Quite a lot of women think that menstrual cycle and menstruation are the same things, but it’s not so.
Menstrual cycle is the changes in the women’s genitals in about equal time intervals. Menstrual cycle is the time from the first day of your period to the last day before your next period. The biological purpose of the menstrual cycle is to prepare a woman’s body for a possible pregnancy.
So what does it mean and why is it so important for a woman’s body?
Well, the point is a woman’s body needs to get ready for the changes connected with conception and further fetus development; it can’t stay ready for this all the time. Female body comes to this peak of readiness regularly, and the menstrual cycle is a reflection of this regularity.
How long does menstrual cycle last?
Menstrual cycle length is not the same for every woman. The most common cycle length varies between 23 and 35 days. The countdown of the menstrual cycle begins on the first day of bleeding. As a rule, variations that do take place concern your menstrual cycle stage before ovulation (follicular phase, as your doctor would call it). For most women, a road from ovulation (the moment when a mature egg comes out of an ovary) till the first day of a period takes twelve to sixteen days (doctors call this a luteal phase).
What is menstruation (periods)?
Menstruation (or periods, as they commonly call the process) is when your body gets rid of the uterus lining it no longer needs (because conception didn’t happen), and this tissue flows out of your body as blood.
As we’ve mentioned before, the first day of menstrual cycle is when your menstruation begins (day one). A period lasts for three to seven days. Sometimes periods can be painful or, at least, followed by unpleasant sensations but you probably know that the first couple of days of a period are usually the most painful. This happens because hormones in your body make your uterus actively shed the lining it has grown during the last menstrual cycle.
Ovulation and ovulation cycle. What are these?
Estrogen level in your body grows steadily, and at some point it leads to an abrupt increase of LH (luteinizing hormone) level (commonly referred to as LH surge). The LH surge makes the dominant follicle break, releasing the mature egg. After this, the egg travels into the fallopian tube. This is the process they call ovulation.
Quite a lot of women think that ovulation happens on the fourteenth day of the menstrual cycle but this is an average number, which means that the majority of women have ovulation on a different day of the cycle. The ovulation day is never the same day of your menstrual cycle: it varies regularly. Sometimes women say that they can feel pain during ovulation, while most of women don’t feel anything at all and ovulation passes without any apparent signs.
How does the body get ready for ovulation?
Let’s write here some scientific text. At the very beginning of your menstrual cycle a body in your brain called hypophysis (or a pituitary gland) produces FSH (follicle-stimulating hormone). Ovaries are stimulated by this hormone to produce eggs. Follicles are small sacs in ovaries filled with fluid. Every follicle contains an immature egg. FSH helps a certain number of follicles to mature and stimulates production of the estrogen hormone. On the first day of menstruation estrogen reaches its lowest level — later it begins to grow as the follicles mature.
Generally, as the follicles grow, one of them becomes dominant, as they call it, and this is where the egg matures. A the same time, growing level of estrogen makes your uterus walls thicken as it grows a lining that consists of nutrient tissue and blood. It makes sense because an egg, in case it gets fertilized, must have all the nutrient materials and all the support necessary for its growth and development. High estrogen level also helps forming the sperm-friendly environment within uterus (they call it fertile cervical mucus). This fluid slimy substance may have a turbid whitish color. Sperm cells move through this fluid easily and can live in it up to six days.
Menstrual cycle phases and hormones that regulate the
The menstrual cycle is divided into two phases and ovulation begins between them.
The first phase is called follicular. It is in this phase the follicle is developed out of which an egg will come out, and the egg can then turn into a developing fetus and finally, into a child. It starts on the very first day of the menstrual cycle (menstruation) and ends when ovulation begins. It lasts about half of the cycle. Special cells in this phase produce the sex hormones called estrogen. Throughout the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle a woman’s body basal temperature is usually below 37 degrees Celsius and during the ovulation time it will drop sharply.
The next phase of the menstrual cycle is luteal, or corpus luteum phase. The corpus luteum is formed in an ovary at the place where the egg came out. This phase begins immediately after ovulation and lasts as long as the corpus luteum is, that is about 12-14 days. The main objective in this step is to maintain estrogen and progesterone hormones balance allocated by the corpus luteum to prepare the body for a possible pregnancy. During this phase the basal body temperature can be 37 degrees Celsius, and then, drop before the onset of period.
What part of the cycle is the most favorable for conception?
The egg is able to fertilize right after ovulation. However, a favorable time for conception lasts longer. Sperm can live in a woman’s body up to five days (in exceptional cases longer). This means that favorable days for conception are the five days before ovulation and 12-15 hours afterwards. During this time it is possible to conceive, although during the ovulation days this probability is higher.
Does ovulation always begin in the middle of the cycle?
Well, this often happens when the menstrual cycle lasts 28 days. The duration of the first cycle phase when an egg matures can differ in different women. The second cycle phase after ovulation usually lasts 12-14 days. For example, ovulation can begin on about 19th-20th day during the 33-day menstrual cycle, and on about 10th day during the 24-day menstrual cycle.
Is it difficult for women with short menstrual cycle to define days favorable for conception?
In theory, an average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, ovulation begins on the 14th day, and menstruation lasts between three and five days. But in fact the menstrual cycles are often longer or shorter, with a strong or a weak bleeding and ovulation between 10th to the 20th day. And this is normal. Regular ovulation is unlikely only if the menstrual cycle lasts less than 24 days. It is also unlikely that ovulation will begin during the clearly defined days. Furthermore, it is difficult to determine fertile days if the menstrual cycle lasts longer than 35 days.
Do the eggs mature each month?
Actually no, there is no regular formation of new eggs; a woman is born with about 400,000 eggs waiting to mature. During puberty when sex hormones give the first impulse for egg maturation, many of the eggs laid at birth are already lost. At 35 years there are only about 35 000 eggs per ovary, and it’s enough to give birth to many children.
If the egg and sperm meet at the right time, why can’t pregnancy always begin?
The likelihood that sex in a favorable conception time will necessarily lead to pregnancy is only about one to four for the egg shell can be defective or sperm is weak and sluggish. It happens that fertilization occurs, but for some reason, the embryo doesn’t develop and dies, so that the woman doesn’t even notice that she was pregnant.
What happens when the egg is matured, and ovulation does not begin?
Sometimes menstrual cycles without ovulation can be in very woman’s life. During such cycles one of the eggs matures as well, estrogen is produced. But there isn’t a decisive signal causing ovulation, that is release of luteinizing hormone by the pituitary. Accordingly, no corpus luteum is formed, and hence corpus luteum hormone (progesterone) is not generated. During these menstrual cycles the follicle, which contains the egg, keeps on growing and the lining of the uterus (the endometrium) is swollen. The follicle bursts at some point, but the overripe egg is already incapable of fertilization. Estrogen stops activating the work of the endometrium and period begins.
Can I get pregnant during menstruation?
Within the first days of menstruation the blood acidic creates unfavorable environment for the existence of sperm. But if your period lasts longer than usual, its last days become “dangerous” again – especially when ovulation begins early and sperm are quite active. For example, a couple had sex on the seventh day of the menstrual cycle, ovulation began on the tenth day – so this can result in pregnancy.
The more you know about the processes that happen inside your body, the more chances you get to keep it healthy. Needless to say, knowing as much as possible about your reproduction system will help you avoid problems with conception, and give birth to a healthy child in nine happy months.
If you have any doubts or think there may be some issues with your menstrual cycle, don’t consult internet — consult your doctor!