Most of us have a pretty good understanding of the four phases of the moon – yep, new, full and, um, the other two – but talk about the four phases of your menstrual cycle and its not so clear cut. If you know more about something 384,400 kilometres away than you do about something you actually touch quite a lot, it’s time for a little lesson! Tracking symptoms you’re experiencing and knowing where your cycle is at can make you feel happier and in control, because knowledge is power, right? Here’s how your body is on a loop preparing for pregnancy, while you’re otherwise engaged:
Days 1-7 (ish): Winter
Let’s start with the obvious bit. The first phase is your period, aka menstruation, which lasts between three and seven days. We’re calling this winter, as it’s when you may feel like staying home under a doona and eating soup. What is actually happening here from a hormonal POV is you’re your pituitary gland is making follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) which basically tells your ovaries to mature those follicles ready to grow some eggs.
Days 8-14 (ish): Spring
The second phase is called the follicular phase. It’s the bit between the end of your period and ovulation. You feel like pulling on your joggers and emerging back into the lovely world. What’s happening inside is that as one follicle wins the race to reach maturity, the others start to die off. The luteinising hormone (LH) then kickstarts ovulation. During this ‘spring’ phase you’ll notice you’re producing more cervical mucus – that is to ‘trap’ any sperm that comes its way so it’s there waiting when the egg meanders its way down during the next few days.
Days 15-21 (ish): Summer
Phase three is ovulation. The actual process of ovulation only takes a few minutes, but this phase also includes the days before it pops, when your mucus is sticky (see ‘spring’, above), and the time the egg is available for potential baby making (up to two days). Basically it means you can get pregnant any time in this window. During this phase you should feel full of energy and pretty good about life in general. And ah, those su-u-mmer ni-ights.
Days 22-28 (ish): Autumn
The fourth phase is the luteal phase, which also goes by ‘pre-menstrual’. And we all know what that feels like. Autumn is a slowing down time so don’t expect too much of yourself, and stay away from pictures of baby hedgehogs. After ovulation, the levels of FSH and LH drop as they’re no longer needed and your body starts to produce progesterone. If you’re not pregnant, this drops off too, and provokes the endometrial lining to shed. And so the cycle starts again…