Every month you will experience something called a ‘period cycle.’ The period cycle is a part of getting your period, and getting pregnant (if you choose too).
But, what is a period cycle?
It’s a great question, and we are going to break it down for you to help you understand the phases your body goes through each month and why you have a period.
It's a monthly thing (sort of)
It’s important to note that every girl* experiences her period differently. Buckle up because this may come as a surprise – your ‘monthly’ cycle doesn’t always come on the same date every month.
The average cycle is 28 days, but many girls experience a cycle that is between 21 to 35 days.
You might experience a shorter cycle and have more than one period a month. If your cycle tends to last longer, around the 30-35-day mark, then you may experience fewer periods throughout the year.
What do hormones have to do with it?
Whether you have a short cycle or a long one, it all starts with the hormones in your body. These hormones are called estrogen and progesterone and control how your reproductive system works.
When these hormones rise, it causes your ovaries to develop an egg and releases it. This is called ovulation. Once ovulation has occurred, your hormones then help the lining of your uterus grow thicker in case you are growing a baby. If you aren’t pregnant, the egg leaves your body, along with the lining of the uterus and you have your period.
Sounds like a lot, right? It’s incredible to think that this happens almost every month. The body breaks your period cycle down into four different phases that repeat themselves, and we are going to help you understand each one.
Phase 1: The Period Phase (Day 1-5)
The first day of your period cycle is the first day of your period. Your period can last anywhere from 3-10 days as your uterus sheds its lining.
What makes this first phase so interesting is that, even though you are bleeding, your body is preparing to build that lining back up all over again through your pituitary gland and ovaries.
Your pituitary gland can be found at the base of your brain, and when you begin your cycle it increases the output of follicle-stimulating hormones. This triggers the follicles on your ovaries (each contains an egg) to start maturing for a possible pregnancy.
So, even while you are bleeding in the first phase of your period cycle, your body is already preparing for the next run. Pretty amazing, right?
Some common symptoms of phase one can include:
Phase 2: The Follicular Phase (Day 6-13)
Woohoo! Your period has might have ended or it’s getting close to packing up shop and you are probably feeling like you can conquer the world. During this phase, your estrogen levels start to rise and send several signals to your pituitary gland. These signals release a surge of luteinizing hormone (helps you start ovulation). The hormone prepares the tiny follicles on your ovaries to burst so that a free and mature egg has the chance to meet up with sperm.
The three days leading up to ovulation, along with the day the egg is actually released, are when you’re at your most fertile, which means you are more likely to get pregnant. Your testosterone is also rising at this time. As your body preps for ovulation, you’ll also start to see more cervical mucus (a clear and stretchy substance that looks like egg white) in your vaginal discharge. This mucus will look clear and slippery, much like egg whites, and its role is to make it easier for sperm to reach the egg.
This phase is basically all about preparing your body for pregnancy. You’ll find that during this phase your estrogen levels will be quite high, and they will dramatically rise a few days before you ovulate.
Phase 3: The Ovulation Phase (Day 14)
This phase tends to only happen on one day for most girls. On average, day 14 is the most common amongst females, but that’s not a guarantee for everyone. Like we said, no one is the same! You might ovulate on day 14, or you might ovulate on day 12 or day 16.
Ovulation happens when your ovaries release a mature egg. The reason it’s called a mature egg is because it has undergone two separate rounds of meiosis or cell division in your ovary. This egg goes on a bit of a journey and travels from your ovaries, down your fallopian tube, and into your uterus. It takes anywhere from to 2-4 days for the egg to travel to your uterus, but when it does it sits there for 24 hours waiting to be fertilized. If fertilization does not occur (sperm never meets the egg), the egg starts to break down. This won’t result in a period, but you might find a jelly-like, clear substance in the lining of your pants. You may also experience some spotting (light blood), which is completely normal!
Phase 4: The Luteal Phase (Day 15-24)
During this last phase, your body is still producing progesterone in the hopes to support a possible pregnancy. After you ovulate, your estrogen levels will drop. Remember, ovulation occurs differently for everyone, and you may find that when you enter this phase you are still seeing a clear mucus in your panties. That’s okay!
This phase is all about the last stretch to help you fall pregnant, and once you hit days 24-28, your progesterone level will start to drop significantly. This week is all about your body ending your cycle and getting ready for the next one.
If you experience PMS then this is the time it will heighten – a week before your period arrives. You may start to feel irritable or anxious or even start to experience symptoms like cramping, pimple breakouts, fatigue, or mood swings.
The lining of your uterus will begin to break down and prepare you for your period.
When your period arrives, you’ll start your period cycle all over again! The human body is a wonderful thing, and hopefully, after reading this article, you understand how your cycle works and what to look out for each month.
*girl does not refer to a specific gender but to people who get periods
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