The menstrual cycle is the number of days from the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next period. The cycle consists of a total of four different phases. What these are and what happens in the individual phases of the menstrual cycle are explained below.
The most important things about the phases of the menstrual cycle at a glance
- The menstrual cycle begins with your period and ends with the start of your next period.
- The cycle lasts about 28 days, although the exact length can vary from woman to woman.
- The female cycle consists of four phases: the period, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase.
- During the period, the body sheds the mucous membrane previously built up in the uterus and excretes it as menstrual bleeding.
- During the follicular phase, some eggs mature in the ovaries in preparation for possible fertilisation.
- During ovulation, one of the eggs usually manages to enter the fallopian tubes to travel to the uterus.
- If fertilisation has not occurred after ovulation, hormone levels drop at the end of the luteal phase and the next period begins.
When does the cycle start?
A woman's cycle always begins with the first day of her period. In the weeks that follow, your body goes through different phases. On the day your next period starts, one cycle ends and a new cycle begins.
How long does the cycle last?
At school you may have learned that the menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. As an average, this may well be true. However, the female cycle does not last exactly 28 days for all women. The exact duration can vary considerably. The cycle can last only 20 or even up to 40 days. If you don't have exactly 28 days from the start of one period to the start of the next, this is not unusual and you don't have to worry about it at first.
The four different phases of the menstrual cycle
Menstruation is definitely the most noticeable phase of the female cycle because of the bleeding that accompanies it. However, it is only one part of the whole menstrual cycle. Of course, there are also things that happen in your body during your menstrual cycle, without which there would be no bleeding in the first place.
Your menstrual cycle consists of the following four phases:
- Follicular phase
- Luteal phase
The first phase of the cycle: period
The period is the first phase of the female cycle. Each time you have your period, a new menstrual cycle begins. During menstruation, the upper layer of mucous membrane in your uterus, which was previously built up in case of pregnancy, comes off.
This is then discharged from your body as menstrual bleeding. If you experience abdominal pain at the beginning of your period, it may be because your uterine muscles keep tightening and relaxing to expel the excess mucous membrane.
The second phase of the cycle: follicular phase
During the follicular phase, the eggs mature in the ovaries. To protect them, they are surrounded by fluid-filled membranes. This is why they are also called follicles. Normally, in each cycle, one of the matured eggs manages to enter the fallopian tubes, through which it then travels to the uterus. A layer of mucous membrane is built up in the uterus in preparation for a possible pregnancy.
While many women prefer to withdraw during their menstruation and feel anything but comfortable in their bodies, the exact opposite is true during the follicular phase. If you feel particularly energetic and attractive on the days after your period, you now know why. Feel free to use this energy to take on projects that are otherwise difficult for you.
The third phase of the cycle: ovulation
The third phase of the menstrual cycle is ovulation. During ovulation, the membrane bursts and the follicle releases the egg. The egg then enters one of your two fallopian tubes. The egg then travels down this tube towards your uterus. You may even feel it when the follicle bursts during ovulation.
Regardless of this, ovulation always takes place two weeks before your next menstrual period. That's why it's so difficult to know exactly when you're ovulating, and therefore when your fertile days are. However, using a cycle calendar on a regular basis can help you to predict it quite accurately over time. The time around ovulation is the time when you are most fertile. One of the ways in which this is noticeable is that you seem particularly attractive during this phase of your cycle and feel particularly strong and attractive.
The fourth phase of the cycle: luteal phase
It takes between four and six days for an egg to reach your uterus. The mucous membrane in the uterus continues to build up so that it is prepared for a possible pregnancy and can supply the fertilised egg with all the nutrients it needs to grow into a hopefully healthy baby. If the egg is not fertilised, your hormone levels drop. This is a sign to your body that it can reject the uterine lining it doesn't need.
When the luteal phase is over, your period begins and your cycle starts again. During the luteal phase, many women suffer from symptoms such as fatigue, mood swings, headaches and a bloated or painful abdomen. If you are affected by premenstrual syndrome, regular exercise and a balanced diet can help you to manage your symptoms.
Fluctuations in your menstrual cycle are not uncommon
As mentioned earlier, the length of your menstrual cycle can vary from woman to woman. It's also not unusual for your own cycle not to be exactly the same every time. Factors that can affect the length of your menstrual cycle include stress, holiday travel and an unhealthy lifestyle with excessive alcohol and cigarette consumption and an unbalanced diet.
If your menstrual cycle is very irregular, it might be a good idea to look into these issues and see if you can change something. Especially with a healthy diet that is adapted to the respective phases of your cycle, you can achieve a lot and often counteract problems that occur very well.