The menstrual cycle is a process that occurs in the female reproductive system. It is typically around 28 days long, though it can be longer or shorter depending on the individual. The menstrual cycle involves hormonal, physical, and emotional changes, and can affect the life of anyone with a uterus.
*Note: all phase lengths are approximate and vary from person to person*
Phase 1: Menstruation
In the first five days of the cycle, the period occurs. The uterus sheds its inner lining, leading to bleeding, cramps, and other symptoms of PMS. This is the most uncomfortable stage of the cycle for most women, but pain can typically be alleviated by medication, heat, and gentle exercise.
Phase 2: Follicular Phase
After menstruation, the follicular phase begins. The hypothalamus, a part of the brain, releases a hormone called FSH, which causes the ovaries to produce follicles, which contain eggs. The follicles also release estrogen, another hormone. During this phase, people typically experience an increase in energy and an improved mood. Physical activity and nourishing food is optimal during this phase to enhance well-being.
Phase 3: Ovulation
Around day 14 of the cycle, a mature egg is released from the ovary and goes through the fallopian tube, ready for fertilization. Estrogen levels are high during this phase, so sexual desire is often high as well. Tracking ovulation with predictor kits or monitoring basal body temperature can help people conceive or avoid pregnancy, as pregnancy risk is highest during ovulation.
Phase 4: Luteal Phase and Pre-Menstruation
After ovulation, the follicle becomes a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone, another hormone. Progesterone prepares the uterine lining for implantation of a fertilized egg. If fertilization does not occur, menstruation begins and the cycle restarts. Mood swings, bloating, and cravings are common during this phase, so self-care is critical. Maintaining a balanced diet, staying hydrated, resting, and gentle exercise can alleviate the symptoms of PMS.
Adapting self-care practices like exercise and diet to the menstrual cycle can improve a woman’s well-being astronomically. Prioritizing care of the body throughout each phase creates a balanced lifestyle. Each woman must remember to listen to her body, as each cycle is unique.
“Menstrual Cycle.” Better Health Channel, 26 Apr. 2001, http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/menstrual-cycle.