When we think about periods, the first things that come to mind are cramps, endless cravings, unstable emotions, headaches, etcetera. Behind these manifestations, though, what really happens when a female goes through her period? What are the different stages of the menstrual cycle? And what is the importance of the menstrual cycle in pregnancy?
What is the Menstrual Cycle?
The menstrual cycle is the monthly hormonal process of preparing a female’s body for pregnancy. The menstrual symptoms you experience are the result of the changing hormone levels, such as estrogen and progesterone throughout the menstrual cycle. The duration of a woman’s menstrual cycle can vary from month to month and is not the same for each woman. However, the typical menstrual cycle lasts 28 days.
Different Stages of Menstrual Cycle
There are four different stages of the menstrual cycle: menstrual phase, follicular phase, ovulation phase, and luteal phase. Read the following details about these stages:
The menstrual phase is the first stage of the menstrual cycle which usually lasts 5-8 days. This is the stage when you get your period or monthly bleeding. Ever wonder why such bleeding occurs? It happens because, during the monthly menstrual cycle, the uterus lining thickens to prepare your body for pregnancy.
But if pregnancy doesn’t happen, estrogen and progesterone hormones drop and send a signal to your body to begin menstruation. Since pregnancy didn’t take place, the thickened lining of the uterus is unneeded so it sheds through the cervix and exits your body through the vagina. These menstrual fluids are a combination of blood, mucus, and tissue from your uterus.
As it is with the menstrual phase, the follicular phase also begins on the first day of your period, and it ends when the ovulation phase starts. What happens is that the hypothalamus tells your pituitary gland to emit follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) -a hormone that prompts your ovaries to produce small sac-like formations called follicles, with each one containing an immature egg.
As the healthiest egg cell matures, all the others get reabsorbed in the body. The maturing egg then releases more estrogen that causes the lining of your uterus (or the endometrium) to thicken. Thus, providing the necessary nutrients for a fertilized egg to grow.
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a hormone that plays a vital role in pregnancy. During the follicular phase, your estrogen level rises thus, stimulating your pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone (LH) and to stop producing FSH. When this shift occurs, the LH causes the ovary to release the matured egg. The egg is then carried to the fallopian tube going to the uterus where it can be fertilized by the sperm. This process is what makes up the ovulation phase.
This stage happens in the middle of your cycle, usually at day 14 in a 28-day cycle, and lasts for only 24 hours. This is the only phase in your menstrual cycle where pregnancy can take place. Why? Because of the egg does not get fertilized by a sperm during the ovulation phase (or within 24 hours), the egg will die.
What happens to the follicle when the egg is released? It changes into what is called the “corpus luteum”. This structure then releases hormones including progesterone which keeps your endometrium or your uterine lining thick -prepared for implantation of a fertilized egg. If pregnancy occurs, your body will emit hormones that will keep the endometrium thick. Hence, helping the pregnancy to go on.
This hormone is called the “human chorionic gonadotropin” (HCG) -the hormone that gets detected by pregnancy tests. But, what happens if you don’t get pregnant? This is the time when the corpus luteum dies and the egg cell disintegrates. Levels of estrogen and progesterone then begin to drop which leads to the start of the menstrual phase and the beginning of the next cycle. The luteal phase lasts around 11-17 days.
Importance of Menstrual Cycle in Pregnancy
Becoming aware of your menstrual cycle is a major factor to consider whether you’re trying to get pregnant or keeping away from it. If you are, the first thing you should know is when you are most fertile. As said, the only time when you can get pregnant is during the ovulation phase. That being the case, keeping track of your monthly period is one strategy to learn about your body’s fertility.
What are the signs that you can look for to tell if you’re ovulating? One indication to keep on guard is thicker, white discharge from the vagina. Another thing to observe is your basal body temperature. A slight increase in your basal body temperature is also one way to tell if you’re ovulating.
Getting yourself familiar with your menstrual cycle is important. Not only is it key to knowing the best time to get pregnant. What is more, possible health issues can be detected early on. If you notice any changes, it is best to consult with your healthcare provider.