Understanding Your Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation

A woman’s menstrual cycle is a continuous and complex process. Ovulation occurs in about the center of that process and varies from woman to woman. Let’s discuss the monthly cycle and ovulation cycles in order to better understand the process of getting pregnant.

Many parts of the body are involved in the monthly cycle. These include the hypothalamus gland, pituitary gland, uterus, cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and vagina.

Hormones rise and fall during your menstrual cycle (and OH DON’T YOU REALLY KNOW IT SOME TIMES!), which regulate and trigger different happenings such as ovulation and menstruation to occur.

You don’t have to understand all of the body systems in order to get pregnant, but it is good to understand in general how your body works in order to help create the best environment for maximum fertility.

Hypothalamus Gland: The hypothalamus is a gland in the brain responsible for regulating the body’s thirst, hunger, sleep patterns, libido, and endocrine functions. The hypothalamus “tells” the pituitary gland to produce follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and a little luteinizing hormone (LH) into the bloodstream.

Pituitary Gland: The pituitary gland produces follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which causes the follicles to begin to mature.

Uterus/cervix: The uterus changes position, color, and shape during your cycle and during sexual excitement as well as during puberty and menopause. The uterus, or womb, is where the fertilized egg embeds and develops into a baby.

The cervix is at the base of the uterus and opens into the vagina, allowing the menstrual blood, cervical mucus, and babies to pass from the uterus into the vagina and sperm to pass from the vagina into the uterus.

Ovaries: The ovaries make two vital female hormones called estrogen and progesterone.

Fallopian Tubes: This is where the egg awaits fertilization after ovulation. If there are no sperm present, the egg will dissolve. If fertilization occurs, the fertilized egg will travel down the fallopian tube into the uterus where it will implant and begin to grow.

Vagina: During the menstrual cycle, blood and cervical mucus flows from the cervical opening into the vagina where it leaves the body.

Now let’s talk briefly about the different phases of your cycle.

Phases of Menstrual Cycle:

  • *Menstrual Phase: Days 1-4
  • *Follicular Phase: Days 5-13
  • *Ovulation: Day 14
  • *Luteal Phase: Days 15-28

These figures are for a typical 28-day cycle. But I don’t know about you – my cycles aren’t typically typical (if you know what I mean!). So just use this as a general guideline – not as something that makes you worried that you’re not normal.

Here’s a brief synopsis of your menstrual cycle from day 1 of menstrual bleeding to the end of your cycle:

Menstrual Phase: This is the bleeding phase of your monthly cycle – your period. This bleeding serves to shed the uterine lining that has been building up the entire cycle since your previous menstrual phase. Anywhere between 2-7 days is considered “normal” for the menstrual phase.

Follicular Phase: During this phase, FSH and LH are secreted into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland, which causes the follicles to begin to mature. These maturing follicles in turn gradually release increasing amounts of estrogen, which stimulates thickening of the uterine lining.

Ovulation: During ovulation, the dominant follicle releases an egg. If this egg is fertilized, it will travel down the fallopian tube to the uterus where it will implant in the uterine lining. If the egg is not fertilized, it will die and be absorbed by the body.

Luteal Phase: After ovulation, the remains of the dominant follicle in the ovary becomes a corpus luteum, which has the primary function of producing large amounts of progesterone. This progesterone causes a rise in basal body temperature, which you will detect if charting your BBT.

The luteal phase lasts approximately 14 days. If implantation of a fertilized egg doesn’t occur during this time, the corpus luteum will die, causing a sharp drop in the levels of progesterone and estrogen. With this drop in hormones, the uterus sheds its lining again, and thus another menstrual cycle begins.

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