Menstrual cycle

The woman’s menstrual cycle happens once a month for fertile women between the ages of 12-50 generally or when the menopause takes place. It involves the body preparing for a pregnancy but if the woman doesn’t become pregnant the uterus sheds its lining and this is called menstruation or a period.

A cycle is normally 28 days, but it can differ from woman to woman. It starts on the first day of the woman’s period and the cycle ends the day before the next period begins. Menstruation or a period is made up of blood and the lining of the uterus, this is excreted through the vagina and lasts roughly 2-7 days. Throughout the period it is said a woman will lose 3-5 tablespoons of blood per period, but this can too can vary. The cycle is controlled by the hormones oestrogen and progesterone. Oestrogen is produced in the ovaries and makes the uterus lining wall, repairs it and makes it grow again for the next period. Progesterone is a hormone produced by the empty follicle in the ovary after the egg has been released and this maintains the uterus lining in the second part of the cycle. If the egg becomes fertilised the follicle will continue to create progesterone, the lining will thicken within the woman’s uterus and a placenta is created. The embryo will embed itself to the lining but If the pregnancy doesn’t occur the lining breaks down, the hormone levels will drop creating menstruation and so the cycle repeats itself.

Its approximately 10-16 days from the egg being released to the start of the menstruating this is called ovulation and sometimes during this time your vagina may discharge a white sticky or egg white like substance. This is normal and remember the ovulation time frame can differ due to a woman’s period being shorter or longer than the usual 28 days. Ovulation shouldn’t occur if a woman takes the contraceptive patch, combined pill or contraception injections or implant. These are sometimes used to stop pregnancy from happening and can also be used to regulate periods, lighten them or stop them altogether. It may take a while for this medication to leave a woman’s body and she may not get pregnant straight away. Antibiotics and other medications can stop the contraception from working.

Sometimes women may feel bloated, have headaches, gain weight (water retention), cramps, back pain and may even feel nauseous. For some a period doesn’t always mean a woman is not pregnant, they can still ‘spot’ or have a normal period during the pregnancy.

Child birth or surgeries for example can cause the menstrual cycle to start, stop or become unregular, heavy or lightened. If you have any concerns, please seek medical advice.

Written by Justine Gibbs

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