Get Familiar With The 4 Phases Of Your Period Cycle
- 8 Min Read
- Health Conditions
- Written by: Dr. Jatin Bhide
- Every woman in the world goes through four phases in her reproductive system, and each phase sees hormone action that affects her body and mind.
- Working out too hard during the menstrual phase, when one experiences bleeding, could make things uncomfortable by increasing the blood flow.
- The follicular phase is the one where the key hormone, FSH, starts the process of getting an egg out of the ovary, making it available for fertilization by sperm.
- The ovulation phase is the central point of the menstrual cycle, as it comes mid-way between two periods, and it’s the reason why women have periods at all.
- The luteal phase is when a woman remains fertile for a short while, and then starts moving towards her next periods, maybe displaying PMS symptoms along the way.
It’s a fact that all women around the world unless there’s a medical aberration, start menstruating around 12-13 years of age and continue to do so until their late 40s or early-to-mid 50s.
Understanding the menstrual cycle
It’s also a fact that this natural biological process, with 4 phases of menstrual cycle that are essential for the propagation of life, is very poorly understood, even by women themselves. This lack of knowledge leads to stigma, embarrassment, inability to listen to one’s own body, and a whole lot of PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) jokes.
Even now, a girl’s period is an uncomfortable subject for her family in many cultures, which keeps her from accessing the right information about the ovulation cycle and normal period cycle. However, early education on menstrual cycle phases and period cycle length would make young girls confident about handling the transition to womanhood.
Each menstrual cycle begins with the first day of menstrual bleeding, which is messy and sometimes very painful. But it’s far from the curse and shameful burden on women that it’s made out to be in some cultures.
Fortunately, there’s a gradual lifting of the taboo and more conversations around the events of a menstrual cycle.
Let’s make things clear and simple. The entire menstrual cycle or uterine cycle can be better understood if we look at it through 4 distinct phases or four stages of menstrual cycle.
Understanding how the female hormones work during these phases, and why women experience physiological changes — sometimes more energetic, sometimes more tired — will make them better equipped to deal with it, physically and mentally.
Phase 1: Menstrual Phase
The day a girl/woman begins to bleed is the first day of her normal menstrual cycle days. The bleeding occurs because of the shedding of the thickened inner lining of the uterus.
The uterine lining is also known as endometrium, which has two layers, basal and functional; the functional layer thickens and then disintegrates every month and is expelled from the body with blood. This endometrium thickness is the body’s way of keeping a cushion ready, in case a fertilized egg arrives in the uterus to develop into a baby.
If there’s no pregnancy, the uterine lining from the previous menstrual cycle is discarded to make room for the next fertility cycle.
Periods, therefore, aren’t a curse, and though they don’t exactly feel like a blessing either, they’re simply part of life — and the process of creating new life.
The start of menstrual bleeding is enabled by a drop in the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. That drop causes the shedding of the uterine lining, and bleeding begins.
Normally, menstrual bleeding lasts 3-7 days, or in some women, even for just 2 days. Periods that end before 2 days or go on longer than 7 days are too light or too heavy, respectively, and they’d need a medical consultation. This is what every woman calls her “period”. The median gap between the two periods is 28 days, but a gap of anything between 21 and 35 days is also normal.
Though the blood loss itself isn’t huge for someone experiencing a normal period — usually, 30-80ml blood goes out over the entire period cycle — it can still feel physically draining. When the periods are accompanied by cramps and nausea, this time of the month can get exhausting.
This is, therefore, not the time to take up strenuous jobs or tasks. It’s a time when taking some rest is better. Across the world, many working women use up their medical leave during their periods.
What you can do during your periods
- Good breathing exercises, meditation, simple yoga stretches, and a light walk may help relax the pelvic zone muscles and improve oxygen supply.
- A hot bath can help you relax tense muscles, ensure good hygiene and also provide relief from cramps, headaches, or lower back pain.
What not to do
- Strenuous exercises like jogging, taking a brisk walk, visiting the gym, or doing aerobics is inadvisable. Women wrongly feel that doing such exercises would boost their energy levels. This can be counterproductive and increase the period of blood flow.
- Also inadvisable is a sedentary lifestyle, like indulging in long hours of sleep and skipping meals. This can make the body more tired and uncomfortable.
Can you get pregnant on the last day of your period?
Most women believe that it’s not possible to have periods and become pregnant at the same time. However, research says that while the risk is low, it can still happen!
