Ever get a sudden sharp pain that feels like a tiny angry elf kicking through your ovaries? Or feel like you’re grappling with bloat more than your fair share?
Being a menstruating woman is tough sometimes, and our bodies go through a whole lot each month. Understanding what’s happening in your cycle week-on-week can alleviate unnecessary worry and make your month a little comfier.
The average cycle lasts 28 days — though anywhere from 21-35 days is normal — and consists of 2 phases: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
The follicular phase is all about getting the follicles (teeny, tiny sacs that house individual eggs) ready to mature and release 1 single egg. The luteal phase preps the uterine environment for the safe and successful development of the fertilised egg. Or, if an egg isn’t fertilised, resetting the uterus for the next time around.
Read as we explain exactly what happens in your body during these 2 phases.
The follicular phase
Days 1-5: Menstruation
Your monthly menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period. We know, right? Pain and suffering don’t seem like the optimal way to start any ongoing cycle.
At this stage, your endometrial cells produce hormone-like chemicals called prostaglandins, which stimulate the shedding of your uterine lining and start menstruation. What does this mean for you? Period pain aka cramps. Ouch.
Once your period starts, your pituitary gland starts producing FHS — or follicle-stimulating hormone — to get the maturation of a new egg in motion. In the meantime, your ovaries are pumping out oestrogen to ensure the uterine lining is primed and ready for a fertilised egg to take hold next time around.
You’ll also feel the knock-on effects of some PMS symptoms, like bloating. While the causes of bloating related to your cycle are varied, peak bloat usually occurs on the first day of your period. Tough day.
Once menstruation finishes, your body goes into full prep mode for ovulation.
Most of the egg follicles have been reabsorbed into the ovaries except one, and the pituitary gland releases luteinizing hormone, which will work to prepare the singular remaining egg follicle — the dominant follicle — to burst and release the matured egg.
You may feel happier, calmer, and more frisky at this stage of your cycle as oestrogen and testosterone levels increase. Our body’s tricky little way into coercing us to have sex when we’re most fertile.
The luteal phase
Day 14: Ovulation
The day your reproductive system has been waiting for. The mature egg is released and travels down into the fallopian tube.
The abandoned follicle sac turns into the corpus luteum and shrinks away. When this happens, a crucial increase in progesterone occurs — aiming to strengthen the uterine wall — and with it comes a likely increase in poor moods and, according to some studies, even depression .
It’s not uncommon during ovulation to feel discomfort in your lower abdomen, ranging anywhere from a dull cramp to sharp pain. This is called “mittleschmerz,” meaning ‘middle pain’ in German.
It’s also normal to experience some spotting around ovulation due to increased hormone levels. Don’t mistake this for a menstrual period. This mid-cycle spotting occurs around your most fertile time, so if you do not want to fall pregnant, it’s good to know what you’re experiencing.
If you’re susceptible to sore breasts (known as cyclical mastalgia) during PMS, this will begin to occur as the increasing progesterone levels cause your milk ducts to swell. Discomfort can range anywhere from pain, swelling, fullness, heaviness, or increased size, and usually peaks around 3-7 days before the start of your period.
If the egg is unfertilised at this stage, it will break down and the levels of oestrogen and progesterone will drop.
As hormone levels drop, your body begins producing prostaglandins. We all remember what those result in: cramps. Ouch.
This is also when your body may begin to retain fluid to help the process along, so let the bloating begin!
Everyone's menstrual cycle is different
Many women wonder how long a "normal menstrual cycle" is. Although the average cycle lasts 28 days, it's important to know that menstrual cycles vary from person to person, and they may even change as you get older.
On top of this, there are certain factors that may impact your cycle's duration:
- Pregnancy: A missed period is one of the most common signs of early pregnancy. If you suspect you might be expecting, it can be a good idea to take a pregnancy test like the one in Kin's Conceiving Essentials, which is able to detect pregnancy as early as 10 days after conception.
- Birth control: Certain contraceptive methods, like the birth control pill, can make your periods shorter, lighter, or even non-existent .
- PCOS: Women with PCOS typically have higher levels of androgens, which prevent ovulation and can cause irregular periods .
- Stress: High levels of stress cause your body to go into fight-or-flight mode and may lead to shorter or longer menstrual cycles .
- Over-exercising: Working out is beneficial for many reasons but when you overdo it, you can end up causing an imbalance between energy consumed and energy used. In order to save energy for vital processes, your body may then stop releasing the hormones that are responsible for ovulation.
- Age: As you age and menopause approaches, you'll likely start to notice changes in your menstrual bleeding patterns, which happens due to hormonal fluctuations.
Slight delays are usually okay, but if you're concerned about your menstrual cycle or if you experience other symptoms that may indicate a more serious problem, we recommend you reach out to your doctor.
Stay a step ahead
It can feel a bit frustrating knowing that literally half of the month we’re susceptible to feeling a bit shit. That’s why it really pays to understand how your body and moods are affected by your cycle, and for this, we can’t recommend tracking your cycle enough.
Not only will it mean no surprises when that time of the month comes around, but it can ensure that when an unexpected feeling does arise, like a random day of ‘cramping’ mid-cycle, you are equipped with the knowledge of what’s actually occurring.
Plus, knowing what happens throughout the menstrual cycle can help you make any necessary lifestyle adjustments to ease the discomfort or at the very least, know when it’ll pass.
Certain supplements can be a helpful addition when it comes to managing your menstrual cycle. Kin's Hormone Harmony was specifically created to help reduce painful symptoms of PMS, like cramps and irregular menstruation, as well as help regulate mood and lower irritability thanks to a curated blend of natural ingredients, based on traditional Western Herbal Medicine (WMH) use.