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The 4 Phases Of The Menstrual Cycle: Know Your Flow

Whether your period is like clockwork or a little irregular, menstruation is unique for everyone. Discover the 4 different menstrual cycle phases and how to manage them.

Although your period is unique to you, there are 4 notable phases in the menstrual cycle. Read on for the lowdown on everything from when you’re least likely to fall pregnant to the luteal phase (the lu-what? don’t worry, we’ll get there). We’re here to explain the menstrual cycle, tips for tracking each phase and even some dietary suggestions.

What is the menstrual cycle?

Before we dive into the 4 phases, let’s make sure you understand the menstrual cycle in general. The menstrual cycle is a recurring process that happens in a woman's body each month (although this will differ for some). It involves various hormonal changes and preparing the body for a potential pregnancy.

The cycle begins on the first day of your period when the uterus sheds its lining, (release of menstrual fluid). As the cycle progresses, the uterus once again starts to build-up its lining, follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) help produce a mature egg in the ovaries, which eventually gets released during ovulation.

If pregnancy doesn't occur, the cycle restarts and the uterus once again prepares for your next period. There are 4 stages of the menstrual cycle, each with different functions to perform. Understanding your menstrual cycle is essential for tracking fertility and caring for your reproductive health.

The 4 menstrual cycle phases

The menstrual cycle is a fascinating journey that unfolds in 4 distinct phases over approximately 28 days (but anything from 21-34 days is fine too). Each phase has its own unique characteristics and hormonal shifts that play a crucial role in fertility and your overall well-being.

Let’s dive into the complexities of these phases, helping you gain a deeper understanding of your body's natural rhythm. Here are the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle in order.

Menstrual Phase: Days 1 - 5

Day 1 of the menstrual phase is marked by the start of your period. It is triggered by a drop in the hormone's oestrogen and progesterone and because a pregnancy has not taken place.  Your uterus sheds and releases a mixture of blood, mucus, cells and nutrients and you’ve probably already noticed that this fluid can vary in colour and texture from day to day and although you may feel like there’s a lot of blood being released, in reality you'll only lose between 20ml to 90ml (about 1-5 tablespoons) for each period, unless your flow is very heavy. This menstrual flow usually lasts between 2 to 7 days, but it could be up to 10 days for some, especially if you have a heavy flow. During this phase, menstruators typically use pads and tampons to manage their flow.

Most of the blood lost occurs during the first few days of your period and for some people this is accompanied with menstrual cramps (lower abdomen and lower back), breast tenderness, bloating, back pain and leg aches too. If you often have severe period pain, you may be experiencing (menorrhagia) heavy periods or in some cases Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) — an ovarian condition where you have long or irregular periods. If you find that you are struggling to manage your period or experiencing discomfort that stops you from carrying on with everyday things, then speak to your doctor who will investigate this matter for you.

Follicular Phase: Days 6 - 13

The follicular stage of the menstrual cycle sees an increase in the hormone oestrogen and can often overlap with the Menstrual phase. During this time the pituitary gland releases follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH), this hormone stimulates the ovaries to produce a small number of follicles, (little sacs) each one containing an immature egg. For most of the time (different for twins) just one of these follicles matures into a healthy and viable egg, the rest are reabsorbed into the body naturally.  This mature egg (ovum) will now send a surge of oestrogen to the uterus in preparation for a nutrient rich environment that will allow an embryo to develop should fertilisation occur.

The follicular phase is the most unpredictable part of your menstrual cycle and can vary in length, lasting for between 14-21 days and the reason why your menstrual cycle can vary in total from 21-34 days.

Ovulation: Day 13-16

Those rising oestrogen levels during the Follicular phase of your cycle now trigger the release of a second hormone; Luteinizing hormone (LH) and it is this hormone that sends the message that ovulation can begin.

About halfway through your menstrual cycle, one of your ovaries releases an ovum, which during its journey through the fallopian tubes is where fertilisation would take place if the ovum were to encounter sperm.

Speaking of sperm, if you’d like to avoid falling pregnant or are trying to conceive, it’s good to know that sperm has a small window of around 48 hours to fertilise the ovum before the ovum is absorbed into the body. The 6 days leading up to ovulation and the 2 days after this event are when you’re most fertile. Since this is the fertile phase of your menstrual cycle, you could become pregnant if you are having penetrative vaginal sex and don’t use birth control.

It is also worth noting that sperm can live in the body for up to five days, so it’s even more important to understand your menstrual cycle and when your fertile period of ovulation occurs.