According to Planned Parenthood: “It’s possible to get pregnant any time you have unprotected sex, regardless of what day it is in your cycle. Sperm can live in a woman’s reproductive tract for about six days, so it’s always best to use protection. It’s more likely that you’ll get pregnant from intercourse on the last day of your period if you have a shorter menstrual cycle. Your body ovulates — releases an egg from your ovaries — about 14 to 16 days before your period. If your cycle is only about 22 days long, sperm that entered your vagina on the last day of your period could still be there when you ovulate.”
Phase 2: Follicular Phase
Nature has provided a woman with enough eggs to have one egg (ovum) released by either of the two ovaries during every ovulation cycle. All these ‘future’ eggs, called “oocytes” are stored in fluid-filled sacs called follicles in the ovaries; all the eggs remain in a dormant stage until the reproductive system decides every month that it’s time to release one egg into one of the two fallopian tubes (connecting the ovaries to the uterus).
During the follicular phase, the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) is released from the master gland, the pituitary, which is located in the brain. FSH is designed to stimulate and nurture one of the follicles and release the oocyte contained within. This stimulation process begins alongside the menstrual phase when the body has begun disposing of the unused egg and uterine lining.
This period of the FSH acting upon the follicle is essentially the follicular phase, and it lasts about 14 days — going by the median menstrual cycle, i.e. gap between periods, of 28 days — culminating with ovulation. While multiple follicles are stimulated by FSH, only one, called “the dominant follicle”, results in the final ovulation.
While the follicles are being prepared for ovulation, the uterine lining begins to thicken, in case the released egg is fertilized and comes into the uterus. Because of so many simultaneous changes taking place, the follicular phase is also known as the “proliferative phase”.
Interestingly, this is a phase when the dullness of the previous menstruation phase concludes, due to the resurgence in estrogen and the rise in testosterone (the male hormone that is also present in the female body). These two powerful hormones enhance the energy in every muscle of the body and elevate one’s mood.
What you can do during your period
- If you’re looking to conceive, this may be the best time to start trying for it, as the egg is very close to being released from the ovary. The heightened sexual urge in this phase makes pregnancy more likely.
- During the latter half of the follicular phase, women regain their strength and good mood, and so this is the time to get active, feel positive, and set in motion lifestyle improvement plans.
What not to do on your period
Attempts to get pregnant shouldn’t be defeated by unhealthy habits such as drinking alcohol. At no stage of pregnancy is alcohol considered safe.
Phase 3: Ovulatory Phase
This is the phase that comes about halfway between two periods. At this point, once the follicle gets matured and the ovum is ready (in the follicular phase), it’s time for the follicle to rupture and the egg to be released from the ovary into the fallopian tube.
The egg doesn’t immediately move to the uterus; it waits in the fallopian tube to be fertilized if sperm comes in. This fertile period isn’t long — it’s do-or-die for the tiny egg; either it gets fertilized and moves into the plumped-up uterus, or it starts disintegrating after a day or so.
This period of final maturation and the release of the egg is known as the ovulatory phase. This is the time when the estrogen level reaches its peak, boosting its effects to the maximum.
What you can do during your period
- Plan travel, meetings, sessions, conferences, networking, social connections, etc, meaning any task that requires energy.
- Go to the gym, attend aerobics and dance classes, participate in adventure sports, and indulge in intimate relationships.
What not to do on your period
- Excessive sleeping
Phase 4: Luteal Phase
This last phase of the menstrual cycle begins with ovulation. Since the egg is already released and waiting in the fallopian tube, this is the most fertile time for conceiving.
For a few days, the luteal phase mimics the previous ovulatory phase. After this, in the absence of egg fertilization, the hormone levels change. The level of progesterone is higher than estrogen at this point.
The hormonal changes signal the run-up to menstrual bleeding, and the most mysterious part of the cycle begins. This is Premenstrual Syndrome aka PMS. Some women have no symptoms of PMS, but a percentage of women report bloating, a burst of pimples, breast tenderness, a craving for sweets/junk food, and even headache and nausea. Mental symptoms could range from an awful mood, an angry outburst, anxiety, and even depression.
What to do
- Be calm and spend more time by yourself.
- Include healthy foods in your diets, such as salads, good hydrating foods/ juices, and yogurt.
- Go in for yoga and meditation. A light morning or evening walk also helps take one’s mind off PMS symptoms.
- Some women feel extremely stress-free with a good massage, acupressure, aromatic baths, and gentle music.
What not to do
- Eating rich, spicy, and oily food.
- Extreme physical and mental activity.
There’s a lot that goes on inside the female body during the 4 phases of menstrual cycle. It’s a complex process that needs to be understood so that a woman can manage her life and work well — she can allow herself to get some rest when required, and set adventurous goals when the timing is right.
National Library of Medicine – https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK542229/