Updated: Feb 16
Most people learn some basic facts about female reproduction in school; general terms about anatomy, the fact that females have the ability to give birth, and that may uterus-owners tend to menstruate for a large portion of their lives.
You might be aware that those with female organs tend to begin menstruating between the ages of 10 and 15. "Periods" generally last 2 to 7 days, and this occurs every 21-25 days, or generally once per month. This cycle repeats unless the person begins certain types of birth control, becomes pregnant, or begins menopause sometime around age 50.
But we are not usually taught about hormonal fluctuations, the impact of hormones on our physical and mental health, changes in fertility throughout the cycle, and about various menstrual disorders - some of which are very common.
Most reproductive education in schools focuses on just one phase of the menstrual cycle - the menstrual phase itself, which we commonly call the "period".
There are actually 4 phases of the menstrual cycle. The graph below shows two of them at the top; the follicular phase (when follicles, or egg sacs, are being developed) and the luteal phase (when the egg is released and the follicle becomes the corpus luteum). The other two phases, the menstrual phase and ovulatory phase, overlap the previously mentioned two. Menstruation generally occurs during days 1 to 7, while ovulation occurs around day 14.
Menstrual Chart by Isometrik - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8703107
A Look At Each Phase
You can find links to a post with a video outlining each phase of the menstrual cycle below. The posts also include PMDD symptoms in each phase, as well as tips for coping & self-care!
This is the time of the month marked by the shedding of the uterine lining. Cramping, cravings, and mood swings may occur. This is a good time to rest and recover.
This is when most PMDD Warriors are feeling fairly good, with very few symptoms. This is a good time to plan ahead, shop for groceries, and prepare meals.
This is is when estrogen is high; there may be a higher libido than normal, and we are more likely to be feeling confident and social. This is a good time for meetings and socializing.
This is when progesterone drops and we are feeling at our worst. Most of the 11 signs and symptoms of PMDD occur in this phase. This is good time to prioritize self-care.
Note: You can sign up to receive 4 free yoga classes tailored to your needs in each phase of your cycle, plus a guided meditation by clicking here!
Tracking Your Cycle
If you'd like to know where you're at in your cycle, you can track your symptoms on paper using a printable tracker, or using an app such as Me v PMDD, Hormonology (great for further cycle education), Flo, or Clue.
There are lots of other apps out there that are more geared towards those trying to conceive (TTC) with the goal of pregnancy, that include tracking temperature and mucus - I don't know much about these, personally, but they are easily found on Google.
Other Things To Know
Reproductive issues are surprisingly common, although not commonly discussed. I have included links about each condition below so that you can learn more.
Amenorrhea is the name for a missed or absent period, and can be caused by stress, excessive exercise, or extreme changes in weight.
Dysmenorrhea is the name for painful periods, which can be caused by several of the conditions below.
Menorrhagia is the name for heavy menstrual bleeding.
Ovarian cysts are very common and occur when fluid-filled sacs build up on the ovaries. They can cause pain but generally resolve on their own.
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) is a bit of a misnomer, as it is a condition characterized by an abnormal amount of androgens (male hormones) in the body, that may or may not cause cysts to form. It is a common cause of infertility.
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 menstruators, and is a painful condition in which tissue similar to the endometrium builds up in places other than the uterus. It is the leading cause of infertility.
Adenomyosis also affects 1 in 10 menstruators, and is a similar condition in which tissue similar to the uterine lining grows into the muscular walls of the uterus.
Uterine Fibroids are non-cancerous tumours that grow within the uterine walls. Many older women experience these and don't normally know that they have them.
Urinary Tract Infections (UTIs) are very common and occur when bacteria enter the urethra and cause infection of the urethra, bladder, or kidneys.
Vaginal Infections are somewhat common and can be uncomfortable, having symptoms of pain and itching.
Sexually Transmitted Diseases can cause pain and discomfort in many people, and are not always transmitted during sex (contrary to the name).
Sexual Dysfunction is extremely common, and almost half of people who identify as women will report sexual dysfunction or loss of libido in their lifetime.
This information is not meant to scare you - it's simply meant for you to know more about your body (if you have these organs) and to be able to look out for symptoms. Remember that female bodies are understudied and that YOU are the one that knows the most about your experience in your body. Arm yourself with information and be sure to discuss any concerns with your doctor.
Did you know most of these facts? Were you taught this in school? If not, how did you learn, and at what age? Let me know in the comments, I would love to hear your thoughts.
Please be sure to share with others - especially younger folks who may need this vital information about their bodies!