I remember having my very first menstrual cycle as a young teen girl. I had taken science class in school so it wasn’t a shock to me. My teachers went over the basics, so I understood how women ovulate each month and then if they don’t get pregnant have a period. I was always a good student, so I paid attention and did my homework. When that day came I borrowed some feminine products from my mom and sister and that was that. Womanhood was upon me.
It wasn’t until my husband and I started trying to start a family that I really started to dig deeper learning about my body and my cycles. And you know what? I was blown away by how much I didn’t know. What I am here to share with you all today are the things I wish I had known as a teen and young woman.
If you are reading this as a young woman yourself you can take this knowledge with you much sooner than I did. Otherwise it is never too late to learn and I encourage you to take a moment to share this with someone who can benefit as well. The more we all know the better we all become!
You will have your own unique “normal” when it comes to your menstrual cycle
In school, we are taught that your menstrual cycle is 28 days long and you ovulate on day 14. The truth is that these numbers are only averages. A healthy cycle can range anywhere from 25-35 days. Ovulation can vary quite a bit from woman to woman and even cycle to cycle. Things like stress, traveling, and more can delay ovulation so it may not always come at the same time. Read on for more about cycle charting so you can learn about your own body.
Some general guidelines for a healthy cycle that everyone should look for include your cycle being around the same length each month, whatever that is for you. Your period should last between 3-7 days with a total blood loss of 30-60ml, or 6-12 fully soaked tampons. The blood should be a bright red color and your period should come with minimal discomfort, pain, or energy and mood shifts.
Anything outside of this range can be a sign of imbalances in your body that need to be addressed. As always, I am a fan of a root cause approach rather than a band-aid approach. Read more about my philosophy here.
Your menstrual cycle is so much more than just a period
Since my teen years I have “tracked my cycles,” or so I thought. What that meant for me for many years was tracking the first day of my period. That way I could know when the next one was coming. What I didn’t realize was how little information this was actually giving me.
Sure, you can glean some information from tracking your periods alone. It will help you to see how regular your cycles are and how long. What it will not tell you is anything about when or if you ovulated. Ovulation, I might add, is truly the main event of your menstrual cycle. It will also not give you much insight as to your hormone health.
What I do now is an upgraded version of tracking my menstrual cycle, known as “sympto-thermal” charting. This involves taking your temperature each morning with a basal body thermometer and also tracking your cervical mucus and other symptoms. You can read more about cycle charting in my previous article here.
What else your menstrual cycle symptoms can tell you
When charting your basal body temperature, in a healthy fertile woman you will see a temperature shift happen around mid-cycle. This is because after ovulation, progesterone increases which is a mildly thermogenic hormone. Seeing this shift allows you to actually see (retrospectively) when ovulation happened. Fun fact: you can’t get pregnant after ovulation occurs.
You know that stuff that comes out of your vagina throughout the month? You see it in your underwear or when you wipe? That is your cervical mucus. If you pay close attention, it does actually change throughout the month. Usually about 4-5 days prior to ovulation it reaches an egg white consistency. This is known as fertile-quality cervical mucus. Tracking this mucus can also help to predict when ovulation is coming.
Truth moment: I used to think this mucus was just a way of keeping everything from getting dried out down there. Anyone else??
Hormonal birth control shuts off your natural menstrual cycle hormones
Yep, that’s the truth! Hormonal birth control contains synthetic hormones. These block our hormone receptors and actually shuts off production of our natural hormones. Which, I might add, have so very many health benefits above and beyond allowing us to get pregnant. Estrogen, for example, plays a role in heart and brain health. It also helps us to keep up our bone density and muscle mass and impacts your mood.
Progesterone supports energy levels and mood. It also supports sleep, improves skin health, and helps reduce inflammation.
So you can see where suppressing these hormones can lead to a lot more side effects than just preventing pregnancy or “regulating your cycle.” Note: this is not really the case. Shutting off your natural hormones is NOT the same thing as regulating your cycle or balancing your hormones.
Birth control is not the only way to avoid unwanted pregnancy
This right here is a biggie. Birth control for so long has been passed off as a “fix all” for hormone health. We have talked about some of the risks and side effects of birth control, but it is important to know that there are other options.
Fertility Awareness Based Methods, not to be confused with the rhythm method, are completely hormone and pharmaceutical-free. When used correctly these methods can be quite effective. If you are wanting to use these methods to prevent pregnancy I would highly recommend working with a certified practitioner. The book “Taking Charge of Your Fertility” by Toni Weschler is also a good resource and a great place to start.
In addition to this, there are also options like barrier methods (condoms, diaphragms, and cervical caps). Non-hormonal contraceptives are another option to consider, such as the Copper IUD and Phexxi.
This, of course, is not medical advice and I recommend speaking with your doctor and/or a certified fertility awareness practitioner before working with any of these options.
Knowledge is power!
I hope this article gives you a little more insight to everything your menstrual cycle can tell you as well as the options that are available to you.
Always remember that if you feel like something is off in your body, you are probably right! YOU are the expert on your own body. Be sure to always keep digging and find a practitioner that is the best fit for you. Work with someone who truly listens and honors the fact that you know your own body better than anyone.
It is my biggest passion in life to work with women who struggle with menstrual and reproductive concerns, from painful periods to PMS to endometriosis, PCOS, infertility, and more. If these are areas where you struggle or you feel like you have tried everything without relief, I would love to chat.
Much love and happy healing!
Cleveland Clinic. (2022). Estrogen: What it Does and 5 Benefits. Retrieved from: https://health.clevelandclinic.org/what-does-estrogen-do/
Briden, Lara. (2016). 7 Superpowers of Progesterone. Retrieved from: https://www.larabriden.com/superpowers-benefits-progesterone/
Weschler, Tony. (2015). Taking Charge of Your Fertility. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.
International Association for Functional Hormone Health. (2022). Functional Hormone Specialist Certification Program Module 3.1 Slides and Transcripts [PDF Documents].
International Association for Functional Hormone Health. (2022). Functional Hormone Specialist Certification Program Module 3.2 Slides and Transcripts [PDF Documents].