Do you know that there is more to your menstrual cycle than the monthly bleeding?
In fact, menstruation is only just the beginning of many other phases involved.
Did you also know that these phases of your menstrual cycle have a “fertile window” which you can use to either increase your chances of getting pregnant or avoid pregnancy with ease?
Factors like your age, body size, level of stress and exercise can influence the length of your menstrual cycle.
And about your menstrual cycle length, Mayoclinic emphasized that irregularities could be a sign of some serious health problems but how would you know if your menstrual cycle is regular or not when you don’t keep track?
What does “menstrual cycle” mean and why it is important to you?
The menstrual cycle is the series of event in your reproductive system that prepares you for a possible pregnancy every month.
These events are controlled by hormonal changes which begin from menarche (i.e. your first cycle) and continue till menopause (i.e. your final cycle).
Menarche starts within ages 8 to 15 and usually 3years after your breasts and pubic hairs start to grow. Menopause happens within ages 40 to 60. You have reached menopause if you’re within such age range and haven’t seen your menses for 12 months straight.
Although, I still don’t see why menarche wasn’t called meno-play. Like, I mean, isn’t it a better opposite of meno-pause?
A wife in bed with her husband who is thinking about the menstrual cycle.
Meanwhile, here’s a quick breakdown of what sums up to your menstrual cycle
Many eggs in your ovary begin to mature.
One egg matures first.
The matured egg is released.
The released egg travels down your Fallopian tube.
If sperms are present, fertilization takes place in your Fallopian tube.
The egg, whether fertilized or not, enters your uterus.
All these while, your uterus lines itself with blood and nutrients for the baby, just in case.
If the egg was fertilized, it will be implanted to your rich uterus and a baby would start to develop.
If the egg was not fertilized, it will breakdown and that lining of your uterus will collapse to be flushed out as your menstrual blood.
What are the phases of your menstrual cycle?
A circular chart of the menstrual cycle phases.
Follicular phase (Day 1 – 14)
This phase is in two (2) parts which start from the first day of your menses and ends on your ovulation day.
For the 1st part, your pituitary gland secretes Follicle Stimulating Hormones (FSH) and just like its name, this hormone stimulates a number of follicles in your ovary to start growing.
Each of these follicles contains an immature egg, however, only one will reach maturity.
For the 2nd part, one egg becomes dominant causing the others to shrink back.
As that egg continues to mature, it secretes a hormone called estrogen which helps to line the wall of your uterus with enough blood tissues and nutrients to nourish the embryo that would form if the egg was fertilized.
Close to the end of this follicular phase, estrogen peaks to produce Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone (GnRH) which stimulates your pituitary gland to secrete another hormone called Luteinizing Hormone (L.H).
This increase in your estrogen level also causes the production of endorphin—a “feel good” hormone which is responsible for that your great mood during your ovulation period.
Ovulation phase (Day 14)
The sudden increase in L.H causes that one fully matured egg to break out of its follicle in your ovary and be released into your Fallopian tube.
A case where more than one egg reaches full maturity at the same time and are released could result in the birth of twins or more. But what are the odds?
Ovulation happens on or around the middle of your menstrual cycle (i.e. on the 14th day in a 28-day menstrual cycle).
I’d advise you to calculate the length of your menstrual cycle then combine with other signs to know your ovulation period.
This L.H surge also cause some increase in your testosterone level which makes you just want to have sex during your ovulation period, or haven’t you noticed?
Luteal phase (Day 14 – 28)
After you’ve ovulated, the follicle from which the matured egg was released forms corpus luteum which produces progesterone.
This hormone is responsible for holding the “blood-and-nutrient” lining of your uterus in place for a possible pregnancy.
If sperms are present, the released egg would be fertilized in your Fallopian tube and move to attach itself to the rich wall of your uterus.
This implantation of the fertilized egg to your uterus begins pregnancy and as a result, Human Chorionic Gonadotropin (HCG), which is the hormone found in positive pregnancy tests, is produced.
HCG sustains the corpus luteum to keep producing progesterone, therefore, preventing your uterine wall lining from falling apart.
However, if the egg is not fertilized, the corpus luteum dries off causing a drop in progesterone level. Your uterine wall lining, which can no longer hold itself, begin to collapse and exit your body as menstrual blood.
