If 1/4 of American women do not know where their vagina is located, I think it’s safe to assume there is an equal number of women who are unaware of the phases in their menstrual cycles. I was entirely unaware of the menstrual cycle phases until 2016 when I finally decided I’d had enough of hormonal birth control; I knew there had to be another way. Lucky for you, I’ve done the research and I’m here to shed light on this seemingly forgotten subject.
Your monthly cycle is so much more than just your period! There are four distinct phases women experience every month:
- Follicular phase
- Luteal phase
Period: 1-7 Days
This is the first day of our cycle and can last up to 7 days. Start charting a new cycle on the first day of your actual period, not if you have some spotting in the days leading up to your period.
Knowing the signs of healthy menstrual blood is so vital, so here is a chart from one of my teachers:
I have written an article on what is in our menstrual blood and will continue to write articles on self care during this time.
During your period, you can lose between 1 and 4 ounces of blood and other fluids, but typically the average is 2.5 ounces. This is also the time that Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) starts to be produced by your pituitary gland. FSH is the hormone that triggers the follicles in your ovaries to start developing eggs to be released during ovulation, which we’ll discuss more in the next article.
Follicular Phase: 7-21 Days
The female body has got to be the most optimistic being in the universe. It prepares for pregnancy every month! And that is what’s happening in this phase of your cycle. The follicular phase can last anywhere between 7 to 21 days, depending on the amount of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) you have. When you are younger and just coming into puberty, your follicular phase will be shorter because you will have less FSH. As you get older, you have more FSH and therefor will have a longer follicular phase. This is the phase that varies the most in length, so if you have a longer or irregular cycle, it usually will stem from this phase.
During this phase your body is prepping for pregnancy; you’re releasing more estrogen, specifically estradiol. Estradiol is immensely important because it is your happy hormone! Estradiol boosts your mood and libido because it stimulates the neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. Many women report being happier and more motivated during this phase of their cycles. Estradiol also benefits your bones, muscles, brain, heart, sleep, skin, and metabolism, but its two main jobs are to thicken the uterine lining and stimulate a unique type of vaginal discharge; fertile mucus.
You may have heard of “vaginal discharge” because this is what many women call their cervical fluid. There are different types of cervical fluid, the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler depicts 3 different variations leading up to fertile mucus. The book describes the first few days after your period has ended as “dry.” There is no cervical fluid. After that, there’s “sticky” and the vaginal sensation is dry/sticky. Next is, “creamy” the vaginal sensation is wet/moist/cold. Finally there’s “egg white” and the vaginal sensation is wet/lubricative. The egg white fluid is the fertile mucus.
The best way to check for cervical mucous is when you use the restroom and wipe with paper, notice how the paper “glides.” If there is a little resistance, this is likely the “dry” or “sticky” mucus. If the paper glides very easily, you’re probably getting to the fertile mucus.
*** PLEASE NOTE ***
Everyone is different! Every body is different! Your cervical fluid may not sound like what is described above! It is so important to track your cycle and cervical fluid so you understand what your own personal fluid looks/feels like. These are descriptions gathered by many different women, but they are just an average and not the rule.
Most women describe their fertile mucus as being like egg whites; extremely stretchy (can stretch at least 1” without breaking), slippery, clear/cloudy, wet/lubricative. This is extremely fertile. The other cervical fluids described may be fertile, but it is not likely. Your fertile mucus is what allows sperm to stay alive inside the cervical crypts for up to 5 days.
cervical crypts: pockets in the lining of the cervix where the cervical fluid is produced, and that function as a temporary shelter for sperm during the women’s fertile phase.
Also note that there are some cases where you may experience abnormal timing of fertile fluid; post about that will be coming later and will be linked here.
On December 8, the detailed description of the second half of the menstrual cycle will be released. Here is an overview of the entire cycle.
Happy flowing friends!