This week’s article is about the female reproductive cycle. There are 4 phases in the reproductive cycle.
Menstruation Phase (approximately 1-7 days)
On the 1st day of the menstrual cycle, levels of the progesterone (hormone) drop significantly, which causes the uterine lining to shed – this is what people call “the period”. The average length of a period is between 3-7 days and happens every 28 days (4 weeks). During this week, your energy levels are at their lowest of the cycle.
This phase of the cycle is to eliminate the thickened lining of the uterus (endometrium) from the body through the vagina. This phase happens when you have not conceived and the lining that is expunged from the uterus is what would have been used as a cushion for the foetus.
The fluid contains blood, cells from the lining of the uterus and mucus. Use of sanitary pads or tampons during this time is to absorb the menstrual flow; these pads and tampons need to be changed regularly.
The Follicular Phase (circa days 8-14)
There is some overlap between the follicular and menstruation phases. The follicular phase starts on the 1st day of your period and ends when you begin the ovulation phase. It is called the follicular phase because your pituitary gland (which is controlled by the hypothalamus) releases a hormone called follicle stimulation hormone (FSH). The gland stimulates the follicles, which contain the eggs, in your ovaries to mature.
Once the pituitary gland releases FSH, the ovary is stimulated to produce around 5 to 20 follicles which come to the surface. Each of these follicles will house an immature egg. In most cases, only one follicle will develop into a mature egg whereas the others will die. The growth of the follicles stimulates the lining of the uterus to thicken in preparation for a possible pregnancy.
Oestrogen and testosterone start to rise during this phase, which can bring a boost of energy, improve mood, stimulate your libido and cause you to feel more extroverted while suppressing your appetite.
Ovulation Phase (approximately days 15-21)
The ovulatory phase occurs around days 15 to 21. That being said, ovulation itself only takes 15 minutes. The egg that is released is viable for fertilisation within 24 hours.
Oestrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels, boosting the effects of the follicular phase. When oestrogen levels increase, the pituitary gland releases the Luteinising hormone (LH) and ovulation is in full force at this stage.
Ovulation is triggered by the high levels of LH. The egg is funnelled into the fallopian tube and towards the uterus. The life span of the egg is only approximately 24 hours, unless it meets a sperm and conceives, it will die.
Note, that as the production of cervical mucus increases in the days prior to the ovulation phase, it is possible to get pregnant from sex prior to the day of ovulation.
You may experience some of the following symptoms during the ovulation phase:
- Thicker discharge
- A rise in body temperature
- Ovulation pain
- Spike in sex drive
The Luteal Phase (around day 22-28)
The first couple of days of this phase will feel similar to the ovulatory phase. This last part of the cycle tends to be the longest. The luteal phase of the cycle can last up to 17 days. Levels of oestrogen and testosterone begin to decline and the body starts producing progesterone. The second half of this phase is very difficult for individuals who have a uterus. You may feel pre-menstrual syndromes like cravings, bloating, breast tenderness, headaches, anxiety, moodiness, etc.
During the ovulation phase, the egg bursts from the follicle, but the ruptured follicle stays on the surface of the ovary. For the following 2 weeks, the follicle transforms into a structure known as the corpus luteum. This will start releasing progesterone, along with small amounts of oestrogen. The combination of these hormones maintains the thickened lining of the uterus, waiting for the fertilised egg to stick (implant). If a fertilised egg implants in the lining of the uterus, it produces the hormones that are necessary to maintain the corpus luteum. This includes human chronic gonadotrophin (HCG), this is detected in a urine test for pregnancy. The corpus luteum keeps producing the raised levels of progesterone that are needed to maintain the thickened lining of the uterus.
If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum withers and dies, usually around day 22 in a 28-day cycle. The drop in progesterone levels causes the lining of the uterus to fall away. This is when the menstruation starts and the cycle repeats itself. You may experience some premenstrual syndromes:
- Breast swelling, pain and tenderness
- Mood changes
- Weight gain
- Changes in sex drive
- Food cravings
- Difficulty sleeping
Hope this has helped you better understands the ins and outs of the 4 phases of the female reproductive cycle.
Be kind to one another!
Julia, Sexologist Blog
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