Ever wondered what exactly goes on in your body each month? Throughout the different phases of a menstrual cycle, there’s a continual mix of changing hormone levels working hard to keep you happy and healthy.
Menstrual cycles are one of these continuous internal processes. Many menstrual cycles are about 28 days so let’s take a look at what happens from day 0 to day 28.
Your period is starting and it’s the beginning of a fresh, new cycle. A full menstrual cycle usually lasts about 25 to 35 days in total. Your bleeding (menstruation) is the first phase of your cycle and usually lasts for 4-8 days. This is the time when your uterus begins to shed its lining and you experience this as the start of your vaginal bleeding.
To shed the uterine lining (grown over the previous month), your uterus generates contractions. You might experience cramps, nausea, headaches, sweating and dizziness.
Levels of the key sex hormones involved in having a menstrual cycle (estrogen and progesterone) are at their lowest during this time. Having low levels of these key hormones can leave you feeling tired, sore and moody.
Your body is working hard right now, so if you feel run down, make sure you take good care of yourself with warm blankets, rest, and the odd guilty pleasure of two (reality TV anyone?). This is often the time women most need nurturing.
As you near the end of your bleeding, estrogen and progesterone levels start to increase. The rise of these hormones can bring a much-needed boost to mood and energy levels.
As estrogen levels continue rising, you might notice you’re feeling more calm, and have more energy for tasks and social activities.
An added win can be some smoother hair and skin days, thanks to the glowy, softening influences of estrogen.
As you get closer to ovulation (this is usually mid-point in your cycle when an egg is released), you enter what is known as your ‘fertile window’. From now and over the next 7 days during this fertile window, there’s a higher chance of getting pregnant.
As estrogen levels continue to rise, you might experience an increased sex drive and crave more intense workouts and you have more energy.
As you get close to ovulation, you might notice your vaginal discharge becoming clearer and more stretchy (it looks a bit like egg white). There’s also a lot more of it right now! Your body has developed this in order to help sperm travel to your uterus.
Ovulation often occurs around day 14 (or mid-way through your cycle). This is when a follicle ruptures to release an egg - many folks experience a twinge or cramps for a short time when this happens.
Ovulation has occurred and your fertile window is at its peak, meaning this is the time when there’s the greatest chance of getting pregnant. During this time, your stamina and sex drive are likely to increase. Also orgasms can be more intense and easier to achieve!)
Around 5% of people who menstruate experience some spotting (light specks of blood in your undies) around ovulation. It can happen because of fluctuating progesterone and estrogen levels, and is generally nothing to worry about. If you’re concerned, always check with your doctor.
Over the next few days your fertile window will end, and chances of getting pregnant start to decrease (until your next cycle).
Rising progesterone levels can bring on some PSMS symptoms like tender breasts and bloating.
Lower estrogen can affect serotonin (a happy hormone your body makes to help balance mood), and you might notice you have mood swings and feel a bit down.
Your amount of discharge often drops, and consistency is thicker and creamier. This helps to protect your uterus from infection.
Progesterone levels are high and estrogen levels are low. Serotonin levels are also low.
This can mean cute cats, sad songs, or the light hearted joke might make you feel like crying. You’re also more likely to feel depressed, or really tired all the time. You might also feel grumpy, have trouble sleeping and experience physical bloating, nausea, constipation or diarrhea.
Insulin sensitivity decreases leading to cravings, and if there's a time to love chocolate and cake, this is it.
Thanks to progesterone, you might find that you get some bloating and water retention and it can help to drink lots of water and increase your fresh fruit and veg.
Progesterone also activates your sebum production. Sebum is an oily substance which your body makes to moisturise and protect your skin. Bloating plus extra sebum can mean more pimples as oil can easily become trapped under your skin, unable to get out.
As you head towards the start of your period, your levels of estrogen and progesterone drop right off, and this can lead to lack of discharge and increased vaginal dryness.
This time in the lead up to the start of your period is where you might experience the most PMS symptoms. Many folks experience some drop in energy, increased physical discomfort, and changes to mood (feeling sad or grumpy more often). You might also notice some back and stomach pain as your uterus starts to experience contractions.
Around this time, your period will start again, and you’re back to day 0 and a whole new cycle.
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