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One step ahead: Here’s everything you need to know about each phase of your menstrual cycle



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Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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Everyone’s menstrual cycle is unique, including how long it lasts and what symptoms it comes with, so keeping track of and understanding your own cycle can be beneficial in many ways.

Whether you’re hoping to grow your family or simply want to learn about your body’s patterns, there are four phases to the menstrual cycle that you should know about. We dive into each of these phases with the help of Kin Fertility’s GP, Dr Kirsty Wallace-Hor.

Days 1-5: Menstruation

Your menstrual cycle starts on the first day of your period. This is when your endometrial cells produce prostaglandins, which cause “your uterus to shed the lining that’s built up in the last cycle,” Dr Kirsty explains.

Once that happens, your pituitary gland starts releasing hormones to kickstart the maturation of a new egg, while your ovaries are pumping out estrogen to ensure your uterine lining is ready for a fertilised egg to implant next time around.

The menstrual phase is when you bleed, which typically happens for 3 to 5 days (although going up to 7 days is normal), and for many, it comes with a whole set of uncomfortable symptoms.

You might experience…

  • Cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Body aches
  • Sore breasts
  • Mood swings
  • More hunger than usual
  • Increased sexual drive

It’s the best time to… listen to your body and give it the TLC it needs. For cramps and discomfort, you can try natural home remedies like placing a hot water bottle on your stomach or drinking a calming tea, like chamomile or peppermint. Over-the-counter medicines, like ibuprofen or paracetamol, can also help. If you feel like working out, it’s best to stick to low-impact activities that are gentle on your body — think yoga, light jogging or walking.

Days 6-13: Follicular phase

“Technically, this starts on the first day of the cycle (i.e. your period),” Dr Kirsty clarifies. However, once the bleeding ends, your symptoms change (for the better!).

What happens after your period is that your body goes into preparation mode for ovulation. “This phase reflects the time when egg follicles are developing on your ovaries,” she explains, “and usually, one follicle becomes dominant and releases the egg for that cycle.”

Meanwhile, your pituitary gland is still hard at work, producing luteinizing hormone, which helps prepare that one follicle to burst and release the mature egg.

You might experience…

  • Higher energy levels
  • Better mood
  • Higher confidence levels
  • Clearer skin
  • Fuller breasts

It’s the best time to… make the most of your high levels of confidence and brain skills. Focus on challenging projects at work and spend time socialising. For the gym goers, this is the time to push yourself and work up a good sweat. And if you’re trying to get pregnant, your most fertile window starts 5 days before ovulation (which is the next phase), so having sex a couple of times a day during this period can increase your chances of conceiving.

Day 14: Ovulation

The ovulation phase lasts for just one day — 16 to 32 hours, to be precise — and it’s “when an egg is released from an ovary and travels to your uterus via a fallopian tube,” says Dr Kirsty.

Your ovulation day “usually happens about two weeks before the next period” and it is when you’re at your peak fertility. Your cervical mucus is slippery, which makes it easier for sperm to move past your cervix and meet the egg. In short, your likelihood of conception is at its highest.

You might experience…

  • Bloating
  • Ovulation cramps (typically mild)
  • Changes in cervical mucus
  • Sore breasts
  • Light discharge
  • Slightly increased body temperature
  • Headaches
  • Higher libido

It’s the best time to… have sex if you’re trying for a baby. Just like in the follicular phase, this is a great time to hang out with friends, meet new people, network, and engage in intense physical activities, like HIIT, weight lifting, and running.

Days 15-28: Luteal phase

Lastly, the luteal phase is the longest phase of your menstrual cycle. “This is when there is a big rise in the hormone progesterone and the lining of the uterus thickens to potentially support a pregnancy,” Dr Kirsty explains. “If there is no pregnancy, the progesterone drops again, and the next period begins.”

The first few days of the luteal phase feel very similar to the ovulation phase. However, towards the end, you can experience PMS symptoms, as a result of the decrease in progesterone.

Some women may also experience a severe form of PMS, called Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD), which comes with intense physical and psychological symptoms that can severely impact their lives.

You might experience…

  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Lower sex drive
  • Body aches
  • Hormonal acne
  • Sore and/or swollen breasts
  • Anxiety
  • Anger or irritability
  • Difficulty concentrating

It’s the best time to… Practice self-care — take a bath, get a massage, watch Netflix with a face mask on, whatever works for you. Go back to low-intensity workouts and be sure to eat healthy foods that nourish your body. When PMS hits (particularly the physical symptoms), pain relievers can come in handy, while antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication can help manage the emotional side effects that come with PMDD.

Why does this all matter?

If you’re trying to get pregnant, there’s a clear benefit to tracking your cycle: you can time your intercourse according to your fertile window, and increase your chances of conceiving. But even if pregnancy is not your goal, “knowing how these phases work, and tracking where you are in your cycle, can be empowering because you know how hormones are affecting your body at a particular time,” Dr Kirsty explains.

For instance, “irregular periods can be a sign that you’re not ovulating regularly, which could indicate an issue with your hormones,” she mentions. “No periods can also indicate hormonal issues (or that you’re pregnant!) and certain conditions can be triggered in the lead up to, or during, menstruation, such as acne or migraines.”

Understanding your cycle helps you learn all of these cues that your body gives you throughout the month, and not only adjust your lifestyle accordingly but be able to recognise when things aren’t right (and act promptly).

“If you ever have concerns about your cycle, or have troublesome symptoms, [your GP] can run investigations and check for conditions that can affect your cycle, such as thyroid disorders and polycystic ovarian syndrome,” Dr Kirsty explains. “And there are also specific treatments to reduce pre-menstrual or menstrual symptoms.”

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