Fun fact: your cycle is more than just your period! You actually have 4 distinct phases in your monthly cycle *hints why it’s called a cycle, it just keeps going!* Knowing about your cycle is more than just a fun party topic, it can help uncover any underlying health issues that may be going on. If you can tell your doctor, GP, or naturopathic doctor what is going on and when, it can cut out a lot of guess work.
Our cycle day 1 starts on the first day of your actual period. If you have any spotting leading up to your actual period, this does not count. Only count day 1 as the first day of your actual bleed. You may be thinking why do we have periods and what is in our menstrual blood? Basically, the egg that was released during ovulation was not fertilized, and therefor a certain hormone stops being released. The absence of this hormone signals the uterine lining to disintegrate and pass through in our menstrual blood; and there we have it, aunt flow.
The follicular phase overlaps our periods a bit and last between 7 and 21 days. If you tend to have a longer or irregular cycle, it’s probably this phase that is longer or irregular. Young girls tend to have a shorter follicular phase because their bodies are still building up their reproductive hormones. During the follicular phase our bodies are preparing for pregnancy. We are releasing different hormones that do a bunch of complicated things, but the main hormone that is being released is the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH.) FSH is responsible for telling the ovarian follicles to develop. Between 10-20 follicles are maturing during this time, however, one (rarely two) will out preform and be the chosen one to release the egg. This leads us to ovulation.
Ovulation is when the egg is released from the follicle in the ovary and the only time (roughly 24 hours) that pregnancy can actually be achieved. However, as you approach ovulation, your body starts to release cervical fluid. Some of this cervical fluid is fertile and allows sperm to stay alive for up to 5 days. So, if you have had unprotected sex while this fertile cervical fluid is present, you may still get pregnant even if you didn’t have sex on ovulation day. If the egg was fertilized, it will travel into the uterus and attach itself to the uterine wall. If the egg was not fertilized, more hormones will be released and you will enter the luteal phase.
The luteal phase is roughly 2 weeks long and unlike the luteal phase, rarely changes in length. During this phase, there is a dominating hormone called progesterone. Progesterone is what thickens the uterus lining and keeps it in tact, incase pregnancy was to occur. If pregnancy does not happen, progesterone eventually ceases to be released, and this is what causes the uterine lining to deteriorate and our period starts. Hello aunt flow.
** I have an article written that goes more in-depth about each phase, cervical fluid, and the hormones that dominate our cycle. After consideration, I decided to break the post up into three articles to make it easier to understand. Post two (in-depth look at periods + follicular phase) and post three(in-depth look at ovulation + luteal phase) are now linked! As always, hit the “work with me” tab to send me an email or any questions you may have!**