ARE YOU WONDERING WHAT THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE IS AND HOW YOU CAN PROPERLY TRACK IT?
The menstrual cycle relates to the monthly hormone cycle that occurs within all women of reproductive age to enable the possibility of a pregnancy. It is the process by which hormones act on the female reproductive system to produce a dominant follicle, release the follicle and prepare a woman’s body for a potential pregnancy.
Menstruation, periods or bleeding – is the shedding of the lining of the uterus along the endometrium. This is the lining that was built up during the cycle, in preparation for a potential pregnancy. If an egg is not fertilized, and no embryo embeds into the endometrium, a female’s endometrial lining is shed as no pregnancy has occurred. This occurs monthly.
The general age of menarche or first menstruation is now between the ages of 8-14 with the average being 12. Once a girl begins to menstruate – she is potentially able to reproduce, women continue to have periods until about the age of 55.
Girls are born with approximately 2 million immature eggs.
HOW DOES THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE WORK?
The menstrual cycle is the monthly cycle through which the hormones of the body act upon the female’s reproductive organs to produce a mature follicle, release a follicle and build up a thick lining of blood along the uterine wall in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
The average days in a menstrual cycle is 28-32 days.
STAGES OF THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
Day 1 of the menstrual cycle begins on the first full day of your period. This is the body shedding the lining of the uterine wall and you bleed through your vagina. Blood can range from bright red, to a dark brown and may be watery or thick. You may also notice clots in your blood.
In general your period may last for 3-7 days. Therefore when your period finishes, it may be on day 3,4,5 ,6 or day 7 of your cycle.
Once you begin bleeding, the hormones Follicle-stimulating Hormone and Oestrogen begin to rise within the body and are released through the endocrine system. FSH – acts upon the oocytes (follicles) within the ovaries and begins to prepare follicles to develop into mature follicles, ready for ovulation. During this period between 14-20 follicles may be developing within the ovaries.
In any cycle, there is usually only one dominant follicle – this is a follicle that develops to be larger than the others and it is the one that will be released at ovulation. However, there are some women who can ovulate with 2 or more dominant follicles, or others, who ovulate from both ovaries at once. Everyone is different.
As FSH is working on maturing the follicles, oestrogen causes the blood lining of the endometrium to begin to thicken in preparation for a fertilized egg to become implanted into the lining. The blood lining is known as the endometrial lining and its purpose is to provide nutrients to the embryo once it implants into the endometrial lining.
The first part of the menstrual cycle is known as the follicular phase.
Days 11-16 depending on your cycle and your body, ovulation generally will occur about mid-way through your cycle. Ovulation depends on the hormone Luteinising Hormone or LH.
Prior to ovulating – there is a surge in the hormone of LH – this causes the dominant follicle to be released from the ovary and it is literally shot out of the ovary and released into the abdominal cavity where the fimbriae of the fallopian tubes gently catch it and send it down the fallopian tube. If trying to conceive – you want conception to occur within the fallopian tubes and you want the sperm to be up in the fallopian tubes waiting for an egg to be released.
Approximately 24-36 hours after the LH surge, ovulation will occur – the dominant follicle releases an egg (oocyte) and the remains of the follicle now become what is called the corpus luteum. The egg will only survive for approximately 24 hours if not fertilized. The corpus luteum is responsible for secreting progesterone which along with LH drives the second part of the menstrual cycle known as the Luteal Phase.
The main function of progesterone is to act on the lining of the uterus – the endometrium. During this phase, progesterone prepares the endometrial lining for potential implantation of a fertilized egg in what is known as the secretory phase.
If a fertilized egg does not implant into the endometrial lining, approximately 14 days after ovulation, there is a sudden drop in the levels of progesterone and oestrogen. This sudden drop in the hormone levels, triggers the uterus to begin to shed its lining – leading to menstruation.
Please note: every women is different and a change in length of cycles is normal within 7 days as we tend to ovulate from one ovary and the then the opposite side the next month, so a discrepancy is cycle length is normal, I.e. one cycle may be 28 days and the other 32. This is completely normal.
In general, the follicular phase can be more irregular than the luteal phase.
Stress, grief, dietary changes, changes in sleep can all affect our menstrual cycles, it may bring on a menstrual cycle earlier, or with stress, a menstrual cycle may be delayed.
SO HOW DO WE TRACK OUR CYCLES?
We can track our cycles by using apps such as Period tracker, my fertility, Fertility Friend etc. These apps are useful to record your cycle so that you can get an idea of how your body cycles are working and if there is a difference in the length of your cycles. In general, they will also highlight where you are potentially fertile and where you are projected to ovulate.
If looking to conceive, I recommend using Fertility Friend to track your cycle and also to record your Basal Body Temperature as the BBT chart, is a terrific tool which enables us to see exactly where your Follicular Phase and Luteal Phase begin, where ovulation has occurred, thus enabling a better chance at conception, or, if wanting to use a rhythm method, avoid sex around your fertile times as a natural form of contraception.
DAYS 1-7 MENSTRUATION AND BEGINNING OF THE FOLLICULAR PHASE.
FOLLICULAR PHASE IMPACTED BY FSH (FOLLICULAR STIMULATING HORMONE) AND OESTROGEN.
DAYS 7-14 – The uterine lining is developing and thickening along the wall of the uterus.
Prior to ovulation – there is an LH surge. 24-36 hours after LH surge ovulation occurs.
Days 12-15 OVULATION DEPENDING ON YOUR CYCLE LENGTH.
FROM DAY 12-15 After ovulation: follicle becomes a corpus letuem which sectretes Progesterone.
LUTEAL PHASE IS IMAPCTED BY LH AND PROGESTERONE.
Egg travels down fallopian tubes, and proegerterone acts on the uterine lining to prepare it for the possibility of a fertilized egg implanting into the lining.
If no fertilized egg implants into the uterine wall – there is a sudden drop in the hormones of progesterone and oestrogen – causes the uterine wall to begin shedding leading to beginning of mensuration and we begin at day 1 again,
Here is an example of how your menstrual cycle looks when you BBT CHART.
FOLLICULAR PHASE OVULATION LUTEAL PHASE Positive pregnancy chart
If you are looking to conceive, or to use the rhythm method as a form of contraception, it is imperative that you know how the menstrual cycle works and the different hormones that drive the cycles. Also having this knowledge enables you to have a better relationship with your body.
If you would like to arrange a personalised consultation where I can help you with your menstrual cycle, and create a personalised treatment plan for you, then you can book now.
We also have the Rebalance Health and Wellness Facebook group which provides valuable tips and expertise to help you rebalance your health. If you would like to join this group you can do so here.
Written by DR Julia Bartrop, Acupuncturist and busy mum of 2.