The 4 Phases of Your Cycle
Ever wondered why the monthly process that your body undertakes in the lead up to your period is called a cycle? Because its just that! A reoccurring and complex process happening in your body that's controlled by various glands and hormones. But did you know that cycle has four phases that take place over about the span of a month? These four phases are called menstruation (perhaps somewhat obviously), the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase and your body and mind can feel very different depending on what phase you're currently in. Identifying and knowing which phase you're currently can be helpful for a number of reasons like knowing when you may be most and least fertile. So lets find out all the details about each phase and when in your cycle you can expect to experience them!
This is probably the phase that you might be most familiar with as it has the very physical and obvious characteristic of the uterus lining shedding and dispelling out the vagina. But did you know that period blood actually contains endometrial cells and mucus? The average period lasts around three to seven days but of course other conditions can effect the length of your period.
The follicular phase happens after you finish your period and ends with ovulation. Your pituitary gland releases follicle stimulating hormones which stimulate the ovary to produce around five to twenty follicles. Each follicle contains an immature egg but only about one egg will reach maturity, with the others die off. This process all happens around day 10 of your monthly cycle and also triggers the lining of your uterus to thicken and become all comfy for a possible pregnancy.
Ovulation usually starts around mid cycle or two weeks before your period. This is when the mature egg is released from the surface of the ovary. At this stage your oestrogen levels are reaching a high after building gradually throughout the previous follicular phase. A bunch of chemicals and hormones are released and within two days the egg begins its journey, funnelled into the fallopian tube and towards the uterus by waves of small hair-like arms. However, here comes the kicker! The average lifespan of an egg is only about 24 hours, unless is it fertilised by a sperm. That doesn't seem like very long at all, we know! A lot of people who are wanting to fall pregnant find it very helpful to track their cycle and calculate when their ovulation window will be.
During ovulation we now know the egg bursts from its follicle, but the ruptured follicle stays on the surface of the ovary. The follicle transforms into corpus luteum, which starts releasing both progesterone and a bit of oestrogen. The hormones maintain the thickened lining of the uterus, waiting for a fertilised egg to implant. If a fertilised egg implants in the lining of the uterus, it produces the hormones that are necessary to maintain the the thickened lining. This includes human chorionic gonadotrophin, which is the hormone detected in a urine test for pregnancy. However, if pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum withers and dies, usually around day 22 in your cycle. The drop in progesterone levels causes the lining of the uterus to shed and hey presto, its time for your period and the cycle beings once again.
If you liked this blog you might also be interested in having a listen to our new weekly podcast The Flow. We'll be covering issues relating to menstrual health and breaking the stigma around periods. Have a listen below!