The menstrual cycle: For most women, there’s no escaping it. And yes, it can be a pain (literally) at times, but this intricate cycle is responsible for furthering the human race.
So when are you most fertile? When can you expect PMS to steamroll through? And what’s happening on all those other days of the month? Although every woman differs slightly, there’s still a road map that can followed.
To begin with, there are four unique phases of a woman’s cycle:1
Days 1 – 5: Menstrual phase
Days 1 – 13: Follicular phase
Day 14: Ovulation phase
Days 15 – 28: Luteal phase
These phases can then be broken into day-by-day activity. Let’s take a closer look at just how fascinating this cycle really is…
Menstrual and Follicular Phases Begin
The first day of your period marks the first day of your menstrual cycle. This is your “true north,” in case you ever get lost during the month. Estrogen is at a low point right now, and this can actively affect your mood. This is because low estrogen can have an effect on serotonin and dopamine — also known as the “happy hormones.” 2,3
If you’re not pregnant, this is when the blood and tissue that lines your uterus starts to shed.
This is usually a heavy-flow day. But the good news is, your estrogen level has started to climb again, so you’re probably in a much better mood. You may experience some cramping.
You can expect to still be on heavy-flow alert, but this should be the last day of that. Keep in mind that Vaginal pH increases around this time, so you are more susceptible to yeast infections.
Things should lighten up a bit today, and you may notice a shift in blood color from red to brown. Your estrogen level continues to climb.
On average, most women will have a 5-day period, so today, you can start to bid your farewells. You probably won’t need a tampon — so save those for next month, and opt for a panty-liner instead. If your period lasts 7 days, that’s also completely normal.
For many women, this will be your first period-free day. But while you’re kicking back and celebrating, your ovaries are back on duty – it’s now baby-making season once again.
Tiny follicles in your ovaries are beginning to grow, preparing for the release of an egg later this month. At this stage of your menstrual cycle, you may start to feel extra positive and motivated as your body pumps that estrogen back up.
Estrogen levels continue to rise as your eggs develop. Your skin may also look and feel wonderfully luminous right now.
At this point, one single follicle in your ovaries becomes dominant. All others will stop work, allowing this follicle to be the “chosen one” — and it will soon release an egg. All that estrogen your body has been sending out tells your uterus to start thickening its lining. Your uterus needs to be rich with blood and nutrients, so a fertilized egg can make its home there.4
Your estrogen levels will be getting quite high at this point, so it may feel like life is super rosy! The lining of your womb continues to prepare for a potential house guest.
This is where things become very important if you’re looking to conceive. You’re either ovulating, or you’re close to ovulating. If you have no plans to get pregnant, this is when you’ll need to be extra careful.
Your estrogen levels are super high, and your cervical mucus will be “stretchy.” This high-tide of estrogen is s
etting you up for ovulation within about two days time. You are considered highly fertile right now, because sperm can survive up to five days in a woman’s body. Not by coincidence, your libido shoots up at this time, due to an increase in testosterone.5
Your estrogen levels peak, and your body is about to push an egg into your fallopian tube. Hello, ovulation!
You’re ovulating! Today is a great day to get down with your significant other, if you’re hoping to get pregnant. The egg is on its journey down your fallopian tube. Some women may feel a little crampy, or have some spotting, on this day. While sperm can survive for several days in here, your egg only survives for a mere 12 to 24 hours.6
*Note: This day isn’t the same for all women, and perhaps not even for you this time next month. That’s why ovulation kits and basal temperature thermometers can be great tools for working out your own most fertile days.7,8
If you’re trying to conceive, this might be a good day to try one last time. Soon, your estrogen and testosterone levels will start to drop, and progesterone levels will rise instead.9
Your basal body temperature will start to rise, signifying the end of ovulation. Your egg may still (just) be hanging around, waiting for a dance partner.
The lining of your uterus continues to thicken, waiting patiently for the sign of a fertilized egg.
Estrogen levels begin to rise again, but progesterone stays high to help maintain that plush uterus.
With both of these hormones at high levels, you may experience tender breasts. If you’re trying to conceive, you’re probably a little anxious right now, but unfortunately, it’s too early for a pregnancy test.
If your egg hasn’t been fertilized, progesterone and estrogen begin to drop.
If you’re pregnant, your doctor “may” be able to tell you now via a blood test.10 It’s still too early for a home pregnancy test.
Many women may start to experience premenstrual syndrome (PMS) symptoms, which can make them feel sad or irritated. But, some women won’t experience PMS much at all.
You may start to feel moody — so go easy on yourself today. Pedicure?
Your body’s pain threshold is now at its lowest because of low levels of estrogen.11 It’s not a good time to visit the waxing salon. Today is about the earliest that you could possibly get a positive result on a home pregnancy test.12
This is a peak PMS day for some. If you’re affected by PMS, today could bring all sorts of meltdowns. And bloating. And meltdowns about bloating. Though it seems counterintuitive, try to drink more water, because water can actually ease bloating.13
Here’s some good news to help you forget about your temporary bloat: Your metabolism is in high gear right now. In fact, it is at its highest right before your period!
Though your metabolism is now your BFF, you might be faced with quite a test: some seriously unhealthy food cravings. Put down the box of cookies, and try to grab something healthy instead.
This is the last day of your menstrual cycle. If you experience menstrual cramps, they may crop up in the final two days of your menstrual cycle. Your uterus is beginning to contract so it can shed its lining and start fresh. And, if you’re acne-prone, this is when you can expect some fresh bumps and oily skin, thanks to higher levels of testosterone.
28 Days Later…
Wow! That’s quite a journey. Your body has a strategic plan for every single day, hoping that one day, it will get to make a small human!
To gain an even better understanding about your own personal menstrual cycle, especially if you’re experiencing trouble getting pregnant, be sure to speak with a professional who can guide you in the right direction.