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Wine & Gyn Episode 10: Understanding Your Cycle

Our goal of this episode was to explain the menstrual cycle in the simplest way possible. Knowing that most women pay attention to it only when they actually get their period, we wanted to share a little bit more information about what happens the rest of the month and why women should care. It's possible that no one ever taught us this information. Or maybe you heard some parts of it from your mom, Health class in school, a book or magazine, etc. The truth is that most women do not realize there are 4 dynamic phases that all have a purpose and are dependent on each other. Puberty is what starts the cascade of hormones that eventually tell your body to be in a perpetual state of trying to get pregnant, pretty much for the next 40 years of your life. Some girls start puberty as early as 10, and late bloomers are usually around 16 years old. Menarche is the term for the very first time a woman gets her period and that can be anywhere from 10-16 but the average age is 12-13 years old.  Hormone levels rise and fall throughout each cycle, telling your body what to do next. These changes aren't just physical either, often we feel the emotional and mental shifts too but may not recognize that it's hormones doing their job. The average cycle length is 23-35, with 28 being the most "ideal" length dependent on ovulation. The only reason women have longer or shorter cycles is because menstruation happens 14 days after ovulation- it's the period of time before ovulation that makes the cycle longer or shorter. Everyone is different! So what actually happens during the menstrual cycle? What are the 4 stages? In order, wee call them the menstruation phase, the follicular phase, the ovulation phase, and then the luteal phase. They always go in this order, although some women may skip phases depending on hormonal imbalances. Let's get into each one and what they are for... 1. Menstruation: The first day of your cycle is the first day that bleeding begins, you start you period, day 1. This lasts on average 3-8 days. The uterus is shedding the lining that it built up in preparation to have a fertilized egg implanted. When this doesnt happen, it sloughs off and comes out the vagina. The length of bleeding is dependent on how thick your lining was, and how efficient your uterus is at getting it out. Women with very heavy periods may have hormonal signals in their body telling the uterus to build a thicker lining. And women with long periods may have a uterus that is not efficient at getting the contents out. Some of the symptoms of being on your period can be a bit aggravating. You may have cramping, dull aches, low energy, moodiness etc. We recommend that women balance tender self care with activity. Sometimes this looks like committing to a walk each day to stimulate blood flow and endorphins to help with symptoms during bleeding- and also letting yourself get a bit more sleep, warm baths and comfort foods too. We also know that many women find that when they switched menstrual products (like from tampons to cups) their symptoms decreased drastically. We also recommend vaginal steaming for many dysfunctional period symptoms, check out the "SHOP" tab to get connected to our herbal blend for this. 2. Follicular Phase: Your period stops and you begin preparing for ovulation. During this phase the the follical stimulating hormone encourages your ovaries to mature one of the follicals, or sometimes a few, into mature eggs. This process produces estrogen which also starts to thicken the lining of the uterus. Your body is always trying to maximize procreation- it never misses an opportunity to get ready for the next possible conception! This phase is usually about 2 weeks, and again this is the part of the cycle that is most varied for women. If your follicular phase is longer than 14 days your period will be longer than 28 days- and likewise if your follicular phase is less than 14 days, your period will be less than 28 days. Make sense? During this phase you may feel pretty good! You arent managing your blood flow anymore, your energy has returned, your mood is generally better, and you may start to notice your desire for intimacy and intercourse increasing. Your vagina starts to secrete mucus that begins clear and more watery and the closer you get to ovulation the more white and sticky it becomes. 3. Ovulation: That matured egg is finally released from the ovary, into the Fallopian tube and starts to travel towards the uterus, hoping it will meet a sperm on the way. Conception happens in the Fallopian tubes. Once your ovary releases the egg, your body begins to count down 14 days until it will start to shed the lining (your period). Some women know the exact moment they ovulate because they can feel a tightening, ache, or momentary sharp pain when the egg is released. This is called Mettlescmertz and means "middle pain", seems about right. The egg can survive for about 24 hours, and sperm often live pretty happily for 3-5 days so although you ovulate in a moment, there are some timing considerations for conception. If sperm meet an egg during its 24 hour viable time, fertilization occurs. A lot of women feel energetic, optimistic, creative, inspired and productive during this time. Thank you hormones for not always being terrible! You also may start to feel a horny and sexually excited, desiring sexual contact. We also know there is some research that shows women typically wear brighter colors during ovulation, almost a bit of peacocking to attract a mate. More proof that our bodies are doing everything they possible can at all times to get us pregnant! 4. Luteal Phase: This part of your cycle is the gap between ovulation and menstruation. The egg has had it's chance, traveled it's journey and your body isn't sure right away if conception has happened yet so it releases progesterone to continue building up the lining in case a fertilized egg needs a soft place to implant and grow. A fertilized egg will signal for the body to keep producing estrogen and progesterone to support it- but when fertilization doesn't occur these hormones start to drop and the lining begins breaking down. Where does that lining go? Yep, out the vagina and your cycle starts again with menstruation. The luteal phase is where we experience PMS. The rising progesterone make us feel more prone to stress, mood swings, irritability and food cravings. You might be more tired and have breast soreness too.  That concludes the 4 phases of every cycle. It's kind of a big job our bodies do each month. We hope this helps you connect to the special part of you that makes you unique as a woman, and highlights some of the reasons we feel certain ways throughout the month. Kelly and Tiffany both agree that having understood this at a younger age, knowing and caring about what our bodies were up to- would have been empowering and potentially saved us from lifestyle habits that were potentially harmful- like hormonal contraceptives. When the menstrual cycle doesn't work like clockwork, or there are some unbearable symptoms involved, this should point the women or young woman, toward the underlying cause of the issue. Instead of jumping straight to hormone therapy (birth control) and forcing your body to respond to synthetic hormones, it could potentially be wiser for women to investigate the root cause of the issue. Factors like nutrition, stress, hormone imbalance, or other medical issues can contribute to cycles being off balance or symptoms that severely impact daily life. A midwife, functional medicine practitioner or other hormone health specialist can help sort through some of these issues for women. Contact us with your questions and we will be happy to assist or point you toward assistance!

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