We tend to think a typical menstrual cycle runs about
28 to 35 days. Of course, almost all of us have experienced a month or two when
our period wasn’t “normal” — during times of extreme stress, heavy dieting or excessive
exercise, while taking medications or when we had an illness. We probably pay more
attention to our menstrual cycle at certain times, including when we are trying
to get pregnant (or not), or when we’re wondering if we are starting perimenopause.
For all women, the most cycle variability occurs both in the first 5-7 years after
their periods start (menarch) and during the last 10 years before cessation of menses
(menopause). No matter what your situation, tracking the timeline of your individual
menstrual cycle will help you understand your body and identify any irregularities.
Each menstrual cycle naturally requires the rise and fall of certain hormones —
estrogen, progesterone, and two pituitary hormones known as follicle stimulating
hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH). Though coordination between these hormones
varies for each of us, the general sequence follows a basic pattern. If this pattern
is disrupted frequently, it can be a sign of hormonal imbalance and a clear message
that your body needs more support.
Hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle
As shown in the chart, changes our pituitary hormones, uterine lining, egg development
and ovarian hormones take place throughout our cycle. With day 1 as the first day
of menstruation, here is a textbook 28-day example of what happens:
Days 1-14 (the follicular phase): Estrogen levels
rise as your body prepares an egg for release. Just before ovulation, your hypothalamus
and pituitary gland release hormones to trigger ovulation. Any changes to the duration
of your cycle are due to alterations in this phase.
Around day 14: Ovulation. Generally, you’re most
likely to get pregnant during the two to three days around the time you ovulate.
Days 14-28 (the luteal phase): After you ovulate,
your estrogen levels begin to decline. Progesterone levels begin to increase. This
phase is relatively constant.
What if my cycle doesn’t feel normal? How PMS and perimenopause figure in
You may wonder why we didn’t include the “PMS phase” in the textbook menstrual cycle
above. Many women are so used to dealing with irregular periods, cramps, irritability
and bloating that they assume PMS is part of a normal menstrual cycle. It’s not.
PMS is caused by disruptions of the natural rhythm of our hormones, and these can
be triggered by everything from food choices to stress responses to activity levels.
Perimenopause is another time when hormonal imbalance can upset your regular cycle.
Changing or unpredictable menstrual cycles may be the first perimenopause symptom
a woman notices. It’s a good opportunity to begin
providing extra support right away to help prevent additional symptoms including
hot flashes, irritability and weight gain. Waiting until it gets worse is not an
Getting back to your natural menstrual cycle
After working with thousands of women, we’ve seen how much better women can feel
when they follow the natural approach to finding hormonal balance in our
Women’s Health Network Hormonal Health Programs. Available in several versions,
this targeted approach helps maintain your regular menstrual cycle, and can help
guide your body back on track if you’re suffering from PMS, perimenopause or another
hormonal imbalance that’s affecting your cycle.
When your body has what it needs every day— the right nutrients, consistent stress
relief and self-care —it has the power to heal itself so you can feel your best.
Relieve your menopause
and perimenopause symptoms today