Just like the cycle of seasons, each month your hormones ebb and flow. Learning to understand your inner cycle can help you care for your body and mind.
There are 4 phases in the menstrual cycle. If you think of each 28-day cycle as representing a year, each phase corresponds to a season: winter, summer, spring or autumn.
Phase 1 – your period: your inner winter
When: Days 1 to 5
Progesterone plunges, resulting in the break down and shedding of your womb’s lining – hello, period. Both oestrogen and progesterone are low.
As well as bleeding, you may be dealing with cramps. Your breasts might deflate – they’re at their smallest towards the end of your period.
You may feel a sense of relief when your period starts. But your energy is at its lowest ebb and you may feel introverted and introspective.
Phase 2 – The follicular phase: your inner spring
When: Days 6 to 11
Levels of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) increase slightly, causing egg-containing follicles to develop. Oestrogen begins to increase but progesterone remains low.
As your body prepares for ovulation, your cervical fluid becomes wetter. Your breasts may start to enlarge. Your skin will clear.
The rise in oestrogen starts to lift your energy, mood and brain skills. You feel more confident, powerful and willing to take risks.
Phase 3 – The ovulatory phase: your inner summer
When: Days 12 to 14
At the end of the follicular phase there’s an oestrogen surge, followed by a sharp peak in luteinising hormone (LH), which causes a follicle to burst open and release its egg – ovulation. Progesterone remains low.
You’re at your most fertile, so your cervical fluid is clear/white and stretchy. You may feel ovulation as a pain on one side of your abdomen. Your breasts are at their most perky and your skin glows – basically, your body is ready to make a baby.
The oestrogen surge boosts all the positive effects you enjoyed during the last phase. You look and feel your most attractive and confident.
Phase 4 – The luteal phase: your inner autumn
When: Days 15 to 28
The follicle that released the egg produces progesterone, causing it to rise and thicken your womb lining. If you’re not pregnant, oestrogen and progesterone will drop and the womb lining will shed, so your period – your inner winter – comes around again.
Your cervical fluid will start to become sticky. Your breasts might be tender and slightly swollen. If you’re prone to break outs, now’s the time those spots will appear.
As progesterone increases you might find your energy winding down. In the second week of the luteal phase you may feel PMS (pre-menstrual syndrome) symptoms: mood swings, anxiety or irritability and cravings for comfort food.
Tracking your symptoms is a great way to start recognising monthly patterns in your body and mind – that way, you know what to expect and can take care your yourself at each phase.
Please note, the days given here for each phase are based on a 28-day cycle and will vary from woman to woman and month to month.
Use our period tracker to get to know your cycle better.
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