The Menstrual Cycle Explained

July 15, 2010

Understanding more about your reproductive system can help you better understand what you experience each month during your childbearing years. If you're trying to become pregnant, learning about your cycle will also help you pinpoint the ideal time of your cycle for engaging in baby-making sex.

Every month, your body undergoes a series of changes that lead to ovulation, or the time of your cycle during which an egg is released by an ovary. If the egg is fertilized during a given cycle, the result is pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, menstruation occurs. The days leading from one menstrual period to the next are called the menstrual cycle.

Day one of your menstrual cycle is the first day of menstruation or blood flow. The next menstrual period begins a new cycle. If your menstrual cycle is the same number of days each month, your period is considered regular. If the length of your cycle varies from month to month you are considered to have an irregular period. Both types of cycles are normal. The average length of a menstrual cycle is 28 days. That said, a normal cycle can last anywhere from 24-34 days.

Low Point

On the first day of your cycle, hormone levels are at a low point and this triggers the body to start making more reproductive hormones. If all goes according to plan, the egg follicle will begin to manufacture eggs.

While the follicles may produce as many as 20 eggs, only one of these will mature. This matured egg will then be released into a fallopian tube. This event occurs at the approximate midpoint of the menstrual cycle. The release of the egg is called ovulation. 

Since the average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, ovulation should take place on around the 14th day of the average woman's cycle. But 28 days is just an average. It is more useful to remember that ovulation occurs 14 days prior to the first day of your next cycle, when your next period will begin.

Not every woman ovulates 14 days before her period, however. It's just as normal to ovulate on the 12th day or the 18th day prior to the next period. Each variation is quite normal.

Rising Hormones

As the body's hormone levels rise, they help to mature the egg and to thicken the lining of the uterus (endometrium) in preparation for supporting a pregnancy. The cervical mucus undergoes changes, too. It will be thick and dry and as ovulation nears, will become thin, clear, and slippery. It is this type of cervical mucus that can aid sperm in their journey from the vaginal canal to the mature egg.

After ovulation, the fallopian tubes spasm to assist the egg's journey down and out into the uterus.  If the egg is not fertilized, it disintegrates. The thickened endometrium will be shed from the body over a period of a few days or a week. The excretion of the endometrium and disintegrated egg matter is your menstrual flow. 

 

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