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Decoding Your Cycle: What's Normal and What's Not

During a recent speaking engagement where I was introducing myself and my work, an intriguing question emerged: "What constitutes a normal period?" Reflecting on this, I recognized that I have not delved into the specifics of what defines a "normal" menstrual cycle. While I've addressed prevalent myths and explored reproductive health conditions such as fibroids or endometriosis, I have not discussed what constitutes a "normal" period! Let's delve into the essentials!

The average menstrual cycle for a woman encompasses a 28 day timeframe from the onset of bleeding to the onset of bleeding. Due to variations between women and each cycle the accepted range is 24-38 days. In this 4 week period a woman will go through four distinct phases:

Phase 1

Phase 1 (menstruation) begins on the first day of bleeding or menstruation. This is the first day your uterine lining starts to shed. This uterine lining is blood stored in preparation for a pregnancy, if the egg was not fertilized this lining is no longer needed and is shed. This phase can last anywhere from 3-7 days. Normal blood loss during a period can be anywhere from 5-80 mL. To put this in perspective a light absorbency tampon holds 3 mL and a super tampon holds 12 mLs of fluid. A regular daytime pad holds 5 mL while a fully soaked overnight pad holds 15 mL. (These are averages-may vary depending on brand). 

Phase 2

Phase 2, (follicular phase), the menstrual cycle commences on the first day of menstruation and progresses until ovulation, typically occurring around day 14. Follicle-stimulating hormone (fsh) prompts the ovary to generate a cluster of five to 20 follicles, akin to tiny nodules or cysts, which emerge on the ovarian surface amidst a surge in estrogen levels. Within each follicle resides an immature egg, though typically, only one follicle will reach maturation, while the rest undergo degeneration. 

Phase 3

Phase 3,  (ovulatory phase), spans about 7 days and typically falls within the timeframe of days 12 to 21 of the menstrual cycle, depending on the length of your cycle and can vary monthly. This phase marks the prime window for conception, as a mature egg is released from the ovary. This mature egg traverses through the fallopian tube, propelled by microscopic, hair-like projections. The lifespan of this egg is brief, lasting approximately 24 hours. If it remains unfertilized during this narrow window, it will perish. Various signs and symptoms, such as changes in cervical mucus or a slight increase in basal body temperature, may indicate ovulation.

Phase 4

Phase 4, (luteal phase), extends over approximately the last 7 days or your cycle from days 21-28. Following ovulation, the follicle housing that released the egg becomes what is termed a corpus luteum. This structure assumes the role of producing both progesterone and estrogen, crucial hormones that regulate various aspects of the menstrual cycle. The luteal phase is characterized by a thickened uterine lining, primed to receive a fertilized egg for implantation. Progesterone, synthesized by the ovaries during this phase, orchestrates cycle regulation and prepares the uterus for potential pregnancy. 

In the event of fertilization, progesterone plays a pivotal role in sustaining the early stages of pregnancy. However, if fertilization does not occur, the corpus luteum will deteriorate around 9 to 11 days post-ovulation, precipitating a decline in estrogen and progesterone levels. Should conception transpire, the fertilized egg implants into the enriched uterine lining. Conversely, if pregnancy does not occur, the uterine lining sheds, resulting in menstruation.

Abnormal Menstrual Symptoms

As I have mentioned in previous blogs, pain during a menstrual cycle in any phase is not normal. Anytime the body has pain, is a sign that something is out of alignment. Here are some other indications that your menstrual cycle is out of alignment. 

  • Painful breasts or pelvic pain during ovulation

  • More than one period in a 35 day span

  • Bleeding more than 80mL

  • Periods that last more than 7 days

  • Intense pain and/or cramps during menstruation, especially pressure or a downward pull

  • Pain radiating down the legs during menstruation

  • Any kind of PMS during the month, some fluctuations right before your period may be normal as all hormones drop suddenly. 

  • Acne, especially cystic acne, around the mouth and around the chin

  • Facial hair 

Chart Your Cycle 

Charting your cycle each month helps a woman keep track of any changes, potential issues and or pregnancies. The easiest way to do this is to keep track in a calendar of day one and the final day of your period in a calendar, either on your phone or on a paper calendar. There are also easy to use and free Apps you can download onto your phone. Flo Period and Pregnancy Tracker are the most popular, but Period Tracker Period Calendar and Eve are two other great options. Each one has different options, take a look to see what fits you best!

Understanding what constitutes a normal period is not just about knowledge; it's about empowerment. Armed with this understanding, women can advocate for their reproductive health confidently and seek help if something seems amiss. Remember, every woman's body is unique, and while deviations from the norm can occur, staying informed and attuned to your body's signals is key to maintaining overall well-being. So, embrace this newfound knowledge, chart your cycle, and take charge of your menstrual health journey. Here's to a happier, healthier, and more informed you!

Getting Customized Support

Share this information with the women you love. Once you have the right information about how your body should work you can start making health choices that are in your best interest! Want to learn more about how to address your period issues? Join me for a complementary 30 minute session, Healthy Hormone Strategy Session, to discover what could be blocking you from getting your hormones balanced, get two suggestions on how to help you get energized right away, and see if working together is the next step to create a roadmap to success for you!

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