Hormone Cycle | Period Stages & What to Expect
Many people associate the hormone cycle with the days or week visited by Aunt Flo. But the menstrual cycle is a natural, cyclical process your body goes through each month and typically lasts 28-days and starts on the first day of a person’s period. During each stage, our body is undertaking all kinds of weird and wacky changes - mainly hormonal - so that our ovaries are prepared to release an egg each month.
So, when you start to notice changes in your sh*t, mood swings that come out of nowhere, painful cramps and a sex drive that can’t be tamed, you can thank your menstrual hormones.
There are many benefits to understanding a person's hormone cycle, and we get down and dirty with the menstrual cycle stages and what's actually going on during these stages.
Our essential period hormones
The series of changes we experience each month is all thanks to hormones - chemical messengers - travelling through our bodies and to our brains. The ovaries, uterus, and brain constantly communicate with each other as they process messages received from the hormones. This keeps the cycle up and running smoothly.
What are the 4 hormones in the menstrual cycle and their function?
While the menstrual cycle comprises four stages, two take place in the uterus, and the other two take place in the ovaries. Different hormone levels during each cycle have to do with either the uterus or the ovaries.
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH): this little fellow is in charge of stimulating the ovary, which causes it to mature and release oestrogen.
- Oestrogen : Oestrogen is in charge of thickening and repairing the uterus lining, so it’s healthy enough to maintain the shedding of unfertilised eggs.
- Luteinising hormone (LH): LH stimulates the release of an egg during ovulation.
- Progesterone: Progesterone also plays a role in protecting and maintaining the health of the uterus during our cycle and throughout pregnancy.
Menstrual cycle stages
Menstruation is an often misunderstood and stigmatised topic that people face every month. Many people don't even know what the heck happens during a person’s menstrual cycle.
Understanding your cycle is not only empowering, but it also allows you to be a little kinder to yourself and to others going through the same thing. On days when you’re feeling a little down and under, at least you’ll understand that it’s just you as a result of hormones and significant bodily changes.
Your menstrual phase is identified from the first day of your period to the last day, and it’s known as the first stage of your menstrual stage.
So what’s up for all the blood and pain? Well, your uterus thought it was gonna get lucky this month, so it prepared itself by thickening its lining. Much to its dismay, your egg wasn’t fertilised, so now it’s time to shed the old and prepare for the new; all the old blood and tissue is shed from the uterus.
This phase typically lasts 3-7 days, but some people have longer menstrual phases. During these tiresome days, estrogen and progesterone drop, which often results in some of our favourite symptoms:
- Mood swings
- Tender breasts
- Lower back pain
Your follicular phase overlaps with your menstrual phase; it starts from the first day of your period and ends at the start of ovulation. Your follicle stimulating hormones have noticed a problem - there’s no baby, so it’s time to prepare for the next opportunity.
The hormone starts signalling the ovaries to produce 5 to 20 follicles, which are small sacs that’ll house an egg. Of the healthiest eggs, one will mature (occasionally, it can be two) and produce heaps of oestrogen as it grows.
Typically, this phase lasts 10-22 days, but it varies from person to person.
It’s your body’s next chance to fall pregnant, so as a way to get the juices flowing, your sex drive spikes and your discharge changes to allow sperm to travel easily.
Your ovulation phase typically happens midway through your cycle, but this can change from time to time. Usually 13-15 days before your period. In this phase, your egg travels from the fallopian tubes to await the arrival of sperm in your uterus.
Because an egg is tucked away all nice and warmly in your uterus, this is the only time in your menstrual cycle that you can fall pregnant. But guess what? Sperm can survive for up to five days in the uterus, so even if you don’t have sex when your ovulation, sperm can sneakily be sitting and waiting.
Some of the tell tale signs your ovulating can be:
- Mood swings
- Sudden change in emotions
- Fatigue / lack of concentration
- Sudden crying spells
The luteal phase occurs from the start of ovulation to the start of your next period. During ovulation, the eggs transform into the corpus luteum and secretes progesterone and small amounts of estrogen.
Your body will react in two ways here, depending on whether the egg is fertilised or not. If the egg has been fertilised and you’re pregnant, human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) will be secreted. This is the hormone that pops up on pregnancy tests.
On the other hand, if an egg hasn’t been fertilised, the corpus luteum shrinks away, and estrogen and progesterone levels drop, which causes the body to signal your menstrual phase.
Along with our hormones doing all kinds of things, it’s not uncommon to experience bloating, headaches, food cravings and trouble sleeping. This can last for around 11-17 days. So, to end on a more positive note….. read out next blog!