Ladies, it's time for some real talk about what's happening with your body every month. We know periods can be annoying and even painful, but understanding the menstrual cycle is so important for your health and wellbeing.
There's a whole lot more going on than just bleeding for a few days. Your hormones are doing an intricate dance, your fertility window opens and closes, and your body is working hard to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy. Even if you're on birth control, your natural cycle is still influencing you in ways you may not realize.
The 4 Stages of the Menstrual Cycle
As women, we go through the menstrual cycle every month. But do you really understand the four stages our bodies experience?
The first stage is menstruation, or your period. This is when the uterine lining sheds, causing bleeding for 3 to 7 days. Cramps, bloating, and mood changes are common during this stage.
Next up is the follicular stage. Our bodies start producing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which causes follicles in the ovaries to grow and mature. One follicle becomes dominant and releases an egg. This stage typically lasts 7 to 14 days.
Ovulation occurs when the dominant follicle ruptures and releases an egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube where it can be fertilized. Ovulation usually happens around day 14 of the cycle, but this varies for each woman. You may experience mild pain, bleeding, or increased sex drive around ovulation.
Finally, the luteal stage begins. The ruptured follicle forms a structure called the corpus luteum which produces progesterone. If pregnancy occurs, the corpus luteum supports the pregnancy. If not, both the corpus luteum and uterine lining break down, marking the start of your next period. This stage is typically 10 to 16 days.
Understanding the stages of your cycle can help you track your periods, predict ovulation, and spot any irregularities. While cycles vary for each woman, the average is 28 days. But anywhere from 21 to 35 days can still be normal. Talk to your doctor if you frequently experience severe pain, very heavy bleeding, or irregular cycles.
What Happens During Your Period
We’ve all been there—that time of the month when Aunt Flo comes to visit. For most of us, our periods mean cramps, cravings, and mood swings. But what’s actually happening in our bodies during menstruation?
When you get your period, your uterus is shedding its lining, called the endometrium. This is the tissue that builds up each month to prepare for a potential pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t happen, the endometrium breaks down and flows out of the vagina as your period.
- Cramps are caused by hormones called prostaglandins, which trigger your uterus to contract. These contractions help expel the endometrial tissue.
- Bloating and water retention also come courtesy of those pesky prostaglandins. They cause fluid buildup that leads to a puffy tummy and swollen extremities.
- Mood changes like irritability, sadness or anxiety are triggered by fluctuating hormone levels, especially decreasing estrogen and progesterone.
Your period typically lasts 3 to 5 days, during which time you'll pass blood clots and tissue in addition to regular menstrual blood flow. The good news is, once your period ends, your body starts building up a new endometrial lining to prepare for another chance at pregnancy next month.
While menstruation can be annoying, it's a sign that your reproductive system is working properly. Understanding the changes in your body can help you feel more in control and better equipped to manage symptoms. The more you know about your own cycle, the more you can appreciate all that your body is capable of.
How Long Should Your Menstrual Cycle Last?
As women, our menstrual cycles are an important part of our health and fertility. But how long is a normal cycle, and when should you see a doctor if something seems off?
The typical menstrual cycle lasts between 21 to 35 days.
- For most women, a normal cycle is usually between 28 to 32 days. Anything in this range is typically considered very normal and healthy.
- If your cycle is shorter than 21 days or longer than 35 days, it's a good idea to talk to your doctor. Irregular or abnormal cycles can sometimes indicate hormonal imbalances or other issues that may need treatment.
A change in your normal cycle length can also be a cause for concern.
- If your usual cycle is 28 days but suddenly changes to 21 days or 42 days, that can be a sign that something may be off. Hormone levels fluctuate throughout our lives for many reasons, from stress to diet changes to underlying conditions.
- Significant changes in cycle length are worth discussing with your doctor, especially if the changes persist for more than a couple of months. They can check for any potential issues and may order blood tests or ultrasounds to determine the cause of the changes.
