Understanding the female menstrual Cycle

Getting your period is a normal and healthy part of being a woman and understanding the female menstrual cycle is important. Young girls should not be terrified, rather should be prepared for puberty’s biggest event - having your period or menstruating. Menstruation begins during puberty, usually 12 or 13, but it can start anytime between 8 and 16.

Here are the most frequently asked questions about menstrual cycles:

What is a menstrual cycle?

The female menstrual cycle is how a woman’s body prepares for the possibility of pregnancy each month. A cycle usually averages about 28 days long and starts on the first day of a period. However, a cycle can range anywhere from 23 to 35 days.

What happens during the cycle?

There are four phases of the female menstrual cycle:

The first phase is menstruation – or having your period. The lining of the uterus (the endometrium) breaks up and flows from the uterus through the small opening of the cervix, and passes out of the body through the vagina. The menstrual flow is actually a mixture made up of blood, mucus, and body cells. The flow might be red or quite dark, and might include some clumps or clots. Most menstrual periods last from three to five days.

The second phase is pre-ovulation phase. Right after your period ends, the ovaries start to prepare another egg, or ovum, for release in the fallopian tubes.

The third phase is ovulation. Here, the egg is released from the ovary into the fallopian tubes. If the egg becomes fertilized by a sperm cell, it attaches itself to the uterine wall and a fetus will begin to develop. Ovulation usually occurs 14 days before the start of your next period.

The fourth phase of the female menstrual cycle is the premenstrual phase. If the egg is not fertilized, the thickened lining of the uterus is shed during the menstrual period, as a new menstrual cycle starts all over again.

What is a menstrual period?

The menstrual period is a woman’s monthly bleeding. A girl’s period may not be the same every month, and can vary from girl to girl. Periods can be light, moderate, or heavy, and the length of the period also varies. While most menstrual periods last from three to five days, anywhere from two to seven days is considered normal. For the first few years after menstruation begins, periods may be very irregular.

Sanitary pads or tampons, which are made of cotton or another absorbent material, are worn to absorb the blood flow. Sanitary napkins (pads) should be changed as often as necessary, before the pad is soaked with menstrual flow. Tampons should be changed every 4 hours. Make sure that you use the lowest absorbency of tampon available.

How long does a woman have periods?

A woman will no longer be able to reproduce once she reaches menopause, usually around the age of 50. Menopause means that a woman is no longer ovulating (producing eggs) and therefore can no longer become pregnant. Like menstruation, menopause can vary from woman to woman and may take several years to occur.

Learn about pain relief during the female menstrual cycle.


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