Many of us think of the bleeding ‘time of the month’ when we refer to the menstrual cycle. However, this stage only represents a few days of our menstrual cycle and, as the name hints, our menstrual cycle is a repetitive flow for fertile bleeding bodies that includes three other phases in addition to the period.
Key Hormones in the Menstrual Cycle Discussed Below:
Estradiol – The primary form of estrogen (the famous female hormone) that is produced in the body during reproductive years. Estrone is the form dominant in menopause, and estriol is the type of estrogen seen during pregnancy.
Progesterone – A sedative hormone that becomes dominant in our reproductive systems post ovulation. Progesterone serves to strengthen the uterine lining in case conception has occurred.
~ The Period ~
The period is the start of the menstrual cycle. In the first day of the period, the hormone estradiol is at its lowest, and with typical heavier bleeding, we tend to feel more fatigued and have our peak pain, if we experience any, on this day. The best step you can take on the start day of your period is to listen to your body. Changing your clothes, enjoying extra sleep, running or walking, being in nature, yoga, working from home, and soothing inflammation with a warm cup of ginger tea, are all ways that you can feel more comfortable with your body during your period. If making space for your body is bothersome or difficult for you, pre-period nourishment, such as eating Chica, is the key to finding freedom from your monthly complaints, whether they be inflammation, cramping, or fatigue. We will discuss this more when we reach the luteal phase.
~ Follicular Phase ~
With the completion of bleeding, we enter our Follicular phase. We often feel more energized at the end of the period because, surprise, we’re supposed to. Our estrodial levels increase as our bleeding decreases, helping us feel more alert, energized, and uplifted. While your body is working on the project of rebuilding your uterine lining, you may feel more motivated to dedicate serious work time to projects in your own life. The good news is our Follicular phase lasts 12-15 days, and we can harness this time to complete work projects, launch new ideas, push limits in training, or have a fun night out.
~ Ovulation Phase ~
At the end of the Follicular phase, we enter Ovulation, which is when the egg is released. For many menstruators, this is their only opportunity to become pregnant each cycle. Michelle Obama even shouts out her ovulation window in Becoming when she recounts Barack speeding home from the state senate to make her ovulation window while they were trying to conceive. How romantic! Other folks are fertile for days before ovulation (i.e., the sperm will survive long enough to wait for the egg), for the 1-3 days of ovulation, and 24 hours after the egg is released, before it dissolves. Ovulation is what birth control pills stop. If you are experiencing a menstrual cycle free from hormonal birth control, ovulation can feel so much fun. Since we are fertile, we feel more horny and our energy hits maximum along with both our estradiol and testosterone hormone levels. Even if you’re not attracted to having any sperm involved in your sexy time, you will feel horny and flirtatious with any partner you desire, including yourself.
If you are never interested in conceiving or cannot conceive, we understand that it can feel annoying for period conversations to be focused on conception. While periods do serve a biological function, you can simply use the ovulation period as a key marker in your menstrual cycle. In your pre-ovulatory phase estradiol dominates with the benefit of higher energy, while your post-ovulatory phase features more progesterone with energy levels that are more introverted and sensitive.
~ Luteal Phase ~
When the egg dissolves, estradiol will plummet, while progesterone increases, entering the Luteal phase. The Luteal phase lasts 11-16 days, and while the energy dip that comes along with progesterone can feel frustrating, this is an ideal time to listen to your body. Taking care of your body while you are luteal is key to feeling good both during your Luteal phase, and during your period. Despite societal PMS-shaming, your hormones cannot force you to perform poorly during your Luteal phase. For example(1), the US Women’s Soccer team closely tracked their menstrual cycle phases during this most recent World Cup, and made sure to focus on their nourishment and sleep during their luteal phases. Some trainers attribute this tracking as an important part of the US Women’s success. Case in point, Rose Lavelle scored a goal in the World Cup finals, and the next day she started her period! #imluteal.
Image: María Medem