understanding your menstrual cycle and ovulation

How to Better Understand Your Cycle

By Cynthia Plotch

understanding your menstrual cycle and ovulation

Pause for a second. 

I want you to think about what you were taught about your menstrual cycle and how?


For me, I recall a crowded room full of sweaty 5th graders watching a strange VHS tape on girls’ puberty. Without the wisdom of fellow women in my life, I would be totally lost.


42%
percent of women experience menstruation-shaming and 58% of women feel a sense of embarrassment simply because they are on their period. 

Where does that leave space for women to ask silly, necessary, and
personal questions to understand their menstruation cycles?

Hint: It doesn’t!

The culture surrounding menstruation must be changed. It starts with open, honest conversations. We want to help empower women to feel aware of and comfortable with their bodies.

Here are 7 ways to better understand your cycle. 

So… What is my menstrual cycle, anyway?

The menstrual cycle refers to the monthly changes a woman’s body goes through to prepare for the possibility of pregnancy. The menstrual cycle starts with the first day of your period and ends when the next period begins, but it is so much more than just your period. An entire menstrual cycle usually lasts between 24 and 38 days, but the length may vary from cycle to cycle, year to year, and woman to woman. 

There are four main phases: menstruation, the follicular phase,  ovulation, and the luteal phase.

What are the four phases of my cycle?

 

Phase 1: Menstrual Phase

This is what happens in your body: The first day of your period is the start of your menstrual cycle. The uterus lining breaks down and sheds galore! 

This is how it might affect you: You may feel low on energy and have cramps. We’ve all been there…heating pads and drinking water help ease the pain!

Phase 2:  Follicular Phase (AKA Preparing for Ovulation)

This is what happens in your body: After the last day of your period, your body preps for ovulation. The lining of your uterus thickens. 

This is how it might affect you: Your estrogen levels start to rise and you might find yourself being in a better mood and having more energy. 

Phase 3: Ovulation

This is what happens in your body: An egg is released into the fallopian tube and travels to the uterus. If it comes in contact with sperm, it is fertilized. In other words, people normally talk about ovulation in terms of planning sex for the most likely time to get pregnant. 

This is how it might affect you: You might feel a boost of energy and inspiration. You’ll experience an increased sex drive! Read more about this in our article on how your cycle affects sex drive.

Phase 4: Luteal Phase – End of the menstrual cycle

This is what happens in your body: If the egg is not fertilized, the thick uterus lining that has built up will leave your body. This is your menstruation and a new cycle begins.

This is how it might affect you: You might feel moodier during this phase. You might also feel easily irritated, experience some sadness or feel anxious. Your breasts might feel more sensitive or even sore. 
 

Let's get to your most common questions...

Does birth control affect my cycle?

Birth control methods such as the pill, patch, vaginal ring, shot and IUD can all impact your menstrual bleeding. Many forms of birth control use progestin and/or estrogen hormones to prevent ovulation.

Some birth control methods can increase bleeding, and some can decrease it or even take it away. Periods can be longer, shorter, heavier, or lighter, depending on the method of birth control. I have a Mirena IUD and no longer get my period! Spotting or irregular bleeding are common side effects of hormonal birth control, especially in the beginning stages. 

Why is it important to track my cycle?

Understanding the menstrual cycle is important because it can impact your body from head to toe. You can experience changes in your hair, skin, poop, chronic disease symptoms, mental health, migraine headaches, or sex drive at different points in the menstrual cycle. 

A change in the menstrual cycle is often the first obvious symptom of a number of women's health issues. Your menstrual cycle essentially tries to communicate and protect you, so it’s important to track it!

When a regular menstrual cycle becomes irregular, it may indicate a hormone and/or thyroid issue, liver function problems, irritable bowel syndrome, diabetes or a host of other health conditions. Women also commonly miss periods or experience menstrual changes when adopting a new exercise routine or going through a period of extreme stress.

How can I track my cycle?

Menstrual cycles are not always clockwork, so you might wonder: how exactly am I supposed to know if I am menstruating or ovulating?

We’re here to make it simple, by listing three of our favorite menstrual cycle trackers and breaking down their differences.

  1. Clue identifies unique patterns in menstrual cycles. This free app uses an algorithm to track your mood, health, and of course, period. The best part? It’s inclusive for all ages and doesn’t include any flowers, hearts, or other girly symbols that no one wants. Additionally, Clue can link up to any Apple watch (talk about convenience). “The more you use it, the smarter it gets”

  2. Flo is another great option for tracking your period. This free, AI-powered app predicts menstrual cycles, ovulation, and fertile days. Unlike other options, Flo takes into consideration things like PMS symptoms, mood, and sexual activity.

  3. Glow is the app for you if you’re actively trying to get pregnant. Glow uses your data to track your fertility cycle. What makes this app amazing is that it is not only for women but can also track men’s fertility cycles. Best of all, a man’s data can be linked to his partners to view fertility as a couple and help conceive faster.

Understand your cycle

How do know when I'm ovulating?

It is commonly believed that every woman ovulates like clockwork 14 days after she gets her period. Just like most periods, ovulation isn’t always so predictable. We can’t stress this enough. Other than taking ovulation tests, there are a few ways to tell if you’re ovulating. One is a change in the consistency of your discharge. When you’re ovulating, you’ll notice vaginal discharge gets wet, stretchy, and feels like raw egg whites (apologies to your breakfast this morning). Additionally, there are lots of useful apps that track your ovulation so you’re always in the know about what’s happening in your body.

Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs) are at-home tests that measure the hormone LH in your urine. The kit has two lines: the control line and the test line. The control line is just to let you know the test is working, and the test line indicates whether you’re ovulating or not. If the test line is a similar color to the control line, it means your LH levels are high and you’re likely about to ovulate. 

Stix is in the process of releasing our very own ovulation test to be sent to the comfort of your home. Stay tuned for more information! 


What do the results mean?

So, why should you care if you’re ovulating or not? If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s best to try on days that your LH levels are highest (usually 36 hours before ovulation). A positive result on an ovulation test doesn’t always mean you’re ovulating, however, it might mean you will ovulate soon (within 12-24 hours). In a textbook ovulation cycle, ovulation occurs around day 14. But does anyone really have a perfect cycle? We know we don’t, and that’s why we started taking ovulation tests. Check out our tips on how to make it easier to conceive. 

Did you know…


…Your Voice Changes With Your Menstrual Cycle. 

  • "The first seven days of the menstrual cycle, your voice is deeper and harsher due to water retention in the membranous linings of your throat," OB/GYN Kecia Gaither says.  "As your estrogen levels elevate, you begin to lose the excess bodily fluid, and your voice becomes 'lighter' and clearer."
...It's Possible To Get Pregnant During Your Period.
  • "Sperm can live for up to five days, so if you have intercourse at the end of your cycle and then you ovulate, theoretically the sperm could hang around until ovulation," Dr. Vaught says.
…You probably bleed a lot less than you think on your period!
  •  On average, a woman only loses about 2.7 ounces, of blood during each period, according to PubMed Health. (That's almost two shot glasses!)

I hope that I informed you more than my 5th grade VHS tape did. There is so much to learn about our bodies and cycles. Stix hopes to offer a helping hand along the way.  What else would you like to know? Let us know in the comments!

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