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Menstruation Matters... Period.

End the stigma. Talk openly. Save lives.

Around 1.8 million women menstruate, and at any given moment, 800 million women and girls have their period. Menstruation is stigmatized in every culture- some more than others. Regardless, it seems no one wants to scream, “I am bleeding from my vagina!” from the rooftops. This stigma can prevent us from talking openly about our health and from addressing issues that are causing serious and unnecessary harm.

Most women know very little about menstruation and what is normal for their bodies. As a young woman, the more I dive into this topic, the more I am shocked by how little I previously knew about my cycle. This should not be earth-shattering information… this is basic women’s health!

Charting your cycle length, flow, symptoms, and mood requires diligence, but will allow for a deeper understanding of your body. For example, knowing when the menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal phases of your cycle occur, you can better recognize the symptoms you experience, avoid or achieve pregnancy, and take better care of your mental and physical health.

Charting is done by writing down (or circling) the days of your period- from first to last and noting changes in flow, discharge, mood, and pain level. Counting the days between the first day of your period and the first day of your next cycle's period will allow you to calculate your average cycle length (this will take a few months). The average cycle length is typically 28 days but can range from 21 to 35 days. Cycle lengths outside of this timeframe may require medical attention.

Let’s discuss the phases of your cycle:

The menstrual phase begins when the egg from your previous cycle has not been fertilized. Because no pregnancy is present, the thickened uterine lining sheds and your period occurs. 

This phase is often accompanied by:

  • Cramps

  • Bloating

  • Mood swings 

  • Lower back pain

  • Irritability 

  • Tender breasts 

  • Fatigue 

This phase lasts 2-7 days depending on the individual.

The follicular phase overlaps with your menstrual phase. It also begins with the first day of your period, but this phase extends past the end of the menstrual phase. Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) stimulates your ovaries to produce around 5 to 20 small sacs called follicles. Each of these follicles contains an immature egg, and 1 (in some cases 2) eggs mature. The others are resorbed into the body. A surge of estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to thicken, preparing for pregnancy. 

You may experience:

  • Bloating

  • Cramps

The average follicular phase lasts for about 16 days and can range from 11 to 27 days.

The ovulation phase begins as a result of the surge of estrogen and subsequent release of luteinizing hormone (LH). Your ovary releases a mature egg that can be fertilized by sperm. You have a high chance of getting pregnant during this phase.*

Symptoms of the ovulation phase include:

  • Slight rise in basal body temperature

  • Thickening discharge (egg white texture)

*Sperm can live in a woman’s reproductive tract for up to 5 days. This means that having sex at even 5 days before ovulation can result in pregnancy.

The ovulation phase is the shortest of your cycle, lasting 24 hours. This happens during the middle of your cycle, typically on day 14 of a 28-day cycle.

The luteal phase is the final stage of your menstrual cycle. After an egg is released, the follicle transforms into the corpus luteum. This releases hormones (namely progesterone and estrogen) which are essential for maintaining the conditions needed for conception.

“If you do get pregnant, your body will produce human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG). This is the hormone pregnancy tests detect. It helps maintain the corpus luteum and keeps the uterine lining thick.” (Healthline).

If pregnancy does not occur, the corpus luteum will be resorbed. This causes decreased levels of estrogen and progesterone and then, ta-da… your period (the shedding of your uterine lining).

If you don’t get pregnant during this phase, you may experience symptoms of PMS (premenstrual syndrome):

  • Bloating

  • Breast swelling and/or pain

  • Weight gain

  • Headache

  • Cravings

  • Insomnia

  • Sex drive changes

 The luteal phase lasts for 11 to 17 days, and the average length is 14 days.


If you experience any of these symptoms, you may need to seek medical attention:

  • Abnormal length (less than 21 or more than 35 days)

  • Very heavy flow (soaking through one or more feminine products in an hour)

  • Missing 3 or more periods consecutively

  • Periods that last more than 7 days

  • Cycle length that varies by 9 or more days

  • Severe pain, cramping, or nausea 

Your menstrual patterns are unique to you. If you have any questions or concerns about your cycle, speak with your healthcare provider. You are the best advocate for your reproductive health!

**DISCLAIMER: The information presented in this article is intended for general education purposes only and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional and/or medical services.



Cleveland Clinic

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