The menstrual cycle is not just your period, it is a sequence of hormonal changes that impact our health status and prepare our body for getting pregnant. Knowing the menstrual cycle is like having the inside scoop—it helps you understand and navigate your body, make smart choices, and stay on top of your health and well-being.

*NEWSFLASH BODY* we don’t want to get pregnant every month! And some of us, don’t want to get pregnant at all. 

We could get super science-y with all of the information, but in this article we break the menstrual cycle down into the four phases that occur in every one of your cycles. Plus, we’ll help you get a better understanding of what you may experience in each phase. 

Here’s the thing: the research on the menstrual cycle isn’t *exact* yet. We share the same shock and horror with you too! How can something that is experienced by females literally all of the time not be understood already?!

Because of this, different information sources will have different interpretations of the phases and how many there are. Research hasn’t got that far yet either. 

We have interpreted the phases and broken them down into what is easiest to understand by what experience you will have within your own body and the hormone changes.

 

What is a menstrual cycle?

A menstrual cycle is not your period. They’re two completely different things.

By definition, the menstrual cycle occurs in preparation for a possible pregnancy. The average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but it can be longer or shorter. Anything shorter than 25 days, or longer than 36 days is considered an irregular cycle. 

Your menstrual cycle begins the day of your period, and ends as your next period begins. In between them, you will naturally experience 4 phases:

1. Menstruation Phase

2. Follicular Phase

3. Ovulation Phase

4. Luteal Phase

 

Menstruation Phase – AKA your period

When it occurs:

Day 1 of your period, and can last up to 7 days. When you are on your period, you are in the menstruation phase. Your period should last anywhere between 3 and 7 days, any more than 7 days, or less than 3 days, you may need to speak with your GP.

Symptoms:

Bleeding and shedding the lining of your uterus through your vagina, abdominal cramps, heightened emotions and fatigue.

What happens:

It is during the menstruation phase that you shed the lining your uterus, which comes out along with your period blood. At this stage of your cycle, your estrogen and progesterone levels are low.

Menstruation phase tip:

You may feel more tired than usual, but even light forms of exercise have been shown to reduce cramps and discomfort. Avoiding caffeine during the menstruation phase can also reduce the severity of your symptoms.

 

Follicular Phase

When it occurs:

When your period ends, the follicular phase begins. It is here that your uterine lining begins to build up again. On average, the follicular phase lasts 7 days.

Symptoms:

Your energy levels feel replenished, motivation is high and it is during this phase where you are at your strongest physically.

What happens:

During this phase your body prepares for an egg to be released. Your estrogen levels will rise, causing your ovaries to prepare follicles in your ovaries and simultaneously rebuild and thicken the lining that you lost during the menstruation phase.

Follicular phase tip:

Now is the time to push a little harder in the gym, or go for that PB on your run, and enjoy all of the energy that you have! It is also said that the follicular phase is when we feel the most sociable, so perhaps try stepping outside of your comfort zone.

 

Ovulation Phase

When it occurs:

The shortest of all of the phases, ovulation is typically at the halfway point of your cycle, which can be around day 13-15.
*this will vary depending on your cycle length and from cycle to cycle.

Symptoms:

Some women feel particularly energised and in the mood, whereas some report experiencing pain in one side of their abdomen, which is the same side of the ovary releasing an egg. This can influence mood and general well-being.

Fun fact: Some may refer to this ovulation pain as Miittelschmerz, which is a german word that translates to “middle pain” (middle, meaning the middle of your menstrual cycle).

What happens:

A hormone known as lutenizing hormone (LH) is released, triggering ovulation and the release of an egg. The opportunity for this egg to be fertilised lasts only 16 to 32 hours.

Ovulation phase tip:

If you’re trying to get pregnant, now is the time to be having sex! If you’re avoiding getting pregnant, make sure you are using protection or avoid sex altogether.

Keep going with the follicular and ovulation phase energy if you can! Meet up with your friends, try something new or channel that energy into yourself.

 

Luteal Phase

When it occurs:

The last and longest phase of your cycle, occurring after ovulation and right up until your period (the menstruation phase) starts.

Symptoms:

Breast tenderness, mood swings, bloating, fatigue, irritability and more. These are symptoms of PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome). The majority of females will experience PMS at some point in their lifetime.

What happens:

Many hormonal changes happen here, with progesterone rocketing and estrogen increasing throughout ovulation, then gradually as the luteal phase progresses. It is the progesterone that thickens the lining of your uterus throughout this phase, ready for a potential fertilised egg to be implanted. If the egg isn’t implanted, pregnancy doesn’t occur, causing progesterone levels to drop and the thickened lining of the uterus will begin to shed, and the cycle starts all over again.

Luteal phase tip:

During this phase, you may notice that your usual exercise regime suddenly feels harder. This is very common and you need to make some adjustments to your exercise.

Did you know? Due to the hormonal fluctuations in the luteal phase, on average you will burn 150-200 calories more, naturally, each day!

