Understanding Your Cycle

A general understanding of the female reproductive process will help you prepare for pregnancy and help increase your chances of conception.

Prepare for pregnancy and help increase your chances of conception

The menstrual cycle is essential for reproduction and can be divided into 3 phases (follicular phase, ovulatory phase and luteal phase).

This menstrual cycle is stimulated by changing levels of hormones throughout the 3 phases. The brain plays an essential part as it controls and balances the different hormone levels in the body. The typical menstrual cycle recurs every month. The average length is 28 days, but it can vary from 20 to 45 days.

Phase 1

The first phase of your menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase. This begins on Day One of your menstrual cycle, which is the first full day of menstrual bleeding when the lining of the uterus starts to break down because the egg during the previous menstrual cycle has not been fertilised. Your body is now getting prepared to start a new menstrual cycle. For most women, periods last typically from 3 to 5 days.

Phase 2

The next phase is the ovulatory phase. Your body prepares for ovulation thanks to two hormones: FSH (Follicle Stimulating Hormone) and LH (Luteinising Hormone). A follicle is one of the many tiny sacs within an ovary that contains a developing egg. FSH stimulates a follicle to grow and the egg within it to ripen. LH stimulates the follicle to manufacture and secrete oestrogen.

You’re in the ovulatory phase now, when increasing oestrogen levels cause the lining of the uterus to re-nourish with nutrients and blood. The heightened levels of oestrogen also produce a change in cervical mucus, causing it to thin and take on a slippery consistency. The change in cervical fluid makes it easier for sperm to make their way toward a waiting egg. All of this usually takes place between days 7 and 11 in a woman’s menstrual cycle. When the amount of oestrogen produced in your body reaches a certain level, there is a surge of LH. 24 to 36 hours after this LH surge, the follicle will release the completely ripened egg that will travel from the fallopian tube to the womb. This is known as ovulation.

Phase 3

The final and third phase of your menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. This follows ovulation. The corpus luteum (follicle in which the egg bursts through) produces progesterone and oestrogen. The increased production of progesterone maintains the thickness of the uterus so that a fertilised egg has a better chance of implanting. If the egg is not fertilised within 24 hours, the corpus luteum recesses and hormone production slows down. After around 11-14 days, the lining of the womb will break down. This is known as your period and your menstrual cycle begins again.