Navigate Your Menstrual Cycle with Confidence

May 2024 | Dr. Madelein Shafferman

What is the menstrual cycle?

It’s that time of the month — a phrase that might evoke a mix of emotions, from dread to curiosity. Have you ever wondered what exactly is happening in your body during your menstrual cycle? Understanding your cycle is essential for taking charge of your fertility and overall health!

Whether you’re experiencing irregularities or just want to learn more about how your body functions, this article will guide you through the phases of the menstrual cycle, explore factors that can affect it, and practical tips to achieve a balanced, pain-free experience… Period.

What Is Your Menstrual Cycle?

Menstrual cycles are a crucial part of your reproductive health and overall health! Your menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. While an average cycle lasts 28 days, some women experience cycles ranging from 21-35 days long.

The menstrual cycle consists of 4 phases, each characterized by different hormones, to prepare the body for pregnancy. Let’s dive into each phase:

1. Your Period

Your period is your body’s way of saying “out with the old, and in with the new!” If pregnancy has not occurred, your period allows the uterus to shed its lining. This process typically lasts 3-7 days. Most women get their first period around 12 years old, and stop getting their period around 45-55 years old, entering menopause.

2. Follicular Phase

The follicular phase overlaps with the first day of your period, and ends when you ovulate. During this time, estrogen levels rise, causing the uterine lining to grow and thicken.

Simultaneously, FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) causes the follicles to grow — and no, not the hair follicles on our head. Your ovaries contain several follicles, which are the tiny sacs in which our eggs develop. During days 10-14 (in a typical 28 day cycle), one of the follicles will form a fully mature egg.

3. Ovulation

This is a big day for your body! Ovulation occurs around day 14 (in a typical 28 day cycle) when LH (luteinizing hormone) spikes. This triggers the ovary to release a fully mature egg.

Time is of the essence when it comes to getting pregnant! The egg lives for about 1 day after being released from the ovary, but sperm can survive in the uterus and fallopian tubes for up to 6 days. Thus, if unprotected sex occurs in the 4-5 days leading up to ovulation, or the day after ovulation, the sperm and egg have a chance to meet.

4. Luteal Phase

The luteal phase begins after ovulation and lasts until your next period begins. The follicle that released an egg transforms into the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone and estrogen. Progesterone is the key hormone in this phase which helps to thicken and prepare the uterine lining for pregnancy.

If the egg becomes fertilized by sperm at ovulation and attaches to the uterine wall during the luteal phase, pregnancy occurs. If pregnancy does not occur, estrogen and progesterone levels decline, the corpus luteum dissolves, and the uterine lining sheds during your period.

Factors that affect the menstrual cycle

3 Factors That Can Impact Your Menstrual Cycle

1. Stress

Are you wearing your stress blinders? Being oblivious to what your stress really looks like can come back to bite you! Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our adrenal glands — and excess cortisol can impact hormone production, delaying ovulation and causing irregularities in your cycle. Stress can even cause you to skip your period altogether.

Stress management techniques like regular exercise, meditation,  and hydrotherapy, can help regulate cortisol, enhancing mood, sleep, and hormonal balance.

2. Sleep

Your menstrual cycle and circadian rhythm influence each other! As I mentioned in my Seasonal Affective Disorder and Hormonal Imbalances blog, low progesterone can disrupt your natural circadian rhythm, affecting sleep, energy, and mood. Additionally, poor sleep can impact the length of your cycle, causing heavier periods and worsening PMS symptoms.

Getting 8 hours of quality sleep a night is your fast-track to supporting hormone production and achieving regular cycles.

3. Diet

Ultra-processed foods are not your pals. Now, that doesn’t mean you can never enjoy a sweet treat. But if you’re constantly feeling irritable or on-edge, experiencing inflammation within and on your skin, or noticing unwanted weight gain, these highly-processed sugary foods may be taking a toll on your adrenal and hormonal health.

Prioritizing a balanced diet will nourish your body with the nutrients it needs to regulate hormone production and support regular menstrual cycles.

Your Menstrual Cycle Should Not Be a Pain

Painful periods, heavy bleeding, mood swings, weight gain, and other PMS symptoms are common but not normal! Oftentimes, these symptoms indicate hormonal, thyroid, or adrenal imbalances — which can be treated if we address the root of the problem.

Additionally, if your cycles are unusually short (meaning you are getting your period multiple times in a month) or are few and far between, it is crucial to consult with a knowledgeable healthcare professional to uncover the causes of these irregularities!

Feel empowered in your menstrual cycle

Feel Empowered In Your Menstrual Cycle

“Know thyself” — this timeless advice holds the key to understanding the deepest truths about your health! By understanding and tracking your menstrual cycle, you can recognize which phase you’re in and gain valuable insights into your fertility and overall health.

Knowing that your hormones are constantly fluctuating can help you determine whether the changes you experience are normal or if they warrant further investigation. If something seems out of the ordinary, you’ll have the data to share with your doctor, who can then guide you to the best solutions for your health.

At ISAIH Natural Medicine, we believe you deserve more than being told that your symptoms are “normal” and something you must simply endure. We offer real solutions tailored to your unique needs, helping you achieve an easy, breezy, and beautiful menstrual cycle! Schedule an appointment with our team today, and take the first step towards better menstrual health.