Women of childbearing age experience monthly changes in their hormones. The goal of these changes is to produce an egg and achieve pregnancy. These hormonal changes cause a series of events known as the menstrual cycle. In a woman’s lifetime, there are about 450 menstrual cycles. Understanding the stages of the menstrual cycle helps you get pregnant or avoid getting pregnant, manage period symptoms, and recognize any irregularities or problems.
Why do females have menstrual cycles?
The menstrual cycle is a series of events that result in:
- Developing and releasing a mature egg from the ovaries.
- Making the uterus ready to nurture a possible embryo.
- Producing female sex hormones (estrogen and progesterone) and androgens.
The menstrual cycle lasts from the first day of the period until the first day of the next period. The average cycle is 28 days long. However, every woman is different and it’s normal to have a cycle length anywhere between 21 and 35 days. The length of the menstrual cycle can change from one month to another in the same woman.
4 STAGES OF THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
There are four phases/stages in the menstrual cycle. The length of every phase may differ from woman to woman and month to month. The four phases of the menstrual cycle are:
- The follicular stage
- The luteal phase
The first day of menstruation is the first day of a new cycle. Ovulation is the main event in the cycle and it separates the follicular phase from the luteal phase.
FIRST PHASE – MENSTRUATION
When pregnancy fails to occur, the female hormones drop, causing the lining of the uterus to shed. This presents as vaginal bleeding, which you see as menstruation or period. A new cycle begins with the first day of menstruation. The average length of a period is five days; however, it can last from three to eight days.
During menstruation, you may have:
- Less energy
- Fatigue and withdrawal
- tender breasts
- Irritation and mood swings
- Back pain
SECOND PHASE- THE FOLLICULAR PHASE
The pituitary gland releases a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which triggers the maturation of follicles in the ovaries. A follicle is a small sac in the ovary filled with fluid and an immature egg. During this phase, a number of the follicles in the ovaries respond to FSH, they grow in size, increase their fluid content, and release hormones. The egg inside each of these follicles develops. Eventually, only the healthiest egg will mature. This phase is known as the follicular phase.
Simultaneously, the lining of the uterus starts to thicken and grow to prepare for a possible embryo. In a 28-day cycle, the follicular phase lasts 14 days from the start of the menstrual period. Depending on your cycle, it could last anywhere from 11 to 27 days.
During the follicular phase, you may have:
- More energy
- Better mood
- An increase in confidence and risk-taking zeal
- Reduced appetite
- Increased libido
THIRD PHASE- OVULATION
Ovulation is the fruit of the hormonal effects during the first phase of the menstrual cycle. By definition, ovulation is the release of a mature egg from an ovary. The corresponding fallopian tube then guides the egg to the uterus, where it can be fertilized by sperm. The time window around ovulation is the fertile phase of your menstrual cycle. In a 28-day cycle, ovulation takes place on the 14th day. The two famous signs of ovulation are:
- A modest increase in basal body temperature thicker
- Egg-white-like discharge
Around ovulation, you may have:
- More confidence
- Better mood
- More desire to have sex
FOURTH PHASE- THE LUTEAL PHASE
The luteal phase is the last phase of the menstrual cycle, it follows ovulation and typically lasts for 14 days. During this time, the follicle that once held the released egg turns into the corpus luteum, a mass of cells producing the hormone progesterone. If the egg is fertilized, the corpus luteum continues producing progesterone to support early pregnancy. But if pregnancy fails to occur, the corpus luteum shrinks and is then resorbed. After that, the lining of the uterus starts shedding. This shedding/bleeding, which is a period, marks the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.
During the luteal phase, you may have:
- Cravings for foods high in carbohydrates
- Breast tenderness
Keep in mind that women’s bodies are different. Understanding the basic stages of the menstrual cycle helps us identify possible problems, so that we can ask for professional medical help when needed.
Did you know?
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