Whether your period is like clockwork or a little irregular, menstruation is unique for everyone. Discover the 4 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 some diet suggestions to help you manage.
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. It involves various hormonal changes, preparing the body for a potential pregnancy.
The cycle begins on the first day of your period when the uterus sheds its lining, leading to bleeding. As the cycle progresses, 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 prepares for the next period. There are 4 stages of the menstrual cycle, each with different symptoms. Understanding your menstrual cycle is essential for tracking fertility and caring for your reproductive system and overall health.
The menstrual cycle is a fascinating journey that unfolds in four distinct phases over approximately 28 days. 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.
Day 1 marks the start of your period. It’s when your uterus releases a mixture of blood, tissue and nutrients out of your body. This menstrual fluid can vary in colour and texture. Although you may feel like there’s a lot of blood, in reality, you'll only lose between 10ml to 80ml. The menstrual flow usually lasts between 2 to 5 days, but it could be up to 10 days long. During this phase, menstruators typically use pads and tampons to manage their flow.
The majority of blood loss occurs during the first two days and some people experience menstrual cramps, 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 syndrome where you have long or irregular periods.
Oestrogen levels increase at this stage and your ovaries prepare to release an ovum or egg. Your body also prepares for a possible pregnancy so the uterine lining starts to develop and thicken. The follicular phase is the most unpredictable part of your menstrual cycle and it’s the reason why your cycle can be longer or shorter than the 28 days we often hear about.
About halfway through your menstrual cycle, one of your ovaries releases an ovum, which journeys down your fallopian tube. This is where fertilisation would take place if the ovum were to come into contact with 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 it 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.
The luteal phase of your menstrual cycle is the final stage before your period starts again and it lasts for 14 days while your body produces more oestrogen and progesterone. This results in a thickened lining of your uterus (endometrium) which will prevent the ovum from being fertilised.
If you're not pregnant, progesterone levels drop, which causes the lining of the uterus to break up and your cycle starts all over again.
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 significantly, 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.
Tracking 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, your fertility and the different phases of your cycle.
There are also various smartphone apps available that make cycle tracking more convenient and accessible. You can also 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.
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:
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.
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.
The menstrual cycle can change. Factors such as 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.
The menstrual cycle phase after your period is the follicular phase. It begins on the first day of your menstrual cycle and typically lasts around 7 to 10 days. During this phase, the ovaries prepare to release an ovum/egg for potential fertilisation.
The four main phases of the menstrual cycle are as follows:
Each phase has its own distinct hormonal changes and serves a specific purpose in preparing the body for a potential pregnancy.
The duration of each phase can vary slightly from person to person.
It's important to remember that these are average ranges, and individual cycle lengths may differ.