Knowing how the menstrual cycle works is fundamental to understanding one’s fertility. Here are its various phases and the main signs of ovulation.
Most women do not care about their menstrual cycle until they decide to have a baby. In fact, knowing what’s going on in your body is crucial to understanding the mechanisms behind fertility, and correctly interpreting any signs that may indicate fertile days. Understanding the body’s physiological events, however, is important at all ages!
What is the menstrual cycle?
This is the period from the first day of a period until the arrival of the next period. During this period, a series of events takes place that cause the reproductive system of a fertile woman to release a mature oocyte ready for fertilization (ovulation) and to prepare for a possible pregnancy.
To be even more precise: technically the expression menstrual cycle refers to the events that lead first to the development of the endometrium (the inner lining of the uterus) and then to its breakdown if you have not started a pregnancy. Since it is synchronized with the ovarian cycle, which leads to ovulation, it is generally considered to be one with it.
The cyclical mechanisms of the menstrual cycle occur under the control of the hypothesis (a gland at the base of the brain that produces the hormones necessary for ovulation) and the hypothalamus (also located in the brain, regulates the production of hormones by the hypothesis).
How long does the menstrual cycle last?
It typically lasts 28 days, including menstruation days, which are usually 3-6 days. However, there is no fixed rule: cycles lasting 23 or 35 days are also considered normal.
What are the phases of the menstrual cycle?
There are three phases of the menstrual cycle that can be recognized:
- Menstrual phase, which begins on the first day of menstruation, usually lasts a few days and consists of the loss of blood and endometrial waste from the uterus. During the menstrual phase, the endometrium, which had prepared itself for a pregnancy that did not start, flakes off and is expelled together with the blood through the vagina.
- Proliferative phase, which consists in the regeneration and progressive thickening of the endometrium and generally goes from the fifth day from menstruation to the thirteenth day. During this period, a layer of cervical mucus, fluid and watery, is secreted to favour the passage of the seminal fluid towards the uterus.
This phase coincides approximately with the follicular phase of the ovarian cycle, in which the ovarian follicles are activated both to mature an oocyte and to provide for the synthesis of the hormones (estrogen and progesterone) necessary to reconstitute the endometrium. This process ends with ovulation, which usually occurs 14 days before the next menstrual cycle. For this reason, in a menstrual cycle of 28 days it can be said that ovulation usually occurs on the fourteenth day after the last menstruation. Read also: Natural fertilization, the female reproductive cycle (ovarian + menstrual)
- Secretory phase, which consists of the final maturation of the endometrium, which is preparing to accept any pregnancy, and goes from ovulation to the first day of the next menstruation, if there was no conception.
This phase lasts 14 days and coincides with the luteal phase of the ovarian cycle, in which the follicle is transformed into the corpus luteum, a tissue that produces progesterone, the hormone that predisposes the uterus to receive any fertilized egg cell.
If your menstrual cycle is irregular?
Is it long and abundant? It is a frequent occurrence and often without any particular cause. The doctor will make the appropriate investigations to exclude organic diseases (such as polyps or fibroids in the uterus, endometrial changes, more frequent in women close to the menopause or in girls of 14/16 years) or coagulation diseases.
If instead the delay of the cycle (oligomenorrhoea) or an advance (polymenorrhoea) could be linked to temporary situations of stress or fatigue. Often oligomenorrhoea leads to amenorrhoea and is an expression of endocrine dysfunction: a series of hormone tests must be performed, treatment is specific depending on the diagnosis.
The most fertile period of the cycle corresponds to the moment when the mature follicle opens and the oocyte descends into the fallopian tubes, a period that lasts about two days, usually placed around the fourteenth day in the regular cycles of 28 days. Obviously, this does not apply to all women: the duration of the cycle is variable and it is not certain that ovulation always takes place on the 14th day.
Attention: consider that a spermatozoon can survive in the female body for up to three / four days. Therefore, even a sexual intercourse that took place three or four days before ovulation can lead to fertilization.
How to recognize ovulation: the “symptoms”
Not all women actually understand whether ovulation has taken place or not. However, there are some “symptoms” that can help.
- change in the characteristics of the cervical mucus. As ovulation approaches, this
- mucus becomes clearer, clearer and more transparent, while after ovulation it changes
- its appearance, becoming thicker and white. The most fertile days are those with the
- clearest and most transparent mucus;
- sensation of some “pain” in the lower abdomen, where the ovulation takes place.
If you can not identify these symptoms no fear: there are sticks on the market that allow you to detect the peak of the hormone LH, which precedes ovulation, helping to recognize the fertile days.