When we chat about menstrual cycle, many of us think only about our periods. And no wonder! Education about menstrual cycles is often limited with many only really diving into the nitty gritty of their cycles if they are trying to get pregnant. We have roughly 450 cycles in our lifetime so it’s time to better understand them!
Phases of the Menstrual Cycle
There is so much more to the menstrual cycle than just menstruation. At Floco, we are passionate about helping people better understand their own menstrual cycles and how it impacts their mind and bodies. Too often this is dismissed and we think there is a long way to go to encourage society as a whole to also recognise the complexities of our menstrual cycles and how it impacts us. We highly recommend anyone interested in learning more about their menstrual cycles to read Masie Hill’s Period Power Book. It is a favourite at team Floco!
A wee overview
The menstrual cycle starts with the first day of your period and ends the day before your next period. An entire cycle can usually last between 24 and 38 days, but this can vary for each individual and based on external factors.
Technically, we have 2 cycles that overlap. (confusing I know). These phases are split between the ovarian cycle and uterine cycle- phases than happen either in the ovaries or the uterus.
The brain, ovaries and uterus are working together to send signals that lead to our menstrual cycle.
The phases of the Menstrual Cycle (aka the science-y stuff):
Menstruation (in the uterus)
- This is your period. A period is the lining of your uterus and blood shedding and leaving the uterus through the cervix and out the vagina.
- Menstruation phase lasts from the first day of bleeding to the last day of bleeding.
- This can last anywhere between 2 and 8 days, with the average period lasting 5-6 days.
- During this week or few days our energy levels are at their lowest. The symptoms of menstruation itself can often leave you feeling low in energy. Make sure to take things slow if you are feeling like this.
Follicular Phase (in the ovaries)
- This is the phase between first day of your period and ovulation.
- Signals from your brain tell your ovaries to prepare for the release of an egg.
- Oestrogen levels rise preparing for the release of the egg, oestrogen levels peak just before the egg is released.
- Oestrogen levels change due to a follicle (fluid filled sacs containing eggs) in the ovary becoming dominant and starting to produce oestrogen. Our ovaries contain different follicles at different stages of development. The dominant follicle will release the egg.
- This phase lasts between 10 and 22 days and can vary from cycle to cycle.
- Oestrogen is rising during the phase. Your energy levels will increase, you may feel you have are in a better mood
Proliferative Phase (In the uterus)
- After your period, the uterus starts to build up an inner lining again. As the ovaries prepare for the release of an egg, the follicles in the ovaries are releasing oestrogen telling the uterus to create an inner lining. This is called the endometrium. It is thickest during this phase until ovulation occurs and then becomes thin during your period when it starts to shed.
- About halfway through your cycle, ovulation occurs.
- Ovulation is the release of an egg from the ovary into the fallopian tube.
- It divides the ovarian cycle between the follicular phase and luteal phase.
- Ovulation is caused by oestrogen levels rising so high they signal the brain to dramatically increase luteinizing hormone. This spike leads to ovulation.
- This peak will also leave you feeling energised.
Luteal Phase (In the ovary)
- This is the phase between ovulation and before your next period. Your body is preparing for potential fertilisation.
- The follicle (or sac) we mentioned earlier that contained the egg, changes into a corpus luteum (confusing name we know). This produces oestrogen and
- These hormone changes can lead to mood changes or physical side effects that we commonly know as PMS.
- If the egg is fertilised, the corpus luteum (confusing word that used to be the sac) will produce progesterone and support pregnancy.
- If no pregnancy occurs the corpus luteum will break down (around 9-11 days after ovulation). Oestrogen and progesterone levels will therefore drop leading to menstruation.
- As hormones drop suddenly (if no pregnancy has occurred), you may notice changes to your sleeping patterns and feel you are lacking energy.
Secretory Phase (In the uterus)
- From ovulation to the next period.
- The lining of the uterus will release chemicals that can help support pregnancy (if fertilisation has taken place) or help break down the lining (if fertilisation has not taken place).
When menstruation takes place the whole cycle starts again.
More info about the science-y stuff here.
Why should we care about the phases of the menstrual cycle?
Our menstrual cycle can impact SO MUCH more than just bleeding and fertility. It can change our hair, skin, energy levels, bowel movements, sex drive and the way we experience sex, our mental health, migraines and chronic disease conditions. Being more aware of the impact of the phases of the menstrual cycle can help us make lifestyle changes and choices that suit us. Leaning into your cycle and recognising that you may want to change your routine to fit your energy levels or mood can help us be more kind to ourselves and live a more fulfilling life. Tracking the stages of your own cycle can help you better understand the impact it has on you.