No matter how you look at menstruation, it is a uniting experience, an eternal aspect of being female and a shared common experience with nearly all women who have ever lived, now or eons ago. The menstrual cycle is part of being a woman and is something to be understood and appreciated. A woman’s menstrual cycle averages between 28-32 days, although many woman fall outside that range and it is still perfectly normal.
Here is an in-depth look at what happens to us during each phase of our monthly cycle to help us appreciate and understand the hormonal changes we go through every month.
The menstrual cycle is broken into phases: menstrual, follicular, ovulatory, luteal and premenstrual.
Menstruation: Day 1
Menstruation starts day 1 of the cycle, and typically lasts 3-5 days. A woman loses approximately 2 ounces of blood during her period, which comes from the shedding of the uterine wall when no conception takes place. Cramps, aches and pain are commonly experienced. This is ground zero for your hormones; estrogen, progesterone, testosterone/androgens are at their lowest point in the cycle, which is what causes you to feel more exhausted than usual and you may notice you are not as sharp mentally.
Period Tips: This is time for some well-deserved self-care. Be sure to get plenty of rest –sneak in some naps if you can. Eat foods rich in iron to replenish the iron lost during your period and focus on foods high in anti-oxidants and omega-3 essential fatty acids for brain health. Boost your endorphin levels with chocolate (dark chocolate reaps the most benefits), watch a comedy for some laughter and enjoy the relaxing scents of essential oils (like Lavender or Ylang Ylang).
Follicular Phase: Days 5-13
Increased Energy and Focus
Starting around 5 days after the first day of your period, the follicular phase begins. Estrogen levels begin to rise, triggering the growth of the uterine lining all over again. It’s called the follicular phase because the pituitary gland prompts the follicle stimulating hormone, which stimulates a few follicles, turning one follicle into a mature egg in one of your ovaries. Testosterone is on the rise, and along with estrogen, these hormones continue to climb until the ovulatory phase where the levels are at their peak.
Note about fertility: The days leading up to ovulation are when a woman is most fertile. It is important to use some form of birth control if you are engaging in intercourse with a man throughout the month, but especially in the follicular and ovulation phases if you are not trying to get pregnant.
Follicular Phase Tips: You’ll notice your energy levels are increasing. It is a great time to be social and meet up with friends or get in some high intensity work outs. Project planning and mental activities like brainstorming will also be more fruitful during this time because you’ll have an easier time focusing.
Ovulatory Phase: Day 14
Energized, High Sex Drive & Confident
Ovulation occurs approximately on Day 14. It is marked by the release of the Leutinizing Hormone (LH), which causes the mature egg to be released from the ovary within 24-36 hours after the LH surge. Once the egg is released from the ovary, it begins its journey through the Fallopian tubes. You will likely notice an increase in vaginal discharge that has a clear and sticky texture, which functions to help sperm travel to your fertile egg. Thanks to the high levels of hormones, ovulation is the time where your spirits are high, you feel most confident, you have lots of energy and your mind is at its intellectual best. No coincidence here, the ovulation phase marks the time where you are likely to feel more sexually aroused and attracted to others.
Note about fertility: Women are fertile during the ovulation phase, so it is important to use some form of birth control if you are engaging in intercourse with a man and are not trying to get pregnant.
Ovulatory Phase Tips: During this time you’ll feel energized, confident and highly sexually aroused. You are feeling your best, making it the optimal time for a romantic date night. Now is also a good time to schedule an interview or give an important presentation.
Luteal Phase: Days 15-28
Good Feelings Fade & You Become Tired & Prone to Stress (PMS)
Post ovulatory phase comes the luteal phase, lasting around 12-16 days, ending once your period starts again. Estrogen and testosterone levels drop and there is an upsurge in progesterone that serves to further nourish the uterine lining. This is when women begin to feel Pre-Menstrual Symptoms (PMS). It is common to feel more irritable and prone to easily getting stressed out during this time leading up to the premenstrual phase; when there is no conception, progesterone levels plummet joining with low levels of estrogen and testosterone just before the next menstruation. With these hormone levels down, it signals for the next menstruation to start and the cycle resets back to day 1, the period.
Luteal Phase Tips: Towards the end of this phase, you may feel less social and more lethargic making it a good time for some ‘me-time’. Curl up with a good book, take an indulgent bath with Epsom salt and essential oils or focus on a creative outlet that brings you joy. If possible, do not overload your schedule at this time and do your best to relax and rest to help lessen PMS symptoms.
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Brown, S., Calibuso, M.J., Roedl, A.L. (2010). Women’s sexuality, well-being, and the menstrual cycle: methodological issues and their interrelationships. Archives of Sexual Behavior. doi: 10.1007/s10508-010-9630-3.
Drill, E., McDonald, H., Odes, R. (1999). Deal with it: a while new approach to your body, brain and life as a GURL. New York, New York: Pocket Books.