Every problem a woman has begins with three letters: M. E. N. This isn’t a blog about hating on men but it is a blog about a woman’s menstrual cycle. A menstrual cycle is the hormonal cycle that prepares a woman’s body for pregnancy.
It’s literally what a woman’s body was made to do - carry a baby and carry on the human race.
Now, when was the last time you learned about your menstrual cycle? If you’re thinking back to a hot, stagnant air-filled classroom when you were in high school - Honey, that was way too long ago.
Having a strong understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of your menstrual cycle is important so you know when your womb is fertile, when you are ovulating, and when you need to start taking things easier.
If you have ever felt like your body is in the driver’s seat and you are just along for the ride - this blog post is for you, Queen.
Introducing your menstrual cycle.
It’s important. Period.
It’s your monthly report card and your 6th vital sign (women are amazing, aren’t we?).
But what is this mysterious flow of hormones doing to us each month?
Women are living in a man’s world; it’s true; however, we can harness the power of our cycles to get ahead, reach our goals, and tune inward and self-reflect - honoring self-care.
Your entire cycle is roughly 28-30+ days (the duration of each cycle is as unique as each woman).
There is a natural flow between four phases: Menstruation, Follicular Phase, Ovulation, and the Luteal Phase.
Let’s break it down, phase by phase.
PHASES OF THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE
Most people agree that the first day of heavy bleeding is the first day of your menstrual cycle. Spotting does not count.
Duration: May last between 3-7 days
Main Hormone: Due to the hormone progesterone (pro-gestation) dropping, the lining of the uterine wall begins to fall away.
Common Symptoms: Bloating, cramping, fatigue, acne, lower back pain, sore breasts, food cravings, mood swings
The follicular phase is responsible for successfully maturing one egg to be released and potentially fertilized by sperm.
Duration: Lasts roughly 14 days
Main Hormone: Estrogen. Estrogen is for building tissue. Estrogen is needed to build the lining of the uterus to support a possible pregnancy.
Common Symptoms: With rising estrogen, you are most likely feeling like you have more energy, confidence, and a greater sex drive. This is also the time when testosterone peaks - making you more likely to opt for that little black dress vs. your sweats.
Fun Fact About Follicular: You are more likely to love the way you look during your Follicular phase.
Considered the midpoint in the cycle. Ovulation is when your matured follicle rips out of your ovary and travels down the fallopian tube where sperm has the opportunity to fertilize this egg.
Some women actually feel the egg rupturing out of her ovary - this is called Mittleshermz.
It’s all downhill from here. Just kidding. But, not really.
Duration: Really just 1 day.
Main Hormone: If you don’t ovulate, you don’t have progesterone. After the egg is freed from your ovary, the remaining follicle - the corpus luteum produces progesterone. Progesterone is warming and it’s why tracking your Basal Body Temperature is usually recommended as a way to know if you ovulated or not.
Fun Fact About Ovulation: Your vaginal discharge will be at its most supportive of a pregnancy. It will be clear, slippery, and plentiful - perfect for helping sperm get to the egg!
The last phase of the menstrual cycle and the one that causes women the most issues. This is where PMS can start, cramps, changes in mood, changes in appetite, you may feel more fatigued, and not be as interested in social gatherings. You are turning inward - waiting for the shedding.
Duration: 10-16 days
Main Hormone: Progesterone is at its highest during the Luteal phase. Progesterone - Pro-gestation - its needed to support a healthy pregnancy. It can help you feel calm. At this point in your cycle, you most likely will feel your energy dropping, your cravings for carbohydrates and fatty foods increase, your sex drive will disappear and sex may even feel uncomfortable thanks to the change in your cervical fluid.
Fun Fact About Luteal: Switch how you think about the week or so before your period. Use this time for reflection, to think about what’s gone well the past month, to care for yourself, and to sleep and rest.
How To Track Your Monthly Cycle
You can get in as much detail as you want about your cycle.
Some women prefer to know everything there is to know about what makes them tick.
Grab a piece of paper or your favorite period app, or you can use THIS CYCLE TRACKER to start tracking. You’re going to want to track on average for 3 months to get a good idea of the inner workings of your menstrual cycle. One month is good, 3 months is best.
You will want to track some or all of the following:
Day of your cycle
Remember, Day 1 = First Day of Heavy Flow
Changes in cravings
More hungry/less hungry
Tracking can be a great first step when your goal is to understand your body better. Often, women get mad at their bodies for working against them but symptoms are just your body’s gentle way to let you know that something might be going on that needs your attention.
Tracking can also be a fantastic way to understand when you ovulated; and therefore, when you are most fertile!
Some women even like to plan their social (and work) calendars around their menstrual cycle (i.e., no large parties or presentations the 7-10 days before the start of her period).
By understanding the natural fluctuations in your menstrual cycle you can start to find peace with your body - knowing that it's not working against you but with you each month. Sometimes we need to slow down and pay more attention to what our intelligent bodies are trying to tell us.
Join our Wellness Community and share your cycle insights this June!
The Modern Nutritionist