understanding the menstrual cycle

Understanding the Menstrual Cycle

When trying to get pregnant, the ability to track your menstrual cycle is extremely important. To track your menstrual cycle, you first have to understand how it works. The female menstrual cycle consists of much more than just a period once a month. Here’s a look at the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how to tell when you’re experiencing them. 

Follicular Phase

The four phases of the menstrual cycle include the follicular, ovulation, luteal, and menstruation. The follicular phase of the cycle begins on the first day of menstruation, when a woman’s body starts preparing for possible pregnancy. The lining of the uterus becomes thicker, and the vagina becomes more alkaline so any sperm that find their way in are more likely to survive. One of the eggs inside the ovaries begins to grow. During this phase, a woman will also experiences a surge in FSH (follicle-stimulating hormones) and estrogen. 

Ovulation

The ovulation stage is also called a woman’s “fertile” period. An egg is released down the fallopian tubes in response to an increase in LH (luteinizing hormone). The two days after an egg is released are critical when you’re trying to conceive. For a woman with a perfectly normal period, ovulation generally occurs on day 14 of the 28 day cycle.  

Luteal Phase

The luteal phase lasts for about two weeks -- until the egg is implanted with sperm or your menstrual period begins. Your body releases progesterone and oestrogen and waits for a fertilized egg to attach itself to the lining of the uterus. If no such egg is forthcoming, the uterine lining sheds, and menstruation begins. 

Menstruation

Menstruation is both beginning and end of the cycle, lasting an average of three to seven days. Some women experience spotting between periods. Spotting is a form of very light bleeding, often occurring during ovulation or conception, and should not be mistaken for menstruation. Period blood is a combination of endometrial cells, blood, and mucus.

How to Determine Your Phase

Menstruation and the follicular phase are both fairly easy to determine, since they start with your period. After menses have ceased, your body will begin to prepare for fertilization. Ovulation can be determined by:
  • The consistency of your cervical mucus (becomes slippery, more abundant, and may resemble egg whites)
  • Higher basal body temperature
  • Increased libido
  • Tender breasts
  • Mild cramping
  • Spotting
During the luteal phase, your body is getting ready to either implant the egg or eliminate the lining of the uterus. This is when many women experience the symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), such as fatigue, irritability, and depression. 

Ovulation Predictors

Tracking your menstrual cycle may include keeping very careful records of the symptoms associated with ovulation over the course of several months. For some women, an easier method is to buy an ovulation predictor from any pharmacy or drugstore. These tests measure the amount of luteinizing hormones in your urine so you can have a more concrete idea as to when you’re actually ovulating. To get an idea of when to take the test, you may still need to track your cycle for a few months. If you have fairly regular periods, you may be able to estimate. Starting from the first day of your period, count to day twelve, and begin using the ovulation predictor. Your first morning urine is generally the most accurate.  
Last Updated: January 09, 2018