Your Menstrual Cycle: Understanding Your Body’s 4 Phases

From experience, we know how our bodies work. We feel our periods coming, whether through our moods shifting or cramps starting. Some days we wake up feeling weak, agitated, or insecure. Other times, we feel strong, energized, and powerful. 

But what is actually happening inside our bodies? Female bodies function in a monthly cycle, and that cycle has a rhythm. Of course, each body has its own unique exact rhythm, but the body is designed to pass through four healthy phases each month. Each phase has purpose and beauty, even the more painful ones. Some people compare it to the seasons in nature. In some seasons we are meant to produce; in others, to rest and recover. The better we understand our bodies, the better we can walk in time with their natural rhythms rather than fighting against our own selves. 

Let’s look at each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle and learn what they’re all about.

Phase 1: Menstruation

The menstrual phase is the first in your cycle. This is the one we talk (and complain) about the most often–your period. 

The menstrual cycle prepares your body for pregnancy. When a month passes with no egg getting fertilized and therefore no pregnancy, your uterus no longer needs to prepare to support a pregnancy. It sheds its lining, which then flows out of your body through your vagina. Your period contains blood, mucus, and some cells from your uterine lining. 

Periods come with symptoms (unfortunately) that we all know well. These include cramping, bloating, back pain, breast tenderness, mood swings, irritability, and fatigue, among other things. Severity of period symptoms varies for everyone, as does length and frequency of your period. However, on average, cycles come every 28-29 days and last for 3-7 days. 

Your period is your season to be gentle with yourself. Just existing on your period can feel like a full day’s work, so it’s best to give your body as much rest as you are able to. Some other ways to care for yourself on your period include: 

  • Light Exercise: We know, exercising is the LAST thing you feel like doing on your period. And while you probably don’t want to run a marathon on your period, some gentle exercise can help circulation in your pelvic area, which eases period pains and can also release endorphins, boosting your mood and helping you sleep (1). So try searching some period yoga videos on YouTube, go for a walk, swim, or spend 20 minutes on the elliptical. Be gracious with yourself, but push yourself a little bit. If you have a friend, family member, or partner, who can exercise with you, even better!
  • Less Caffeine & Alcohol, More Water: Even though you might want the caffeine to boost your energy, it can cause inflammation and bloating, making your period symptoms worse. Alcohol can lower blood sugar, impact hormone levels, and cause dehydration, all of which will also negatively impact your symptoms. If your symptoms are manageable, it’s not essential to eliminate caffeine and alcohol. However, if you struggle with your period symptoms, reducing these and instead hydrating with more and more water may help (2). 
  • Knowing Yourself: As mentioned before, everyone has a different experience with their period. For some, it’s life as usual, featuring a menstrual cup. For others, it’s borderline debilitating. Knowing yourself can help you get through your periods successfully. For me, it means a heating pad and a hot bath when possible. I substitute working out for some yoga and light stretching. And I eat ice cream. That’s what works for me! What works for you? 

Of course, not everyone has healthy or easily manageable periods. Some people experience premenstrual syndrome, dysmenorrhoea, or heavy bleeding. Some women experience irregular periods or no periods at all (a condition known as amenorrhea). If this is the case for you, it’s important to find out the cause. Periods communicate a lot about your overall health. There are many possible reasons for a missed period besides pregnancy. Talk to your clinician if you are not experiencing your period at a regular rate or if you find your symptoms too intense to manage.

Phase 2: Follicular

The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period and ends at ovulation. Usually, this is a 13-14 day process. During this phase, the hypothalamus in the brain signals to the pituitary gland to release the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This hormone tells your ovaries to produce 5-20 follicles, small sacs containing immature eggs. The healthiest egg matures, and the rest of the follicles reabsorb into your body (3). During this phase, your uterine lining begins to thicken again to prepare for pregnancy (I know–here we go again!). 

When your period starts, your estrogen and progesterone are at their lowest levels. During the follicular phase, your estrogen levels are rising. This generally correlates to feeling increasingly happier and more energized. As you approach ovulation, your energy is reaching its peak. This should mean a good mood and high energy (4).

Phase 3: Ovulation

Here we are, at ovulation! Ovulation should take place around day 14, halfway through a 28-day cycle. Now, the mature egg is released from your ovary and travels down the fallopian tube toward your uterus. The egg only survives around 24 hours, during which time if it is fertilized, it will result in a pregnancy. However, you can get pregnant from sex up to five days prior to ovulation, because sperm can survive up to 5 days in your body. If sperm reaches the mature egg while it is alive, you can get pregnant. 

Some people experience symptoms of ovulation, including cramping, bloating, elevated body temperature, changes in cervical mucus, and/or breast tenderness (5). Tracking your body’s ovulation can help you whether you are trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid pregnancy. People who experience irregular periods often experience irregular ovulation along with that (or no ovulation at all). Talk to your doctor if you believe this may be the case for you.  

Phase 4: Luteal

Here we go, the last phase of our cycle before we start again! Now that your body has ovulation, the cells in the ovary go back to work releasing progesterone and small amounts of estrogen. These hormones keep your uterine lining thick and ready in case a fertilized egg does implant. If you get pregnant, your body starts on a whole new hormonal journey, starting by producing hCG (the hormone detected in pregnancy tests). 

If you’re not pregnant, hormone levels of estrogen and progesterone will drop again, leading to the start of your next period. This phase will last, on average, 14 days, from the end of ovulation to the beginning of your next period. During the luteal phase, your energy levels are likely dropping along with your hormone levels. PMS symptoms can begin, and your body’s rapid decrease in progesterone can lead to feeling sluggish and drained, both mentally and physically (6).

Living in Rhythm With Your Body

Often, as women, we are expected to defy our bodies to maintain the pace of life around us. It’s a busy world, and we need to keep up. But when we understand what’s going on inside our bodies, it’s actually beautiful! Just like winter turns to spring and summer to fall, our bodies prepare to receive new life and shed when it’s not their time. 

Our mood and energy swings can feel exasperating–why can’t I wake up every day and just feel the same?! Yet if we understand their source, we can honor our bodies for all they are experiencing, accepting our feelings without submitting to them. Your feelings are valid, real, and even physiological, but they don’t have to rule over you. 

Take a deep breath and try to understand where your feelings are coming from. Remind yourself that you are in charge, and you can acknowledge your feelings while still choosing joy. If it’s rest you need, give yourself some rest. If it’s a minute of silence to yourself, step into the bathroom and do some deep breathing. Whatever phase your body is in, try to acknowledge and honor yourself where you are. 

At Clearway Clinic, we offer free pregnancy confirmation services, options information, and post-abortion support. All our services are free and confidential. Schedule your appointment today.


Reviewed by Lynn B., BSN, RN

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