5 Days to an Easier Period: Day 1
When you track your cycle, you get to discover the amazingness that is your body, and the changes you feel throughout the month will make sense.
Month in and month out your body repeats a cycle of hormones rising and hormones falling. The ebb and flow is most pronounced during your fertile years, but change is a constant companion no matter where you are in life.
When this cycle is healthy, it sets you up predictably for your bleeding days, your fertile days and all days between. The nature of these rising and falling hormones means that we don’t feel the same every single day, but we should not have days when we are so uncomfortable that we cannot function.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Maya Angelo
At Chica, we believe that knowledge is power. Before you can be proactive about your hormonal health, you first need to get to know your own hormones. This is what tracking is all about. It’s a way for you to get to know your hormonal self.
Before we get into the nitty gritty of what is happening over the course of a healthy cycle, we want to make a note about HOW you track because there are two ways to track; one is common and one is rarely discussed.
The first way to track is to chart your start date, end date, etc., using a calendar or one of the many period tracking apps so that you have an idea of what to expect and when to expect it. Combine this with knowing about when you ovulate, and you will be able to predict when you will be in each hormonal phase. We will be going into more detail on how to track this way at the end.
The other tracking is more subtle and not given the attention it deserves! What we are talking about is literally paying attention – deep attention – to how you feel on any given day relative to the calendar based tracking noted above.
You can do just the feeling-tracking, but in our experience, especially if you are new to this process, doing both kinds of tracking is what will set you up for much better results. Once you give yourself the gift of really getting to know your hormonal self, you never un-know again.
Your menstrual cycle is a series of signals that tell your ovaries and uterus to either prepare for a pregnancy, or refresh for the next eligible egg. Hormonal birth control stops or disrupts this cycle to prevent pregnancy.
Here’s the basic cycle:
You get your period. Since starting to bleed is so obvious, it is the simplest place to start tracking.
Some unpleasant symptoms common at the start are:
- Heavier bleeding
- Peak pain in those who experience pain
On average, period bleeding lasts from 3-7 days. The hormone estrogen is lowest at the start of your period, and begins to rise as your period ends.
As your bleeding draws to a close, you’ll enter the Follicular Phase.
If we are looking at a “text book” cycle length of 28 days, the follicular phase lasts about 10 days, but of course this can vary widely. As the follicular phase kicks off, your pituitary gland in your brain produces a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone, which lets your ovaries know to get ready to release an egg.
During this stage, you may notice you feel more energized, active and alert than you do either during your period or as your period is getting closer. This is due to the increase in estrogen sometimes called the “happy hormone,” which is produced by the follicle in response to the message from the follicle stimulating hormone.
Next up: Ovulation!
When the follicle has produced enough estrogen and the egg is ready, the brain shifts to releasing luteinizing hormone, which tells your ovary to release the egg. Between the time that your bleeding stopped from your last period and now, your uterine lining has been rebuilding in preparation to support a fertilized egg. It is now at its thickest and we have the highest (but not the only) chance of becoming pregnant.
During this brief time, we have both high levels of estrogen and testosterone in our systems, and we tend to feel our horniest and most energized at this time. Ovulation can last from 1-3 days, but we can become pregnant both before and a few days after ovulation.
Winding down: the Luteal Phase.
After ovulation, and if fertilization did not occur, the follicle begins to increase production of progesterone and decrease production of estrogen. These hormonal shifts bring with them typical ‘PMS’ symptoms, such as bloating, mood swings, acne, and breast tenderness. The drop in hormones also alerts the uterine lining to begin breaking down, preparing for what will be your next period.
Now that you have the basics of what is happening, let’s talk about simple ways to get started tracking.
Tracking with an app:
There are many period apps available to download. I have tried many of them, and my favorite is Clue. Clue is easy to use, has custom reminder options (i.e., allows you to set a reminder for eating Chica), and has a wide variety of symptom tracking options. This means that if you are feeling off in any way, even if it’s not related to your period, you can use Clue as a tool for tracking physical symptoms.
Once you choose your app, you simply need to remember to let it know when you have your period. After that, it does the predicting work for you. Keep in mind that these apps will assume you have a 28-day cycle, until your data shows them otherwise, so your app may need you to record a few periods before it can be really accurate with predicting your period and ovulation windows.
People have been manually tracking for a long time! You simply record the first day of your period, and the first day of your next period, and so on. The number of days between each first day is the length of your menstrual cycle. The first day of your period will be Day 1 of your menstrual cycle.
Theroretically, your ovulation day will be at the halfway point of your menstrual cycle. However, this may not be the case for you.
One way to tell if you’re ovulating is checking your underwear for cervical fluid. During ovulation it will be creamy, sticky and thick like egg whites.
Another way to tell if you’re ovulating is by taking your temperature first thing after waking up. When ovulating, body temperature increases by around 0.5F, and stays there for a few days. The Basal Temperature method uses this to track fertility.
Like the app, you will need to record a few periods before you feel on point. But the peace of mind is worth it!