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Your Menstrual Cycle: What the Heck is Going on?

Let's talk about your menstrual cycle. Fun topic, huh? Every woman should know what's going on inside her body every month, because it'll help you understand your physical and emotional self a little bit better.

If you are not on the Pill or any other contraception involving hormones, you get your period -- some women have shorter cycles (26 days or less) and some women have longer cycles (32 days or more). Every woman's cycle is different, some have regular periods, some have irregular, some have a heavy flow, some are blessed with a light flow. Regardless of your cycyle, this is a basic breakdown of what's happening inside your body:

DAY 1: You get your period (wa-hoo!)

DAY 2-7 (earlier or later): You have your period.

DAY 10-18 (earlier or later): This is halfway through your cycle and this is when you ovulate and should avoid unprotected sex at all costs if you don't want to get pregnant. On the other hand, if you are trying to get pregnant, have at it ladies!

Ovulation is not necessarily on DAY 14 like you may have learned in your Sex Ed class. If you have a shorter cycle, you may ovulate as soon as DAY 10. One way to tell if you're ovulating is because you'll have really wet cervical fluid (like egg whites). This is not discharge and it's not a bad thing -- think of it as the perfect environment for sperm to swim upstream, which is why you have cervical fluid in the first place - to help you get pregnant.

You may also notice a little pinching pain on the right or left of your abdomen, right inside your hip bones. That's where your ovaries are located, and what you are feeling is the egg releasing from your ovary. Some women also experience breast tenderness, bloating, light spotting, or an increased sex drive -- almost like PMS symptoms all over again.

Want to know what happens next? Then

DAY 21-32 (earlier or later): You are done ovulating. Most women will start feeling PMS symptoms during this time which include all the fun stuff: cramps, mood swings, uncontrollable crying, feelings of depression, bloating, sore breasts, food cravings (did someone say chocolate?), fatigue, and headaches.

And then, it all repeats itself. Pretty cool to know what's going on, huh? Knowing your specific cycle will help you out tremendously.

Dear's Advice: I definitely recommend charting your cycle on a calendar. Write down when you get your period, and your physical and emotional symptoms each month for about 6 months, and see if you notice a pattern.

If you want to learn more about what's going on with your cycle, check out this book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility. It changed my life.


Join The Conversation
ishop2much ishop2much 10 years
If anything it's nice to have an explanation as to what happens to my body during my "oh-so-favorite" time of the month! ;)
ailene ailene 10 years
Greggie is right. I conceived each of my children either immediately before or immediately after my period. I'm sure if anyone tracks their symptoms that some of the members have mentioned, that they would be able to find out exactly WHEN they ovulate each month.
scoop45 scoop45 10 years
Wow love the info!!!
ash_marisa ash_marisa 10 years
I have a 35-42 day cycle, which is good because I get less periods, but bad because I pretty much cannot predict when I ovulate from timing alone.
ccsugar ccsugar 10 years
Maybe I will check that book out - I have PCOS ( which further complicates things - I've had a hard time understanding it and understanding my cycle in general. This posting has helped though! :)
Greggie Greggie 10 years
I highly recommend not only the book DearSugar links, but also taking a course on Natural Family Planning (whether you plan to use it as birth control or not). The book has great detail, but the classes allow for one-on-one instruction and question/answer times. To be honest, a lot of OB/GYNs are sorely lacking information on this topic.
ccsugar ccsugar 10 years
Arrggghhhh this is just giving me a headache! When the time comes that I want to conceive, I'll just call my doctor!!
Greggie Greggie 10 years
I understand it says "earlier or later" but it still makes it sound like it's pretty much a given, in my opinion. For instance, the only way it's explained in the body is "if you have an shorter cycle, you may ovulate as soon as day 10." If you have a shorter cycle, you can ovulate sooner than that, but the article (to me) makes it sound like you day 10 is the earliest it could happen. Also, the temperature shift doesn't happen until you actually ovulate. So don't wait until you see that to avoid having sex if you don't want to get pregnant. It does give a general sense, I agree. It just doesn't give a very clear sense, in my opinion.
DearSugar DearSugar 10 years
Hey everybody - I'm loving your interest in this important topic. Here's the deal about your menstrual cycle... What I outlined in the post above is just a BASIC BREAKDOWN of what happens in most women's cycles. As I said, NOT everyone has a 28-day cycle - some are much shorter or longer (that's why I wrote in parentheses "earlier or later"). Plus some women's cycles are different from month to month. That being said, not everyone ovulates in the middle of her cycle either. As Greggie said, you have to be showing fertile signs in order to know when you are ovulating. That means having wet cervical fluid, and charting your body temperature everyday to see when there is a shift (all this is described in the Taking Charge of Your Fertility book). This is by no means an exact outline, but it will give you a general sense of what's going on each month. And by the way - sperm can live for up to 5 days inside your vagina - NOT a week. My best advice is to use effective protection to prevent pregnancy.
Greggie Greggie 10 years
If you had sex on day 7 and ovulated on day 10, you can get pregnant. Sperm survives up to 5 days. Having sex after ovulation is less of a risk. But if you ovulate on day 18 and have sex on day 20 or 21, you do still have a risk of it. My oldest son was conceived on about day 45 of my cycle. My second was about day 25. The one I'm pregnant with now? Day 5.
ccsugar ccsugar 10 years
I don't know, I still don't get it. Using this logic, if you ovulate on day 10-18, and the egg can only survive a couple days if it doesn't hook up with the sperm, how then on day 1-7 could you get pregnant?
Greggie Greggie 10 years
You can ovulate while having your period as well, although it's rare. But like lily said, sperm has a life of up to 5 days. If you ovulate on day 12, beginning abstaining from sex on day 10 in accordance with the article still gives you a big chance of getting pregnant.
lily314 lily314 10 years
That's because sperm can hang around for up to a week inside a woman, so just because you don't have sex when you're ovulating doesn't mean you're safe from pregnancy.
ccsugar ccsugar 10 years
Yeah, I mean I've heard that you can get pregnant while on the rag... That doesn't make sense if you follow this logic...
KerryG KerryG 10 years
The title of this post made me laugh. It's pretty much been the story of my life. Before I got pregnant, I had killer cramps more months than not. Since giving birth, I've been having (painless, thank god) periods every three weeks starting when my daughter was six weeks old, despite breastfeeding her exclusively until she started solids at five months. I would LOVE to know "what the heck is going on," but all doctors seem to be able to tell me is that my hormones are screwed up. Which, duh. ~sighs~ Otherwise, I agree with Greggie that cycles are not nearly so cut and dried in terms of when you are and are not fertile as this sort of information implies. Any number of things can throw your cycle off and affect when your fertile days fall within your cycle. My daughter wasn't conceived in the 10-18 range either.
Greggie Greggie 10 years
That's why the article scares me - it's not teaching women the correct way to avoid pregnancy. You cannot count days and have it be effective.
ccsugar ccsugar 10 years
That last sentence is scaring me Greggie.
Greggie Greggie 10 years
Could we PLEASE stop stating this "Day 10-18" ovulation thing like it's a given for all women? If you're not using ovulation-supression birth control and want to avoid pregnancy, you shouldn't have sex while showing fertile signs, no matter what day in your cycle you are. NONE of my pregnancies have been conceived from days 10-18.
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