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Understanding Periods and Menstrual Cycles

having a periodDo you keep track of your periods? If you’re like most women, the answer is probably “no.” You probably don’t even know how long your menstrual cycle is. In this article, we will discuss menstrual cycles and periods, and how it affects a woman’s body.

What is Menstruation?

The word “menstruation” comes from the Latin word, “menses,” which means “month.” Most people don’t use the term “menstruation.” We refer to this time of the month as having your period. Other slangs for the menstrual period include My Time of the Month, Aunt Flo (AF for short), cousin Red, Crimson Wave, “on the rag,” Sally (or Aunt Sally) and “ride the cotton pony.”

Why Do Girls Have Periods?

When you’re having your period, your body is getting rid of its uterine lining. The lining of the uterus is thickened after ovulation to prepare for a fertilized egg. If you don’t get pregnant that month, everything is shed and you’ll experience menstrual bleeding. (Menstrual cramps often accompany the first few days of your period. Cramping is the result of uterine contractions, which just help your body get rid of the uterine lining.)

For the healthy woman, menstruation occurs once a month, typically every 28 to 34 days if you have an average cycle. But some women can have irregular periods, skipped periods, and other period problems.

The term “menstrual cycle” refers to the time between the first date of your period (the first day that you bleed) to the first day of your next period. An average menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, but it’s completely normal for the length of your cycle to range from 21 to 35 days. What’s normal for you may be different from your best friend or your sister.

How Long Does a Period Last?

Your menstrual flow (how long you bleed) can last between 3 to 7 days, though most women only bleed for an average of four or five days. The first day of bleeding is considered Day 1 of your menstrual cycle. The first day is typically lighter, then day two and three are heavier bleeding days, and your flow becomes lighter again as your period nears its end.

If you spot (light bleeding) before your Aunt Flow comes to visit, this is not considered the beginning of your period. (Spotting in between periods is actually a common ovulation symptom.)

Menstrual Cycle Phases

There are four phases of a menstrual cycle.

1. Menstruation – The bloody mess of having your period. The first day of your period is considered Day 1 of your menstrual cycle. Menstruation can last up to a week (7 days). Your flow will start light or medium, then get heavy, and then light again, until your body has passed all the tissue that it doesn’t need.

2. Pre-Ovulation – This occurs immediately after your period ends and lasts about a week. You are relatively infertile during this phase of your menstrual cycle.

3. Ovulation – Your body is preparing your uterus (also called a “womb.” This is where a baby would grow, if you had sex and your partner’s sperm met your egg) to receive a fertilized egg (sperm meets egg to create a baby). Ovulation typically occurs 14 days after your period starts. This is when you are most fertile and have the highest chance of pregnancy, if you were to have unprotected sex.

4. Premenstrual (Also called Luteal Phase) – Your uterus is about to get rid of the tissue that was being prepared for the fertilized egg that never came to be. (You will experience PMS symptoms during this phase.) With no fertilized egg, the uterus lining will be shed – i.e. you’ll have your period. Phase 1 starts again.

Starting from adolescent – that’s your teenage years – until you reach menopause in your 40s, your period will be a regular part of your life.

Fun Fact: Girls are Born with a Lifetime Supply of Eggs

Baby girls are born with all the eggs they will ever have in their lifetime. At birth, a girl has about 2 million eggs in her ovaries. By the time she reaches puberty, this number will decrease to about 300,000 to 500,000 eggs. Interestingly, only about 400 or 500 will ripen into mature eggs in her lifetime.

Want to know more? Check back often for future blog posts where I will go in-depth. Feel free to post a comment on what you’d like to learn about!

You May Also Enjoy Reading:

PMS or Pregnancy?

Can You Get Pregnant on Your Period?

Causes of Late Period When Negative Pregnancy Test

Best iPhone Period Tracker Apps to Track Menstrual Cycles

How to Cope When You’re PMSing:  Natural PMS Remedies

About the author: DP Nguyen is founder and editor of Hip Chick’s Guide to PMS, Pregnancy and Babies. She’s an expert pregnancy and women’s health blogger. She is NOT a medical doctor and does NOT offer medical advice. Connect with her on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.

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