Menstrual cycle begins as early as at 11-14 years of age in girls which prepares the body for pregnancy and childbirth. Menarche (the first period) brings about several physical and hormonal changes in the body which is directly associated with the development of reproductive system.
This monthly menstrual bleeding occurs in a cycle from its onset and has a regular cycle until menopause (the end of menstrual cycle), which occurs around the age of 48-52 years. The entire process takes about 28 days in average, however for a few females, it may vary anytime between 27-31 days which is normal.
Importance of menstrual cycles
Every individual has a different menstrual cycle which follows its course each month. Some benefits of menstrual cycles include:
- It acts as a monthly health review. Irregular periods are not too good a sign of overall health.
- It helps in making choices, planning and learning more about one’s own well being.
- For those having severe problems in menses can include diet and exercises for a healthy reproductive system.
- Knowing your fertile days, planning a pregnancy becomes an easy task. Intercourse on the right days leads to healthy pregnancy and reduces conception complications.
- Balanced hormones are important to maintain mental health whose effects show at the later age.
To understand how and what happens to the reproductive system during this phase, here is a closer look on the phases of a menstrual cycle.
Menstrual Phase – Day 1 to Day 5
The onset of periods happens when the uterus lining breaks down and you start bleeding from the vagina. It can be taken care of by using sanitary napkins, tampons, or menstrual cups. This happens for about 5-7 days normally.
The flow and duration varies depending on the age and general body structure in most of the women. For early teenagers, it is usually around 7 -10 days which reduce to 5-7 days in late teens. Once you start having intercourse, it usually boils down to 3-5 days. For most elderly women, it is usually for 3 days before disappearing completely (menopause).
One usually experiences cramps and pain in the abdominal region and back. Using hot bags or slight medication after consultation can help reduce the pain. You can also follow a diet that reduces the discomforts of the menstruating phase.
Follicular Phase – Day 1 to Day 13
Follicular phase is biologically described as those days when the ovaries begin to grow which is followed by secretion of special hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) from the pituitary gland. These eggs mature by the end of the follicular phase in a follicle. The follicle is a sac like structure that supports the growth of eggs. The hormonal changes also affect the endometrium and cause the building up of internal lining and soft tissues of the uterus.
In this period of the cycle, the chances of pregnancy is pretty less as the eggs have not matured. But, towards the end the same may not hold true, as the sperms might survive till the eggs mature and release.
Ovulation Phase – Day 14
On day 14, or between day 13 and 15, the follicles burst and mature eggs are released from the ovaries. These eggs travel from the ovaries to the uterus from the fallopian tube. The tube has special structures in the internal lining called Fimbriae which have several hair-like extensions called Cilia, which aid in the movement of the egg to the uterus.
This phase is the most fertile phase for a woman. During the journey, if the mature eggs meet the sperms, then the fertilised egg will move down to attach itself to the uterus lining. This phase if successful, leads to conception and pregnancy. Therefore, special care must be taken during these days by those who do not want to get pregnant. Using proper contraception during the intercourse is advisable.
Luteal Phase – Day 15 – Day 28
This is the final phase of menstrual cycle which begins after 15 days. During this period, the eggs travel down the fallopian tube, which takes about 24-30 hours. During these 24 hours, if the sperms do not penetrate the linings of the eggs, then the eggs disintegrate. The special hormones drop during this period and the endometrium breaks bringing one back to the menstrual cycle.
On the other side, if there are sperms and the eggs get fertilised, then there is formation of zygote which gets placed in the uterus and attaches itself to the lining causing a successful pregnancy after which the woman usually misses her periods.
Menstrual cycles bring about a lot of changes in the body and also vary when breastfeeding, weaning the child, after a certain age bar and when preparing the body for childbirth. Girls who get periods at a young age are likely to have several physical and emotional needs that last lifetime and need a tender approach.
How to maintain healthy periods
For many, periods happen to be just another day, causing no pain and problems. For other, menstrual cycles bring with it mood swings, hormonal changes, tender breasts, cramps in the belly, back and legs etc. that begin a day or two in advance, indicating the onset of periods. These however fade after the first day of period in a normal cycle. Here are a few tips to have a healthy period routine.
- Healthy lifestyle is the most important factor contributing to healthy periods. Excessive bleeding (menorrhagia) or scanty bleeding (hypomeorrhea) can be treated by following simple lifestyle changes.
- Reduce stress levels and anxiety by simple breathing exercises, meditation and yoga each day. Stress and anxiety are also a primary cause for irregular periods. It is necessary to let the body relax and take nature’s course.
- Appreciate yourself and take care of the body. Relax each day with a healthy hot shower to refresh the mind and body. Feeling beautiful from within will boost confidence level and keep hormones at par with the body’s needs.
- Plan the diet according to the time of the month. If the body gets the right kind food at the right time, periods become a better and comfortable affair.
- If you are not expecting or planning a pregnancy, it is important to use proper contraception. Consult a formal practitioner for the right contraceptive that suits your body type.
Menstruation and monthly cycles are not too tough to understand, it is simple if you know how the body reacts when hormonal changes occur in the body during the month. A slight change in lifestyle according to the menses can make a lot of difference on your overall confidence level during the period.