Here, we explore the different phases that occur within a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle and how these changes impact how we feel.
August is Women’s Month in South Africa, where we pay tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. It is also a time to shine a spotlight on women’s health, so this month we are dedicating our health content to the greater cause of spreading valuable information and awareness.
What actually happens during your cycle and how do the different phases impact your mood, energy levels and general well-being? Let’s break it down below.
The average menstruation cycle is 28 days long, however our bodies are all slightly different and cycles can range from 21 to 35 days.
Menstruation / Menses Phase
Yes, day 1 of your cycle is actually the day your menstruation begins. On average, women bleed for three to five days, but it’s not uncommon for menstruation to only last two days or, for some, to continue for up to seven days. This occurs when the lining of the uterus is “shed” through the vagina.
Symptoms: Menstrual cramps, tender breasts, bloating, mood swings, headaches, fatigue and low back pain.
Oestrogen is on the rise! This causes the lining of the uterus to grow and thicken after your period. This is also the time when the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) causes follicles in your ovaries to grow – hence the name of the phase. Inside each follicle sits an immature egg.
During days 10 to 14, one of the developing follicles will form a fully mature ovum or egg (the rest then get reabsorbed into your body). Technically, the Follicular Phase starts on the first day of your menstrual period and ends when you start to ovulate – so it’s the first “half”.
Symptoms: women have reported feeling more energetic and “happier” during the follicular phase than any other phase of the menstrual cycle. Common symptoms are high energy levels, glowing skin and an increase in sex drive.
This phase takes place approximately at around day 14 in your cycle – and is super short, lasting only a day or so. There is a sudden increase of a different hormone, the luteinizing hormone. The ovary releases the mature egg that your body has recently developed and it goes down the fallopian tube. This is ovulation.
Symptoms: The sudden rise in hormone levels can lead to higher pain tolerance and an increase in sex drive. Some women may experience abdominal pain, bloating, a slightly elevated body temperature, changes in cervical mucus and breast tenderness.
The last two weeks of your cycle: day 15 to 28. Progesterone rises to help prepare the uterine lining for a potential pregnancy. If there is no fertilisation, then both oestrogen and progesterone drop and the process begins from the beginning again with the shedding of the uterus lining, aka your period.
Symptoms: The rise in progesterone can make women feel moodier and more stressed. In the build up to your next period, it may be common to feel irritable, experience breast swelling and tenderness, low mood and fatigue.