It's time to learn all those things they never taught us in health class - periods, pregnancy and pelvic floor!
I'm a women's health educator, a nerd when it comes to learning "all of the things", and my obsession is teaching women how to take control of their health and create a life they love!
In this episode, we’re going right back to the very beginning. Back to your high school health class when you first learn about periods, pregnancy and birth control. And then we going to un-learn everything you’ve ever been taught about your period and start from there.
Are you in? Are you intrigued? Stick with me and I’ll change your life forever. I promise.
Hello, and welcome to episode #1 of The Mana Women’s Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel and today we are going to go right back to the very beginning. Back to your high school health class when you first learn about periods, pregnancy and birth control. And then we going to un-learn everything you’ve ever been taught about your period and start from there.
Are you in? Are you intrigued? Stick with me and I’ll change your life forever. I promise you that!
Now if you want to dive deeper into this area of women’s health after listening to this episode, I’m giving you a sneak peek into the ultimate guide to your menstrual cycle. So I have a guide, called The Mana Guide to Understanding (and Loving) Your Menstrual Cycle and I want to give you a free chapter of this guide so that you can get started understanding your body better.
Let me walk you through everything you need to know about your period, what happens for the rest of the month and why your fertility matters, no matter what season of life you’re in right now. To download your free chapter of The Mana Guide to Understanding (and Loving) Your Menstrual Cycle, head to fertilityco.com.au/freebook
Are you ready? Let’s start at the beginning, what I like to call Menstrual Cycle 101.
So much more than bleeding once a month, your menstrual cycle is a continuous series of physical and hormonal changes occurring in your body. The first day of your menstrual cycle is the first day of your period and the last day of your cycle is the day before your next period begins. Ovulation, where an egg is released by the ovaries for fertilisation by sperm, occurs around halfway through your menstrual cycle. Regardless of what day it is, your body is at some stage of the menstrual cycle, which is regulated by your hormones, mainly oestrogen and progesterone.
The first half of your cycle is the time from your period until ovulation occurs. Oestrogen levels rise to prepare the body for ovulation and trigger the release of the egg. In the second half of your cycle, after ovulation has occurred, oestrogen levels drop and progesterone levels begin to rise as your body prepares for a potential pregnancy. If the egg was not fertilised, progesterone levels then drop, flushing the egg and the lining of the uterus from the body as your next period.
If your egg is fertilised and implants into the lining of your uterus, a pregnancy has occurred. Progesterone levels will stay high to keep the uterine thick and support the early stages of pregnancy.
Still with me?
Let’s break it down even further.
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is the phase you would be the most familiar with. It’s the menstrual phase, or your period, where bleeding occurs and it lasts anywhere from 4-7 days, however long that period of bleeding lasts for you.
Menstruation happens when you’re not pregnant, because it always happens after ovulation – where the egg was released from one of the ovaries and it then hung out around the fallopian tubes waiting for sperm to arrive and fertilise it. If the egg isn’t fertilised and pregnancy hasn’t occurred, nothing is going to implant into the lining of the uterus. Now remember, this lining has gotten all thick and warm and ready to welcome in a fertilised egg and start growing a baby. But if this doesn’t happen, hormonal changes – that drop in progesterone I mentioned before – causes the lining to start breaking down and it will be flushed out of the body through the vagina as our period.
And so day 1 of your menstrual cycle is that first day of bright bleeding. It’s completely normal to notice some light spotting or even some thick red-brown coloured discharge in the days leading up to your period, but it’s that first day of that bright red flow that we count to be day 1.
Really cool fun fact for you – menstruation will almost always follow ovulation 11-17 days later.
I’ll come back to this later, but remember you will ovulate, then 11-17 days later your period will arrive. And however many days that window is for you – anywhere between 11-17 days. Whatever that number is for you, no matter how many days a menstrual cycle is for you, no matter how irregular – that number of days will be the same for you every. Single. Cycle.
And with that little teaser, let’s move on to the 2nd phase of the menstrual cycle – The follicular phase. Now this is the phase between the menstruation, your period, and ovulation, and this is the most variable phase of your menstrual cycle. If you have a really irregular cycle, this is the phase that is changing every month or so. If you have a 35 day cycle one month, then a 29 day cycle the next, it’s your follicular phase that is irregular. If you have a really short menstrual cycle, less than say 26 days, you might skip this phase altogether!
This is the phase where the egg is still in one of the ovaries, inside something called a follicle – which is why it’s called the follicular phase. Because this is where the follicle is maturing and getting ready to be released from the ovary at ovulation.
And so ovulation is the next phase and it does not occur on day 14. I repeat, ovulation does not occur on day 14. It might, but it probably doesn’t. In fact, only 10% of women will ovulate on day 14. And of that 10%, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re not ovulating on day 14 with every single menstrual cycle.
And so, for some of you listening that might be quite a surprise to hear. Because that’s what we’ve always been taught. Our health class textbooks probably had a nice colour coded graph or diagram that showed a 28 day cycle and ovulation occurring smack bang in the middle on day 14.
And if you’re using an app to track your period, predict your next period or tell you when you’re fertile – we need to talk!! Because that app is using the idea that everyone has a 28 day cycle and everyone ovulates on day 14. And it’s that idea that ovulation occurs on day 14 that has caused a hell of a lot of problems for a hell of a lot of women for as long as this idea has been taught to us!
And sure, idea of a 28 day cycle is a great way of introducing young women to the menstrual cycle and getting the hang of the different phases and when ovulation occurs and so on. But at no point in our lives are we ever told anything different. That textbook theory has stuck with us. And when we realise that our periods don’t look like the ones in the textbook, we panic and we wonder what is wrong with us?