Other warning signs to watch for include:
- Excessively heavy bleeding (soaking through a pad or tampon every 1-2 hours)
- Bleeding between periods
- Severe pain during your period that interferes with your daily activities
- Irregular bleeding after intercourse
We suggest using a menstrual tracking app to keep track of your flow to understand your cycle more. We would recommend the Flo App
Our cycles are complex, but paying attention to what's normal for you and being aware of any significant changes can help identify potential issues early on. Don't hesitate to talk to your doctor right away if you notice any symptoms that concern you or don't seem right. Your health and wellbeing should always come first.
Common Menstrual Problems and How to Deal With Them
As if bleeding for a week isn’t bad enough, many of us also suffer from painful menstrual cramps. Cramps are caused by prostaglandins, hormones that trigger your uterus to contract. When the contractions are particularly strong, it can lead to cramping. To relieve cramps, try:
- Taking an over-the-counter pain reliever like ibuprofen a day or two before your period starts. This can help prevent cramps from even forming.
- Applying a heating pad to your lower abdomen. The warmth will help relax your muscles.
-Doing some light exercise like walking or yoga. Exercise releases endorphins that can ease pain.
-Drinking plenty of water. Dehydration can make cramps feel worse.
-Getting extra rest. Lack of sleep can intensify pain.
If your cramps are severe and don’t improve with self-care, see your doctor. They may prescribe stronger medication or check for conditions like endometriosis.
If you’re soaking through a pad or tampon every hour or less, you could have heavy menstrual bleeding, also known as menorrhagia. Some causes include:
-Hormonal imbalances. Too much or too little of certain hormones like estrogen can trigger heavy periods.
-Fibroids. Noncancerous growths in the uterus that can increase bleeding.
-Polyps. Abnormal tissue growths on the cervix or inside the uterus that may lead to more blood loss.
-Adenomyosis. A condition where the uterine lining grows into the muscular wall of the uterus.
See your doctor right away if you experience heavy bleeding. They can determine the cause and recommend treatment like hormone therapy, an IUD, or in severe cases, a hysterectomy. You may also need to take iron supplements to prevent anemia from blood loss.
To help lessen mood swings, bloating, acne we suggest using Women's Health by Revive MD.
FAQs: All About Your Menstrual Health
What's normal for my period?
As women, we've all had questions about what's normal when it comes to our menstrual cycle. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones:
- How long should my period last? On average, a normal period lasts 3 to 5 days. Anything from 2 to 7 days can be normal for some women. If your period is shorter or longer, talk to your doctor.
- How heavy should my flow be? There's no "normal" amount of bleeding. In general, changing a regular pad or tampon every 3-6 hours is common. If you're soaking through a pad or tampon in 1-2 hours, let your doctor know.
- How often should I get my period? Most women menstruate every 21 to 35 days. If your cycle is usually regular but occasionally skips a month, you're probably still ovulating normally. However, if you frequently skip periods or go more than 3 months between periods, see your doctor. Irregular periods can sometimes signal a hormone imbalance or other issue.
- Is cramping normal? Mild to moderate cramps are common for many women during their period. Cramps are caused by prostaglandins, hormones that trigger your uterus to contract. Over-the-counter pain relievers can help. Severe cramps that don't improve with medication or cramps that get worse over time can indicate an underlying condition and warrant a doctor's visit.
- What about PMS? Premenstrual syndrome refers to physical and emotional symptoms some women experience in the days leading up to their period, such as mood changes, bloating, and breast tenderness. PMS is usually normal, though severe symptoms may benefit from lifestyle changes or medication. Track your symptoms to determine if they're PMS-related.
We hope this helps provide some reassurance about what's normal when it comes to your menstrual health and cycle. But if you have any concerns or your symptoms seem abnormal for you, don't hesitate to consult your doctor.
So there you have it, ladies. The ins and outs of how our bodies work each month. While it can sometimes feel like an inconvenience (or worse), understanding the menstrual cycle is so important for every woman. When we understand what's happening with our hormones and reproductive systems, we gain valuable insight into our health, moods, and overall well-being. We can anticipate challenges, treat symptoms, and make the most of the good days.
Our cycles connect us to all the women who came before us and all those yet to come. Though modern life provides many conveniences our ancestors didn't have, this fundamental female experience binds us together across time. Stay in tune with your body, be kind to yourself, and remember - this too shall pass! Until next month, that is. But now you'll be ready.
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