Luteal Phase: Days 16 - 28

The luteal phase of your menstrual cycle is the final stage before your period starts again and lasts for around 14 days (remember times will vary based on how long your menstrual cycle is), during this time the levels of the hormone Progesterone increase to help line the uterus for a possible pregnancy. This results in a thickened lining of your uterus (endometrium).

If you're not pregnant, progesterone levels drop, which causes the lining of the uterus to break up and your period and cycle starts all over again.

The 4 phases of the menstrual cycle and hormones

Understanding the intricate dance between hormones and the different phases of the menstrual cycle can provide valuable insights into your body's remarkable processes. Most importantly, the changes in hormones affect your mood and physical health.

You are more likely to feel irritable, depressed or moody just before your menstrual period. This is commonly referred to as premenstrual syndrome (PMS). In addition, the hormonal changes in the different menstrual phases can affect your blood sugar, fertility, sex drive and metabolism.

How to track menstrual cycle phases

Tracking your menstrual cycle phases can be a helpful tool for understanding your body and reproductive health. One of the most common methods is keeping a menstrual calendar, where you record the start and end dates of your periods. Additionally, tracking basal body temperature and cervical mucus changes can provide insights into ovulation and the different phases of your cycle.

There are also various smartphone apps available that make cycle tracking more convenient and accessible. You can sync the app data on several devices like your tablet or computer. By diligently tracking your menstrual cycle, you can anticipate ovulation, detect irregularities, and better manage your overall health.

What to eat during different phases of the menstrual cycle

The foods we consume during each phase of the menstrual cycle can have a significant impact on our energy levels, mood and athletic performance.

Here are some diet considerations for each menstrual cycle phase:

  • Menstrual Phase: focusing on iron-rich foods like leafy greens and lean meats can help replenish iron stores and combat fatigue.
  • Follicular Phase: incorporating foods high in complex carbohydrates and protein, such as whole grains and legumes, can provide sustained energy for physical activities.
  • Ovulatory Phase: emphasising foods rich in healthy fats and antioxidants, like avocados and berries, and yes, even a very small portion of dark chocolate can support hormone production and reduce inflammation.
  • Luteal Phase: prioritising foods that regulate blood sugar levels, such as complex carbohydrates and fibre-rich vegetables, can help maintain stable energy levels and minimise mood swings.

By aligning your diet with each phase of your menstrual cycle, you can optimise energy levels, enhance athletic performance and enjoy healthy living. However, we encourage you to consult a healthcare professional or nutritionist before making any major changes to your diet.

How understanding the 4 hormonal phases of the menstrual cycle can help

Gaining insight into the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle helps you to navigate the unique rhythm of your body and women’s health in general. By familiarising yourself with each phase and the corresponding shifts in hormone levels, you can better anticipate changes in energy levels, mood and physical performance.

With this information, you can tailor your self-care routines, exercise regimens and dietary choices to support overall well-being throughout your menstrual cycle. It’s also useful information to have when it comes to fertility tracking and family planning. Embracing this understanding enables you to celebrate your body and live your best life!

Buy our comfortable and absorbent tampons for light to heavy flow

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Frequently Asked Questions

Can the menstrual cycle change?

Yes, the menstrual cycle can change. Factors such as age, hormonal fluctuations, stress, weight changes, lifestyle modifications, birth control and certain medical conditions can all influence the regularity and characteristics of the menstrual cycle. If you notice significant or persistent changes in your menstrual cycle, we recommend consulting your healthcare provider to rule out any underlying conditions.

What is the phase after your period?

The menstrual cycle phase after your period is the Follicular phase. It often overlaps your menstrual phase and can vary in length based on your overall cycle, so anything from 14-21 days is average. During this phase, the ovaries prepare to release an ovum/egg for potential fertilisation.

What are the four main phases of the menstrual cycle?

The four main phases of the menstrual cycle are as follows:
1. Menstrual phase
2. Follicular phase
3. Ovulatory phase
4. Luteal phase
Each phase has its own distinct hormonal changes and serves a specific purpose in preparing the body for a potential pregnancy.

How long is each phase of the menstrual cycle?

The duration of each phase can vary slightly from person to person and each phase will be governed by the length of your overall cycle, which is why it’s good to track this every month.

  • The menstrual phase lasts around 2 to 7 days
  • The follicular phase lasts approximately 14-21 days
  • The ovulatory phase typically lasts 1 to 2 days
  • The luteal phase lasts about 10 to 14 days

It's important to remember that these are average ranges, and individual cycle lengths may differ.


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