But I digress…and that’s probably another episode for another time.
But I hope I’ve made that idea really clear. Ovulation occurs around halfway through our menstrual cycles, but it does not always occur on day 14. In fact, it’s more likely not to occur on day 14. And that’s totally 100% normal.
So what is ovulation exactly?
At birth, your ovaries contain 1-2 million tiny eggs. Pregnancy occurs when an egg joins with a male sperm cell to form an embryo. Females are born with all the eggs they will ever have, while males will continue to make sperm from puberty onwards. As you become older, many eggs will die while others will be released during ovulation.
From your first period, your body is preparing for pregnancy – even if you’re not yet sexually active or ready to have a baby. Every month or so, an egg is released from a follicle within one of the ovaries, called ovulation. This occurs once during each menstrual cycle.
In the ovary, an egg matures within a follicle and is released from the follicle at ovulation.
The follicle will then seal off and become what is called the corpus luteum, which releases the hormone progesterone. If an egg is fertilised by sperm, progesterone is the hormone that really wants this pregnancy to happen. It causes all of those changes in the body to encourage the fertilised egg to implant into the lining of the uterus so that this tiny fertilised egg will develop into a baby. It will cause the uterine lining to thicken up so that implantation is more likely and progesterone levels stay high in early pregnancy to maintain that pregnancy.
So…the egg is released from one of the ovaries and it enters the fallopian tube. If intercourse and ejaculation has occurred, sperm is swimming madly from the vagina through the cervix and into the uterus and then one lucky sperm will meet the egg in the fallopian tube, and this is where fertilisation occurs. The egg must be fertilised by a viable sperm in the next 24-48 hours.
The fertilised egg, called a zygote, will now start to divide into more and more cells as it travels down the fallopian tube until it reaches the uterus. When the zygote arrives at the lining of the uterus (the endometrium), it will implant, nestle in and get comfy, and from here it will develop into a fetus.
If the egg is not fertilised, it will still make this journey from the fallopian tube to the uterus, but it will die and break down within the fallopian tubes and is shed along with the uterine lining during menstruation.
Are you still with me?
As I’m sure you can tell, ovulation is the most complicated phase of the menstrual cycle. The ovulatory phase is the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle. It’s when pregnancy is possible..It’s the main event, it’s the reason the entire menstrual cycle occurs and you can see that timing really is everything.
And so after ovulation – the main event – has come and gone, now what?
The final phase of the menstrual cycle and the longest phase is the luteal phase. I like to think of this phase as the day after the wild party. We’re hungover, we’re tired, we’re feeling a little bit seedy and we just want to curl up and chill for a little while.
So the luteal phase is that time between ovulation and your next period. Now do you remember me talking earlier about that 11—17 day window? That’s your luteal phase. And the cool thing is that your luteal phase is almost always the same length, month after month. So when I was talking about irregular cycles, even if one month your cycle is 36 days long and the next month your cycle is 29 days long – for each of those cycles, your luteal phase will be the same length! It’s the follicular phase that can be really irregular. The luteal phase is consistent.
The luteal phase is that super comfy hoodie. The one that’s maybe 3 sizes too big and probably stolen from someone else. It’s got holes and toothpaste stains but you can’t bring yourself to throw it away because it’s cosy and comfortable and reliable. That’s the luteal phase.
And it’s the luteal phase where we often experience those dreaded PMS symptoms in the lead up to our next period. We’re more tired, we have lower energy and we just want to take it easy and relax until we get our next period and the cycle starts all over again.
Ok, so we have gone super deep today for our very first episode together and I want to thank you so much for tuning in and sticking around til the end!
I know I have thrown a lot of stuff at you today but this is the basic essential knowledge that we’re just not taught! For me, I’m pretty sure I learnt about menstruation and ovulation but not much else about all that good stuff that happens in between.
If you learnt something new or found value in today’s episode, I’d love to hear from you! Send me an Instagram DM, post it on your stories – share a story of yourself listening to the podcast – and let me know what you want me to talk about. This podcast is for you and so I want to talk about the things that are most important to you!
If you want to dive even deeper or you just want to get all of this sorted in your head, remember you can grab your free chapter of The Mana Guide to Understanding (and Loving) Your Menstrual Cycle fertilityco.com.au/freebook. This free chapter really breaks down the 4 phases of the menstrual cycle that I talked about today and goes into some more detail about each of the phases and ties everything together.
If you’re interested, you can head to fertilityco.com.au/freebook or you can head on over to today’s shownotes at fertilityco.com.au/101 and there’s a link there as well.
Stay tuned because a few episodes from now I’m going to be diving deeper into each of these 4 stages of the menstrual cycle and how you can use things like nutrition and exercise to really work with your cycle and balance those sex hormones too.
Ovulation is by far the most complicated phase of the menstrual cycle. It’s the main event, it’s the reason the entire menstrual cycle occurs and when it comes to ovulation, timing is everything. That egg only has a 24-48 hour window to be fertilised for pregnancy to occur. That is a tiny tiny window and it kinda makes you wonder how anyone could possibly get pregnant! But let me tell you, the female body has a few little tricks up her sleeve to boost your fertility and really make the most of that small window of time. And that’s exactly what I’ll be talking about in the next episode. If you don’t want to miss it, hit subscribe now and you’ll be the first to know when it goes live.
Ok, bye for now and don’t forget that knowledge is power!
When you truly understand your body, you are empowered to make informed decisions and take control of your health!
Until next time.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
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Want to make sure you’re exercising safely during your pregnancy? Get your Free Guide: 10 Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy.
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