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Health & Body

So you’ve started your cycle: here’s what you need to know. Periods 101: The Menstrual Cycle Explained

Maybe you're yet to start your cycle, have just begun to experience the joys-and let's be real, the challenges-of periods, you're looking for a little refresh or you're a non-menstruator wanting to support someone (you go, Glen Coco!). There's a lot of info to take in. It takes time to get to know your cycle and all the processes your body goes through. But here's what is good to know.

4 min read | October 19, 2021
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Spoiler alert: periods don’t have to last between 3-4 days.

Cycles, not just periods 

Your menstrual period is just one part of your cycle. It's super important to understand the whole cycle, not just one moment (concentrating on just the bleeding part can lead to demonizing your cycle and doesn't help us get to grips with what's going on in our bodies). Nonetheless, with different phases come changing hormone levels, menstrual bleeding, ovulation and fertility window, and other events.

At Hummingway we refer to two phases (follicular and luteal) and two key events (menstruation and ovulation). Feel free to zoom in on these in the links below. In the meantime, here is a little summary of each one to help you understand WTF your body is doing during your cycle: 

Event #1: Menstruation

Your period kicks off the cycle. A period (aka menstruation) is when your uterine lining—a mixture of blood and endometrium—sheds through the cervix and vagina because a pregnancy hasn’t occurred. 

Follicular Phase

The first part of your cycle is called the follicular phase. During this phase, the pituitary gland is sent a message to produce follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), causing estrogen levels to rise. This stimulates follicle growth in the ovaries. 

Event #2: Ovulation

Ovulation marks the dividing point between the follicular and luteal phase, and typically occurs 10-16 days before your menstrual period starts. Ovulation is when an egg is released from the growing follicle in your ovary. 

Luteal Phase

This phase typically lasts around two weeks and occurs between ovulation and menstruation. The egg that was released during ovulation will then travel down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. It will only be viable for 12-24 hours, and if it’s not fertilized by sperm, it will break down. Premenstrual symptoms such as ovulation pain, menstrual cramps, etc. can occur during this phase, and applying pain patches can aid with the discomfort.

PSA: the length of your cycle will vary

In adults, a typical cycle lasts between 24 and 38 days (you might occasionally have one shorter or longer and that’s okay) — it’s ok if your cycle varies in length between 7 and 9 days. So you could have one cycle that lasts 25 days one month, another that lasts 33 the next. But to all the younger people with periods – if you’ve been menstruating for two years or less, the window is a little wider: between 21 and 45 days (again, occasionally your cycle could be longer or shorter. Don’t sweat it.). 

Understanding how to track your menstrual cycle is important to understand which phase you're at during the month, whether you're looking to increase pregnancy chances or simply trying to explain your menstrual cramps, changing hormone levels, etc. Using an app or tracking manually can be helpful whether you have regular or irregular periods. 

Also, spoiler alert: periods don’t have to last between 3-4 days. Sure, that happens for many bodies. But actually menstruation can last up to 8 days before it’s considered irregular. These are just the basics, but there’s loads more to discover. We’ve put together a starter pack of articles for new menstruators that will help you understand your cycle a little better - and better help support you in your Whole Cycle Wellness journey.

About Author

Your hormones can be complex and unpredictable. That’s why we’re here, on The Regular, to do what’s long overdue - to demystify what’s going on with our reproductive systems, our hormones and our whole cycle.

We’re here to support your day-to-day queries serving useful content that is uncomplicated and unbiased. No topic is too complicated or too specific for us to address/focus on.

Keep learning

We recognize that every body is complex and everyone's symptoms are different. That's why we’re actively working hard alongside our medical advisors to provide regular resources to support you.

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