Navigating the Phases: A Phase to Phase Breakdown of the Menstrual Cycle

If you’ve ever felt confused or frustrated by your menstrual cycle, you don’t need to be — we’re here to help. In this article, we’re breaking down the different phases of your menstrual cycle, phase by phase.

You can better handle any cycle signs or symptoms that may come up if you know about the cyclical changes in hormones and how they can affect your day to day health.

Let’s start!

Key Takeaways

  • The menstrual cycle consists of four phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal.
  • The menstrual phase occurs in the first week of the menstrual cycle and involves the shedding of the uterine lining, also known as a ‘period.’
  • The follicular phase is the second phase of the menstrual cycle and involves the development and maturation of follicles in the ovaries.
  • Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from the ovary, usually occurring around the middle of the cycle. Signs of ovulation include increased and changing cervical mucus, increased libido, and light pelvic pain or twinges.
  • The luteal phase follows ovulation and involves the transformation of the empty follicle into the corpus luteum, which produces hormones to prepare the uterus for pregnancy and an increase in basal body temperature.

Phase 1: Menstrual (From Cycle Day 1)

The menstrual phase, also known as menstruation or a period, is a natural part of the menstrual cycle. It typically lasts for about 3 to 5 days, but it can vary for different individuals.

During the menstrual phase, the lining of the uterus called the endometrium, sheds its lining. This is the inner layer of the uterus that thickens each month in preparation for a possible pregnancy.

If fertilisation of an egg does not occur, the body no longer needs the thickened endometrium for that cycle, so it breaks down and is released through the vaginal canal, resulting in menstrual bleeding.

Menstrual bleeding primarily consists of blood, which can be bright red or darker in colour. However it is also made up of cervical mucus and uterine lining. For some it may also contain small clots or built up tissue fragments from the shedding endometrium.

During this phase, many menstruators use pads, tampons, menstrual cups, or other menstrual products to support their menstrual flow and maintain personal hygiene. It’s important to change these products regularly to support a healthy flow and hygiene.

Menstruation Challenges 

For many menstruators, menstruating comes with experienced challenges. These are common experiences, yet not normal. Cycle signs and symptoms can occur even before menstruation begins. They are most commonly referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

During the luteal phase of the cycle, leading into menstruation, these following cycle signs and PMS are common:

  • Mood swings or irritability
  • Fatigue or low energy levels
  • Breast tenderness or swelling
  • Bloating or water retention
  • Food cravings or increased appetite
  • Acne breakouts
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Increased sensitivity or emotional changes
  • Difficulty concentrating or experiencing brain fog
  • Changes in sleep patterns, such as insomnia or excessive sleepiness

Whilst during your period, you may experience:

  • Abdominal cramps or pain (Dysmenorrhea)
  • Lower back pain
  • Fatigue or feeling physically drained
  • Mood swings or emotional changes
  • Headaches or migraines
  • Nausea or upset stomach
  • Breast tenderness or sensitivity

Putting aside these cycle signs and symptoms, please remember that menstruation is why we all exist, it’s a normal and healthy process and, from person to person, it varies.

Menstruation occurs once every 26-32 days, however the menstrual cycle can range and shift from cycle to cycle as well, with a healthy cycle length being one that is consistent in length that varies between 25-35 days.

There are varying contributors that lead to delayed or irregular periods, ranging from hormonal imbalances to disorders like PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome). If you’re experiencing these, reach out for support and begin investigating why it’s occurring. 

Phase  2: The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase begins at the tail end of menstruation right through to pre ovulation. For most this is anywhere from around  7 to 10 days in length, and for those with longer cycles this can be much longer.

During this phase, your ovaries prepare for ovulation by developing and maturing follicles. These follicles contain eggs that could potentially be fertilised.

To stimulate the growth of follicles, your ovaries produce oestrogen, an important hormone. As the follicular phase progresses, one dominant follicle will emerge and continue to grow.

Phase  3: The Ovulation Phase 

The ovulation phase is considered the peak of the cycle. It’s an important part of the menstrual cycle when your body releases a mature egg.

