Menstrual Cycle 101: Everything You've Forgotten From Health Class
Getting familiar with the science behind your period can be extremely useful information. Afterall, the average woman will spend 6.25 years of her life on her period - and these periods can give clues about our reproductive and overall health. Simply knowing what is normal and what isn’t is a good place to start when educating yourself. Once you learn more about how periods work, you can understand what the body goes through and give it the love and support that it needs.
This comprehensive menstrual cycle guide is for everyone who may have forgotten what they learned in health class or are just wanting to brush up on their knowledge on the science behind their monthly period!
Let’s get started!
The Menstrual Cycle and its Purpose
The menstrual cycle starts with the first day of the period and ends with the beginning of the next period. This is a monthly hormonal cycle that the female body undergoes. We say “hormonal” here because there are mainly four hormones involved in regulating this cycle: luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, progesterone, and estrogen. The main physiological purpose of this cycle is to prepare for pregnancy.
On top of this, the menstrual cycle has other perks too. The menstrual blood’s colour, the odour, and the duration of the period itself can hint at undetected health problems - think of these factors like ‘red flags’ to tell you when something is wrong. Furthermore, menstruation can be considered a natural cleanser. This way, the body can flush out excess iron and toxins.
On average, this cycle lasts for about 21 - 35 days, however, during the first years after menarche, it is common to experience longer menstrual cycles.
When Does Menstruation Begin and End?
The first ever period that an individual experiences is called “menarche.” On average, this happens at age 12, however this ranges from 10 - 15 years of age. It is important to note, though, that everyone’s body is different. Some people get their first period as early as age eight - and that is no cause for alarm.
After menarche, the body will undergo an average of 13 cycles per year and will spend an average of 34.7 years having these menstrual cycles. As women hit their 40’s, they may begin to notice symptoms of “perimenopause,” which is the transitional time between “menopause,” the stage in which periods stop permanently. Typically, perimenopause begins four years before the final period (the “Last Menstrual Period” or LMP). The average age of menopause is 51 years old.
What Are the Phases of the Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle has three main phases: the follicular phase, ovulation, and the luteal phase. Menstruation starts with the follicular phase. Around this time, the ovarian follicles are stimulated by the follicle-stimulating hormone and get ready to release an egg.
The next phase is ovulation. Here, the egg, which is matured by the luteinizing hormone, is released from the follicles. During this phase, the chances for pregnancy are very high.
The third phase is the luteal phase. During this phase, progesterone and estrogen levels cause the uterus lining to thicken, preparing for possible fertilization. If fertilization does not occur, the start of a new menstrual cycle occurs.
With these phases in mind, you will be able to predict when you are fertile - especially if your cycle is regular. Tracking your menstrual cycle will help you determine if your periods are regular or irregular, and in this case, share information with your doctor to help understand what may be causing the irregularities. There are tons of apps available to help you with this!
What Does Menstrual Blood Actually Contain?
Menstruation is when the body eliminates the thickened lining of the uterus (the endometrium) through the vagina. Therefore, menstrual fluid contains parts of the endometrium, blood, and mucus.
What Kind of Period Pains Are Normal?
Certain symptoms are common if you are about to experience or are experiencing your period. These can be placed under the umbrella term, premenstrual syndrome or PMS. Even though the term contains the prefix “pre,” the symptoms of PMS can coincide with the first few days of one’s period.
PMS is experienced by around 90% of people, each experiencing their own set of symptoms. These commonly include some of the following:
- Acne breakouts
- Tenderness in the breasts
- Abdominal cramps
- Feeling fatigue
- Feeling bloated
- Mood swings and irritability
- Diarrhea, nausea, and constipation
Though these are common symptoms to experience during one’s period, it is advisable to see a physician if any of the symptoms are severe or incapacitating.
Are Period Irregularities Normal? What Causes Them?
Certain individual health factors can affect one’s period. These factors include the following:
- Eating disorders
- Poor sleeping habits
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Excess of protein hormone, prolactin
- Medications such as antiepileptics and antipsychotics
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Premature ovarian failure
Because irregularities are sometimes caused by health problems it’s best to see a doctor if you suddenly experience these. Here are some red flags that should prompt you to see a physician:
- Absence of menstruation for 90 days or more
- Periods more often than 21 days
- Periods less often than 35 days
- Periods lasting more than 7 or 8 days
- Bleeding in between periods (spotting)
- Periods that suddenly become unusually heavy
- Periods that are suddenly more painful than usual
Choosing the Right Products for Your Period
High quality reusable menstrual products are extremely beneficial. These products can help you save money, are safe for your body, and help the environment. You’ll also never have to worry about running out of pads or tampons again! Pads made from 100% organic cotton are free from harsh pesticides and chemicals, making them gentle on the skin and virtually harmless to the body. Additionally, the breathability in these pads keeps moisture and bacteria from accumulating; leading to improved comfort, and less chances of getting an infection.We hope this comprehensive guide on the menstrual cycle helped you learn a little bit more about your period. Want to see more content like this? Following us on social media!