This phase happens when the egg is not fertilized. It starts the process again from the follicular phase every month until you are either pregnant or have reached menopause.
Your menses can tell what’s normal and what’s not about your menstrual cycle, another reason to pay attention to your monthly calendar.
How to calculate your menstrual cycle.
The menstrual cycle is calculated from the first day of one menses to the first day of the next menses.
A 2-month calendar of a 28-day menstrual cycle.
Red for menses
Mrs Williams saw her last menses on the 5th of August and her next menses started on the 1st of September. Counting from the first date of her last menses to the first date of her next one is 28 days.
Therefore, Mrs Williams has a 28-day menstrual cycle.
Here’s how to calculate yours;
When was the first day of your last menses?
Record the date.
When was the first day of your current menses?
Record this date too.
Now, count from the first day of your last menses to the first day of your current menses.
How many days was the count?
That is the length of your menstrual cycle.
However, if this is your first time of calculating your menstrual cycle or your last time was a long time ago, then, just one calculation won’t be enough to tell how regular the length of your menstrual cycle is.
You’d need to repeat this calculation for the next 3 to 4 months to see if the lengths are (fairly) regular in each month.
How long is normal for your menstrual cycle?
The length of every menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman and from month to month. How long your last cycle was can differ from both that of the woman-next-door and the length of your next cycle.
This is due to so many factors that it can even be said that there is no fixed date for a normal menstrual cycle however, it should fall within a certain range of days.
Mayoclinic and the US department for Women’s Health each stated that a normal menstrual cycle should last for 21-38 days.
So, how long are your menstrual cycles?
If they always last within the above range of days for every month then you have a normal menstrual cycle. Otherwise, speak with a doctor especially if your cycle is constantly irregular and you’re in your 20s or 30s.
Factors that could be affecting your menstrual cycle.
For Teens, it is okay if your cycle is longer than normal or somewhat irregular for a few years after your very first menses (i.e. menarche). However, the US Department of Health for Girls stated that this irregularity should not continue in the 3rd year after your menarche.
For young women, your cycle should be regular in your 20s and 30s.
For older women, your menstrual cycle can become shorter or longer again as you approach menopause. It may even skip some months. All of these are okay but be sure to discuss any other disturbing menstrual problem with your doctor.
Once the released egg is fertilized and implanted, there will be no menstruation (i.e. you’ll miss your period) till further notice. Remember that menstruation restarts your menstrual cycle, therefore, no menses – no cycle.
The hormone Prolactin which is responsible for the production of breast milk also prevents your menstrual cycle from resurfacing while you breastfeed.
However, your level of prolactin depends on how often you breastfeed your baby each day.
Cortisol is a hormone secreted when you’re stressed. An epidemiologist on Clue confirmed that this cortisol can suppress your reproductive hormones thereby, disturbing the flow of your menstrual cycle.
Physical activity level
An increase in the intensity of your exercise can disturb the secretion of GnRH and cause delayed menarche or an irregular menstrual cycle.
Serious fatigue from strenuous activity can also stress your body to respond with cortisol.
Within the normal range, a long menstrual cycle is considered healthier by many publications in the US National Library of Medicine.
One major reason is that it reduces your risk of breast cancer. Alcohol, on the other hand, shortens your cycle which puts you at risk of that serious health problem.
Estrogen, the hormone that thickens your uterus with blood and nutrients, can also be produced from fat cells.
Being overweight means more estrogen and thicker uterine lining which would increase your amount of menstrual blood and may decrease your cycle length below normal.
On the other hand, being underweight can cause little or no production of estrogen which results in delayed menses or prolonged cycle.
Most birth control pills are known to prevent the ovaries from releasing an egg. However, the effects of some of these drugs can continue for many months even after you have stopped using them.
Uterine fibroids, uterine cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis are some female reproductive health problems that can disturb your menstrual cycle.
To an extent, what’s normal in your menstrual cycle may not be so in other women. It is still of importance to track your menstrual cycle in order to notice any sign of related health issues.
So, tell us.
Have you experienced any other factor(s) that you suspected to have disturbed your menstrual cycle?
Tell us in the comment section, we’d really love to know