercise, sleep and stress levels all play a role. Also, making sure you have the right vitamins and nutrients in your systems is key. Most women, even if they have a super healthy diet, struggle to get all the nutrients they need through food alone. That’s why we always recommend adding a supplement to your routine to support your menstrual health. A healthy lifestyle in combination with the right supplements can be a gamechanger for your cycle, and it will make you feel guud too!
Here are a few of the top ways to support a healthy menstrual cycle:
Eat a healthy, balanced diet
What exactly does a diet that supports your menstrual cycle look like? Variety is key! Opt for fresh, whole foods wherever possible and try to eat meals that contain a source of protein, healthy fat and carbohydrate. This helps ensure that your macronutrient and micronutrient needs are met.
You don’t need to be a nutrition expert or a pro chef to eat a healthy diet either. First, read up on how to eat according to your cycle. And, if you need some inspiration in the kitchen, sign up for our newsletter on our site and receive 12 recipes from Guud founder, Morgane that match with specific phases of your cycle!
Get plenty of sleep
Sleep is so important. Getting enough high quality sleep each night is essential for hormonal and menstrual health. That said, your changing hormones throughout the month can sometimes make falling asleep or staying asleep more challenging. We’ve written more about that here: Sleep and Your Cycle: How Are They Connected?
If your sleep could use some improvement, it’s time to make “sleep hygiene” a priority. Sleep hygiene can be many things, but the main components are establishing a consistent sleep routine and making sure your room is ideal for sleeping (low/no light, soothing sound or white noise, eye mask - whatever works for you!). Basically, it is doing everything possible to improve the quality of your sleep. Most people need seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Ah yes… reduce stress. Easier said than done, right? But stress can wreak havoc on your menstrual cycle so it’s important to keep stress levels in check. You can manage stress levels by staying active, practicing mindfulness activities like meditation or deep breathing or spending time outside. The healing power of nature is incredible!
If you want to learn more about how stress affects your cycle, read our blog post here.
- There are several important nutrients for a healthy menstrual cycle:
- Vitamin B6: Vitamin B6 contributes to normal psychological function which can be useful when suffering from mood swings. But most important is that this vitamin contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity.
- Magnesium: This mineral has wide-ranging benefits and that is why we believe at Guud Woman it’s a girl's best friend. Why we love this powerful mineral so much is because Magnesium contributes to a reduction of tiredness and fatigue.
- Omega-3 fatty acids: Some studies have revealed that the DHA found in omega-3 can reduce inflammation. Which can be useful when you know that you might have more inflammation in your body the days before your period because of hormonal changes.
Still have questions about your menstrual cycle? Get in touch. We can help!
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