I used to think my monthly period was my menstrual cycle. In fact, growing up, I never paid much attention to it at all. Instead, I saw it as a bit of an inconvenience each month. I’d end up with stained underwear since it always caught me by surprise, plus I had to remember to pack tampons in my purse, and it usually involved a few outfit tweaks…no white pants that week!
It wasn’t until I experienced fertility challenges that I started to learn more about my cycle. The more I learned, the more amazed I became with how complex and intricate our body really is. Here I was, 32 years old and was barely learning how my body actually worked. So with that being said, here are 5 things that every woman should know about her menstrual cycle.
1. Made Up of 4 Distinct Phases
Women’s bodies are cyclical in nature and operate based on an infradian rhythm. You’ve heard of the circadian rhythm, which is a 24 hour cycle, but the infradian rhythm is more of a monthly cycle that averages about 28 days (more on that below). Throughout the cycle, your hormone levels are changing, either rising or falling depending on which of the four phases you are in. It’s almost like your body goes through a new season with each phase.
Phase 1: Menstruation
Phase 2: Follicular
Phase 3: Ovulatory
Phase 4: Luteal
Because of the hormone fluctuations happening throughout each phase, this can impact everything from your mood, energy levels, communication, and even level of attractiveness. Your body also has different needs during each of the phases, so your nutrition and exercise routine should adjust accordingly, along with self care, and social plans. This is why it can be so helpful to know what phase you’re in, so that you can make necessary adjustments and really thrive throughout each cycle.
2. Considered a Fifth Vital Sign
During your last Doctor appointment they probably checked a few of your vital signs, including blood pressure, temperature, pulse, respiration, height, and weight. The problem is, they likely forgot to ask you about one of your most important vital signs as a woman. Yep, you guessed it…your menstrual cycle! As we just learned, it’s not just your period, but the full cycle from start to finish including all 4 phases.
Now the reason, your cycle is considered a fifth vital sign, is because the health of your cycle can be a main indicator to underlying health conditions and issues. For example, the length of your luteal phase could indicate a hormonal imbalance because if it’s 10 days or less, it might mean that your progesterone levels are low. Your cycle can also indicate whether you have thyroid issues, blood sugar imbalances, inflammation, nutrient deficiencies, and so on.
3. Your Period Patterns Matter
When was the last time you really paid attention to your period? Do you how many days your period lasts? What about the color? The amount you bleed each day? Have you noticed any clotting, or maybe spotting before or after? All of these are important to pay attention to, because it’s kind of like a monthly report card from your body, about your overall health and lifestyle.
A healthy period lasts anywhere between 3-7 days and should be a bright cranberry red color. It should be the consistency of maple syrup with little to no clotting or spotting. I know this can be a taboo topic and it’s not like we’re talking to our friends about our latest period, but it’s important to tune into the signs your body is giving you each month.
4. Cycle Length Can Vary
You’ve probably heard that a woman’s cycle lasts 28 days. Period. The problem with this “fact” is that it’s inaccurate for one, and two, it assumes that we’re all the same and that our bodies respond the exact same way from month to month. 28 days is the average length of a woman’s cycle, meaning that some are longer, some are shorter, and that’s perfectly healthy.
When we assume that all women have a 28 day cycle, this leads to incorrect predictions about when your period will come, how long it will last, and even when you ovulate. Have you ever tracked your period in an app on your phone? If so, you’ve probably seen that once you record the dates of your period, it predicts when the next one will start and how long it will last. As we covered earlier, our bodies are cyclical and our hormones are very sensitive to external factors. Even simple things like staying up later than usual, drinking alcohol, or traveling, can alter your cycle.
5. Ovulation Can Differ Each Month
Since you now know that a woman’s cycle is not always 28 days, let’s discuss ovulation and when that occurs. The common misconception is that a woman always ovulates on day 14 of her cycle. From predictive apps, to ovulation predictor kits (OPK’s), and even hormone testing days (testing progesterone on day 21 vs. peak +7), it’s easy to think that you would always ovulate on day 14. This is again inaccurate and can lead to timing sex incorrectly when you want to have a baby.
You might ovulate earlier in your cycle on day 11 or 12, or maybe you have really long cycles, so you ovulate on day 21 or 22. Either way there is no right or wrong day to ovulate, and based on your hormonal messengers, your body knows when it’s time to release the egg. The best part is, you don’t need an app or OPK to tell you when you will ovulate, because your body will give you those clues on its own. You just have to know what to look for, which is why I teach my clients how to chart their cycle and interpret their body’s signs such as, basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus.
Now that we’ve covered these 5 things about your cycle, what do you think? Comment below with some of your biggest takeaways.