The release of the egg is triggered by a surge in luteinising hormone (LH), which causes the dominant follicle to burst and release the egg into the fallopian tube.

Here are some signs that you’re in your peak fertile phase or soon to be  ovulating:

  1. Changes in cervical mucus: During ovulation, your body produces more cervical mucus that is clear, thin, and slippery, resembling the texture of raw egg whites.
  2. Change in basal body temperature: Before ovulation, your basal body temperature (BBT) may be lower, but it rises by a few degrees after ovulation has occurred.
  3. Increased libido: You may notice an increase in sexual desire and arousal during ovulation due to hormonal changes.
  4. Light pelvic pain or twinges: Some people experience mild cramping or twinges on one side of the lower abdomen, called mittelschmerz, indicating the release of an egg.
  5. Breast tenderness: Hormonal changes can cause breast tenderness or sensitivity during ovulation.
  6. Heightened sense of smell, taste, or vision: Some may also experience a temporarily heightened sense of smell, taste, or vision during ovulation.
  7. Cervical position changes: As ovulation approaches, the cervix becomes softer, higher, open, and wetter. You may notice these changes by checking your cervix manually.
  8. Increased energy levels: Some may experience a surge in energy levels and feel more vibrant and active during ovulation.
  9. Changes in mood or emotions: Hormonal fluctuations during ovulation may cause changes in mood, making some menstruators feel more cheerful, confident, or even more emotional.

During this phase, the egg has a window of about 24-48 hours to be fertilised by a sperm. If fertilisation occurs, it can lead to pregnancy. However, if fertilisation doesn’t occur, the egg disintegrates, and the body prepares to shed the uterus lining for another menstruation.

The ovulation phase is a crucial time for couples trying to conceive because it marks the prime time for fertilisation. It’s important to track your menstrual cycle and ovulation to be aware of when you’re ovulating to increase the chances of getting pregnant.

Phase  4: The Luteal Phase

The luteal phase is the final phase of the menstrual cycle. It begins after the mature egg is released from the ovary and travels into the fallopian tube.

During the luteal phase, the ruptured follicle in the ovary transforms into a temporary gland called the corpus luteum. This gland produces hormones, like progesterone, which help prepare the uterus for a potential pregnancy.

Here’s what happens during the luteal phase:

  • The lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, thickens to create a welcoming environment for a fertilised egg to implant.
  • The pituitary gland releases luteinising hormone (LH), which assists in the release of the mature egg from the ovary.
  • If fertilisation doesn’t occur, the corpus luteum degenerates, causing hormone levels to drop. This leads to the shedding of the thickened endometrium and the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.

Managing Cycle Signs, Symptoms and Optimising Your Well-Being

Taking care of your well-being and managing cycle signs and symptoms during your menstrual cycle is critical. By being informed about your cycle, you can learn how to work better with your flow.

Here are some tips to help you optimise your well-being:

Track Your Cycle

Understanding your cycle will help you anticipate and prepare for hormonal changes and symptoms. By knowing when to expect certain changes, you can better manage any discomfort that may arise.

Prioritise Self-Care

Engage in activities that promote relaxation and reduce stress. It could include practising yoga, meditation, or simply taking a warm bath. Finding ways to unwind and take care of yourself can make a big difference in how you feel during your cycle.

Pay Attention to Your Diet

Eating a balanced diet is important for supporting your body during the menstrual flow. Incorporate foods that are rich in iron, calcium, and vitamins. These nutrients can support  replenishing what your body may lose during this time.

Seek Support

Remember that everyone’s experience with their menstrual cycle is unique. It’s important to listen to your body and give yourself the care you need. Seeking emotional support can also help you manage your symptoms, whether this is through your partner or your friends and family.

Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle Better

Understanding the menstrual cycle is important for managing your symptoms and improving your mood. This knowledge will help you anticipate when your symptoms may occur and help to go through your period better.

You can enrich your understanding of the menstrual cycle by enrolling in courses that focus on discussing these topics. With time, you might even start teaching others about their own cycles.

Take control of your well-being and embrace the natural rhythms of your body!

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