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 Below are our tips for helping yourself feel good during your Luteal time:
Eat Chica Chocolate
With the rise of progesterone in our luteal phase, we begin to experience the stereotypical period cravings. Our craving for dark chocolate is deserved, as it offers us magnesium, which is a mood stabilizer. While all dark chocolate offers magnesium, Chica Chocolate also includes a Chinese herbal formula that balances hormones and eases your period.
Does Chica sound like a magic hoax? It isn’t. Honey fried licorice, white peony root, and mint balance hormones by nourishing the liver, the organ responsible for disposing of excess hormones in our system. Ginger, bupleurum root, and angelica root increase circulation, helping uterine lining shed easily. When this bleeding is easy, your abdominal muscles don’t have to kick in to help, and you don’t have to experience painful cramps. In addition, ginger and white peony root are powerful anti-inflammatories, essential for soothing the inflammation that often accompanies periods, while poria supports decreased bloating and fatigue.
Support Your Gut (Poop!)
Hormones are real physical chemicals, which means they need to catch a ride in our poop in order to be dispelled from our body. Periods can become difficult when we begin bleeding with excess estradiol caught in our bodies. The best way to prevent excess estradiol is to make sure you are pooping regularly (ideally every day) leading up to your period. You can support regular, easy poops by drinking celery juice in the morning, including fermented foods in your diet, taking probiotics, or choosing snacks that are high in fiber. Every body is different, and you may need to experiment to find what supports your best flow.
Prepare Your Supplies
Taking the time during your Luteal phase to find your bleeding materials can help eliminate the stress of feeling stranded without supplies when your blood starts to flow. Dig out your period underwear from the bottom of the drawer and make sure your have a menstrual cup/pad/tampon in your bag for when you are out of the house.
Respect Your Body’s Signals to Rest
When we are in pre-ovulation, a workout or a boost of caffeine can be all we need to go strong through a long day. However, in the 3-4 days before my period, I learned that my body actually needs a full night of rest (hello, 8 hours of sleep), and I may need to take a nap if I try to run on too little sleep. Respecting your body’s signals for rest and focusing on eating nourishing meals can help you feel productive and alert through your Luteal phase, and will give your body the space it needs to prepare for bleeding, so that your first day of your period will not knock you off your feet.
We’d love to hear from you! What are your favorite fun facts about the menstrual cycle? How do you support your best period?
Image: María Medem