Hormones and your Menstrual Cycle Explained

Now you’ve understand the phases of the menstrual cycle, lets look at the hormones working behind the scenes that get your cycle going every month.

 

Hormones in the Menstrual Phase

Hormones:

At the start of this phase and throughout, estrogen and progesterone levels are low.

Effects:

The low estrogen and progesterone levels trigger the shedding of the uterine lining, leading to your period beginning.

 

Hormones in the Follicular Phase

Hormones:

In this phase, the hypothalamus, located at the base of your brain, secretes gonadotropin-releasing hormone, a key hormone for sexual and reproductive functions. This action triggers an increase in the production of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Effects:

FSH, under the influence of gonadotropin-releasing hormone, stimulates the growth of follicles within the ovaries. These follicles, in turn, produce estrogen. As estrogen levels rise during this phase, it has the effect of thickening the uterine lining, making it well-prepared for a potential pregnancy.

 

Hormones in the Ovulation Phase

Hormones:

During this phase, luteinizing hormone (LH) experiences a surge in response to elevated estrogen levels. This surge in LH triggers ovulation, which is the release of a mature egg from your ovary.

Effects:

The most dominant follicle that has developed in your ovaries releases this mature egg. The egg is then released into your fallopian tube, where it remains ready to be fertilized. This window of opportunity for fertilization typically lasts for 16 to 32 hours.

 

Hormones in the Luteal Phase

Hormones:

After ovulation, the ruptured follicle becomes the corpus luteum, which secretes progesterone and some estrogen.

Effects:

After you have ovulated, the leftover structure in the ovary, called the corpus luteum starts producing progesterone and thickening your uterine lining. This is in preparation for a potential pregnancy, to provide an environment where a fertilised egg can attach and grow.

If there is no pregnancy, this structure (the uterine lining) breaks down. Your progesterone and estrogen levels drop, leading to the start of the menstruation phase.

 

Before you go

Your menstrual cycle is more than just a cyclical occurance, it is a sequence of hormonal events that are unique to you. Your menstrual cycle is a pillar of health; when you learn to understand your individual menstrual cycle in particular, you unlock new means to understanding your health, well-being and how your body responds to every thing you subject it to (good and bad).

We have simplified the cycle into four phases for you. While the science doesn’t understand it completely, we have tried to break it down for practical understanding, whilst remaining evidence based.

With this knowledge, try to notice how your body reacts in the different phases. From adapting to energy shifts to uncovering the roles of key hormones, we hope this article has empowers you to understand and embrace your body’s natural rhythm.

What are the four phases of the menstrual cycle, and what happens in each?
The phases of the menstrual cycle and what happens are as follows: Menstruation Phase – The phase in which your uterine lining sheds, also known as your period. This occurs because your progesterone and estrogen levels are low. Follicular Phase – It is in this phase where your estrogen and progesterone hormones rise, helping your ovaries to create and prepare an egg to be released. Your uterus walls will also begin to thicken again. Ovulation – This is the phase where an egg is released by the ovaries. If you are having unprotected sex or trying for a baby, it is during this phase where you may become pregnant. Luteal Phase – In this phase, the ovaries produce hormones that are preparing the body for the menstruation phase. These hormones begin the process of shedding your uterine lining.
How long is the average menstrual cycle, and what is considered an irregular cycle?
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days. If your menstrual cycle is between 25 and 35 days in length, this is considered healthy too. An irregular cycle would be anything that is outside of this range (less than 25 days, or over 35 days).
What are the symptoms and characteristics of the menstruation phase, and why is it important?
The obvious symptom of the menstruation phase, is menstrual bleeding. This phase is important because it signifies that your body has started a new menstrual cycle, and your body is creating and shedding the lining of your uterus every month. This is a sign of good health!
During the follicular phase, what hormonal changes occur, and how does it impact a woman’s energy levels?
It is during the follicular phase that your estrogen levels rise to their highest point within the menstrual cycle. In terms of energy levels, typically, you may feel more energised than what you did in the menstruation phase. This is because your hormones are more stable.
When does ovulation typically occur, and what are the symptoms associated with it?
Ovulation typically occurs around day 13-15 of a 28 day menstrual cycle. We know that many female cycles are not the average 28 days in length, so ovulation may occur at a different time than this. Some symptoms of ovulation are increased basal body temperature, watery discharge, similar to the consistency of egg whites. Some women may experience ovulation pains, a sudden libido increase and some women report feeling heightened emotions during ovulation.
What hormone is responsible for triggering ovulation, and what is the window of opportunity for fertilisation?
All of your sex hormones play an important role in the creation of an egg and your fertility, but it is lutenizing hormone that triggers ovulation and the ovary releasing the egg. The window of opportunity for conception is around 16-32 hours once the egg has been released from the ovary.
What is Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)?
Premenstrual syndrome is defined by the physical and emotional symptoms that you experience in the days leading up to your period, and potentially the week before. The symptoms of PMS are individual, but to name a few: acne, breast tenderness, increased anxiety or low mood, migraines or headaches

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