Your menstrual cycle and ovulation

Your menstrual cycle

You are perhaps already aware of many things concerning your menstrual cycle – such as, how frequently your periods come to you and how intense or heavy they are. In this write-up, let us talk about a female menstrual cycle, periods and ovulation in a reasonably in-depth manner. There is no denying the fact that no write-up or a website can replace the advice coming from a healthcare provider, but our endeavour  is to provide a good understanding on how it functions.

Knowing your menstrual cycle

The length of a female menstrual cycle varies and the usual length is anywhere from 23 to 35 days. The variation generally happens during the 1st part (Follicular phase) of the menstrual cycle prior to your ovulation.  Mostly, the duration length of the 2nd phase (luteal phase) between your ovulation and the next periods is somewhere between 12 and 16 days.

Your periods

The 1st day of menstrual cycle is the Day-1 or your periods. The periods generally last from three to seven days.  You will perhaps come to realize that any pain related to your periods will be at its worst in the initial few days. This happens because the hormones prompt the uterus to actively shed the uterine lining accumulated in the previous menstrual cycle.

Getting ready for ovulation

As your menstrual cycle begins, the pituitary gland located in the base of your brain starts producing follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH). This is the most important hormone that prompts your ovaries to generate mature eggs. Follicles are the sacs filled with fluid in your ovaries. Every follicle contains an immature egg in it. The FSH motivates a large number of follicles to grow and begin producing the estrogen hormone. The estrogen level in your body is at its lowest on the 1st Day of your periods. With the follicles growth, it begins increasing.

Now, while quite a number of follicles initially start developing, usually only one follicle takes a dominant position and attains maturity. At the same time, the mounting estrogen levels in your body ensure that the uterine lining of your uterus thickens adequately to provide nutrients to the growing embryo in case the egg gets fertilized and you happen to attain pregnancy.

High levels of estrogen signify emergence of a sperm-friendly mucus (doctors say it “your fertility window”.  You may observe a cloudy white discharge which is thin, stretchy and slippery. It is easier for the sperm to swim through this kind of mucus and survive in this for many days.

Knowing the ovulation cycle

Ovulation

The levels of estrogen in your body continue to increase and finally result in fast rise in the luteinizing hormone, known as the ‘LH surge’. The LH surge helps in rupturing the dominant follicles and liberating the mature egg from one of the two ovaries.  As the egg gets released, it is picked up by the fimbria of the Fallopian tube to enter into the tube. This progression is called as ovulation.

Several females believe that they usually ovulate on the 14th, but that is misconception.  14 is just an average calculated on the assumption that the females on an average have 28 days menstrual cycle. The ovulation in females differs from a woman to woman and cycle to cycle. Many females feel a twinge of pain while ovulating; others may feel no such sensation and don’t show any other sign.

After your ovulation

As an ovum or egg has been released, it travels from the Fallopian tubes to your uterus. While the egg is able to live only up to nearly 14 hours, the survival of the sperm is variable, usually 3 to 5 days. Hence, the days leading to your ovulation until the ovulation day itself are your most fertile days, which can result into a pregnancy. After the ovulation, the follicles start generating progesterone hormone.

Progesterone further starts building up the uterine lining anticipating that the egg may get fertilized. In the meantime, the empty follicle inside the ovary begins shrinking, but continues generating progesterone and estrogen. At this stage, you may get pre-menstrual symptoms like bloating, lethargy, breast tenderness, depression and irritability.

Getting ready for the next period…

With the empty follicle shrinking, in case the egg does not get fertilized, the estrogen and progesterone levels decrease. In absence of the high hormonal levels that help in maintaining the uterine lining, the lining that has been thickened over a period of time starts breaking down and your body starts shedding it. This is the beginning of your periods and the start of the next menstrual cycle.

If the egg does not get fertilized, it might successfully get implanted into the uterine lining. This normally happens after fertilization in about a week’s time.

As the fertilized egg (embryo) gets implanted, your body generating the, human Chorionic Gonadotrophin (hCG), known as pregnancy hormone, for keeping the empty follicle active.  It carries on generating progesterone and estrogen hormones for preventing the uterine lining from being shed. Thereafter, a female body originates a new organ, placenta to provide nutrients the embryo requires for maintaining the pregnancy.

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