A Shared Experience
There was a time in the not too distant past where I viewed my period like many humans in the world who have a uterus: a painful burden that brought acne, bloating, rage in my veins and an overwhelming craving for Cheez Its and Ben & Jerry’s. My understanding of my monthly bleeding was simplified down to two basic understandings; Because of the anatomy I was born with, I was destined to endure a shameful, painful, ‘dirty’ experience every month for at least three decades AND I wasn’t pregnant.
I am not alone in this experience. Many of us are kept in the dark about our menstrual cycles due to lack of sufficient education coupled with false beliefs perpetuated by society. The truth is our menstrual cycle is important for reasons other than creating more humans. The fluctuation of our sex hormones like estrogen and progesterone, throughout a healthy menstrual cycle can have an overwhelmingly positive effect on our energy, libido, skin, bone health, emotional wellbeing, metabolism, and productivity.
A Vital Sign
The menstrual cycle is also considered a vital sign by both the American Academy of Pediatrics and The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Yes, a vital sign. Like our heart rate, respiratory rate and blood pressure. The information our bodies are giving us through presence of pain, amount of menstrual blood, regularity of bleeding, mood and energy can give us essential insights into our overall health.
This article is not to shame you for feeling disgust, or indifference towards your menstrual cycle. This article is also not to make you feel as though you should add one more item to your list of things that make you ‘imperfect’ because what I describe below is not your current reality and never has been. I am writing this article to share information that we ALL should have learned years ago. Maybe then something as natural and essential for life as menstruation wouldn’t be so taboo.
I will explain below what a healthy menstrual cycle can look like. This can serve as a baseline to reference. Please keep in mind that there is no ‘perfect’ cycle and that slight variabilities will occur due to stress levels and your health. I invite you to start noticing your own cycle and how you feel throughout the month. Take note when you notice something out of your ordinary. If it becomes a persistent issue, I urge you to seek to support from a trusted healthcare practitioner. Our bodies are giving us signals constantly on what they need in order to function optimally. We need to start listening with compassion and curiosity instead of judgment.
Let’s dive in!
There are four phases to the menstrual cycle:
- Menstruation (the bleeding part of the Follicular Phase)
- Follicular phase (the non-bleeding part of the Follicular phase)
- The Luteal phase
The menstrual cycle encompasses ALL of these phases, not just menstruation. In fact, a menstrual cycle is only considered healthy if ovulation has been confirmed (more on this below!) A healthy menstrual cycle should last between 24-35 days. It begins on day one of your flow (not spotting) and ends the day preceding your next first day of flow.
I want to mention hormonal birth control because many forms work by suppressing ovulation. If you are currently on the pill or some other form of hormonal BC, what I describe below may not be your current reality. We all have goals and maybe yours is to avoid getting pregnant because you are having heterosexual sex. I am providing this information because you or a loved one has female reproductive organs and therefore should have a basic understanding of how they work.
Here’s a closer look at the 4 phases:
Menstruation (Lasts 3-7 days)
- Consistency and color of blood matter! Your period should resemble some variation of red from the color of cranberry juice to a deep burgundy. The consistency should resemble that of maple syrup with little (no larger than a dime) to no clots.
- 25ml (roughly half a shot glass) to 80ml (roughly 2 shot glasses) is a normal volume of menstrual blood to lose each cycle.
- Your key sex hormones (estrogen, testosterone and progesterone) are at their lowest, which can cause you to feel tired and low energy. If your schedule allows, take some time to rest. Perhaps a quiet night at home watching a movie or journaling.
- Your cervix is at its lowest and feels like the tip of your nose.
- Light pain or cramping is normal. Moderate to extreme levels of pain are not and could be caused by inflammation due to nutrition and lifestyle or another underlying health condition.
- If you are experiencing pain, having an orgasm may help! When we orgasm, a hormone called oxytocin is released which has been found to suppress low levels of pain! And don’t fret if you’ve never had an orgasm before. Check out The O School ….. You’re welcome.
Follicular Phase (Lasts 7-10 days)
- As estrogen and testosterone rise to peak levels, our energy increases.
- Your mood may improve as you progress further into this phase due to the increase in estrogen. Estrogen supports the healthy production of serotonin and dopamine in the brain.
- The increase in estrogen as you approach ovulation will also influence your cervical fluid to change from a drier or sticky consistency (not fertile mucus) to a more wet, slippery or egg white consistency (fertile).
Ovulation (3-5 days)
- The mature follicle in one of your two ovaries bursts and releases an egg that travels into your fallopian tube. A temporary endocrine gland called the Corpus Luteum will grow on the follicle that burst. Yes, we are aliens. This temporary endocrine gland that grows and disintegrates every cycle is responsible for the progesterone surge that we will receive for the remaining two weeks of our cycle. If we conceive, then your progesterone will continue to rise. Without ovulation, we do not receive this surge of progesterone.
- The actual event of ovulation takes seconds, but the physiological effects on mood, energy, and even appearance can last days.
- Progesterone has a thermogenic effect which means that our body temperature is warmer during the second half of our menstrual cycle.
- Estrogen and testosterone are at their peak levels which can contribute to increased sex drive, improved mood and high energy. Take advantage! Go on a date, hang out with friends or try something new!
- Studies have shown that we have increased verbal skills during this time. Personally, I input my entire cycle into my google calendar and try to plan all my speaking engagements around ovulation.
How do we confirm ovulation?
- Your cervical fluid is a wet consistency, like egg whites, boogery, slippery, watery and clear in appearance. Fertility, regardless of whether you choose to use it or not, is a good indicator that you are healthy! So, let’s celebrate cervical fluid!
- Your cervix is soft, high, open and wide.
- Your basal body temperature, has increased and remained higher for three consecutive days. You can determine your BBT by taking your temperature first thing in the morning, ideally around the same time every day, before doing anything else.
Luteal Phase (10-16 days)
- After ovulation estrogen and testosterone will slowly decline with a slight increase mid luteal phase. The predominant hormone in this half of our cycle is progesterone.
- Progesterone keeps us feeling calm and peaceful.
- 5-7 days out from menstruation we may begin to feel more withdrawn, tired and less social. This is NORMAL! If possible, make plans to incorporate more low-key activities: long walks, naps, baths or even saying “no” to one more social engagement. Your body and mind will thank you!
With a greater understanding of how your cycle impacts you on a daily basis, you can feel empowered to make daily decisions that feel nourishing to your mind, body and spirit. In addition, the increased awareness of your cycle will allow you to better advocate for your health if you notice something that is out of the norm.
Resources on Menstrual and Hormonal Health:
Period Repair Manual by Lara Briden
The Fifth Vital Sign by Lisa Hendrickson-Jack
The Period Party Podcast with Nicole Jardim (my mentor!) and Nat Kringoudis
Fertility Friday Podcast with Lisa Hendrickson-Jack
If you have questions or concerns about your menstrual cycle or are curious about working together, please set up a free 30-minute consultation on my website: www.lizzymoran.com
If you would like to dive even deeper into understanding your menstrual cycle and holistic ways you can support yourself throughout the month, please sign up for my newsletter. I am planning some exciting workshops around this topic for the Fall and would love to see you there! In addition, if you are interested in inviting me to lead a workshop at your place of work, book club or yoga studio please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Information in this post is provided for informational purposes only. The information is a result of practice experience and research by the author. This information is not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your physician or other healthcare professional or any information contained on or in any product label or packaging. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. Always speak with your physician or other healthcare professional before taking any medication or nutritional, herbal or homeopathic supplement, or using any treatment for a health problem.