Understanding the True Purpose of Your Period

Almost every woman has an embarrassing story about her period. Maybe there was an early start that left you a little unprepared, or a heavy flow day that led to a sudden need for an extra pair of pants, or maybe you thought it was over, only to realize later that you could have used a tampon for one last day. Periods can be hard and embarrassing, so why do we have them? What’s the point of them anyway?


What is Menstruation?

Some women don’t know that the menstrual cycle has more than one phase and that a period is only part of it. In reality, your menstrual cycle has four phases in it, each with its own symptoms, hormones, and benefits. Each phase is important to understand, and if something is wrong in one phase, it will probably affect the other phases. Your cycle exists to nurture a fertilized egg as it develops throughout pregnancy, and if you aren’t pregnant, your body will start the cycle all over again in preparation for conception next month. 


Phases of the Menstrual Cycle

There are four main hormones that are looked at when talking about fertility and your period: estrogen, progesterone, the luteinizing hormone, and the follicle-stimulating hormone. These hormones fluctuate throughout the month, which is what triggers your body to move into the next phase. Although fluctuating hormones cause some less-than-ideal side effects (mood swings, acne, sleep issues, and more), going through a cycle means your body is healthy and functioning normally, so don’t be too hard on yourself next time you get a pimple on your period! It means your body is doing what it is supposed to be doing!


 Here is a little glimpse of what is happening during each of these phases:


The menses phase: (around day 1-7) – 

The menstrual cycle starts with the menses phase on day 1, the lining of your uterus has thickened in order to prepare a space to nurture the potential pregnancy. When pregnancy doesn’t occur, your body sheds the thickened uterine lining through your vagina. This is the phase you know as your period. If your period is late you have a reason to believe you might be pregnant. It might be best to take a pregnancy test. First Choice offers free pregnancy tests to women who think they may be pregnant.  

Symptoms: This phase brings the most noticeable symptoms, including mood swings, increased appetite, sleep disturbances, headaches, and cramping.


The follicular phase: (around day 1-14) – 

The follicular phase starts on the first day of your period and lasts until ovulation, overlapping with the menses phase. During this time, your body prepares multiple follicles, and one of these follicles will eventually mature into an egg with the potential to be fertilized. When the follicles are developing, they secrete estrogen, which thickens the uterine lining for possible egg implantation. 

Symptoms: This is often the time during your cycle that you feel the most like yourself, and women tend to feel calm and peaceful. 


Ovulation: (around day 14)

Ovulation is the event of the egg being released by the ovary, marking your fertile phase, which lasts just 12-24 hours. This means you could wake up not fertile and become fertile by night! While this fertility window is brief for women, men are always fertile. Since sperm can live in the vagina for up to 5 days, a couple’s fertile window is extended to 5 days long. So if you have sex 5 days or less before you ovulate, you have a high potential of getting pregnant. 

Symptoms:  Despite being the shortest phase, ovulation has clear signs, such as a heightened sex drive, a softer cervix, and cervical mucus that becomes clear and stretchy, similar to egg whites.


The luteal phase: (around day 14-28)  

The luteal phase begins with ovulation and overlaps, as the follicular phase does with the menses phase. The luteal phase is crucial because if you conceive, it’s when the fertilized egg embeds itself in the thickened lining of your uterus, where it will remain throughout pregnancy to grow and be nurtured. One in five women experience cramping during this phase as your egg – fertilized or not – makes its way down the fallopian tubes. 

Symptoms: At the end of this phase you may experience PMS symptoms that are typically associated with your period. It’s normal to feel bloated, tired, or have cravings. 


Exploring the Onset and Frequency of Menstrual Cycles


Girls usually get their first period anywhere between 11-15 years old. From that point on, a typical menstrual cycle will occur on a monthly basis until menopause (around age 51) . On average, the menstrual cycle lasts about 28 days, but it’s completely normal for cycles to vary between 21 to 35 days in adults and 21 to 45 days in young teens. A healthy period should last anywhere between 2- 7 days, with 5 being the average. The duration of your menstrual cycle might change over time and can be influenced by various factors.


Factors Affecting the Menstrual Cycle

Let’s talk about how different things in your life might affect your menstrual cycle:

  • Stress: Significant stress can lead to changes in your menstrual cycle, including missed or irregular periods.
  • Lifestyle Changes: Shifts in your daily routine, such as changes in diet or exercise habits, can influence your cycle.
  • Health Conditions: Certain medical issues, like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or problems with your thyroid, can impact your menstrual health. 
  • Medications and Contraceptives: Taking certain medications, like birth control pills, can also affect the regularity and symptoms of your menstrual cycle.
  • STDs: Certain STDs or PIDs (pelvic inflammatory disease) can lead you to have irregular periods. First Choice offers free STD testing if you think you have come into contact with an STD. 


It’s completely normal for your period to be slightly different from month to month. But if you notice any big changes or if you’re feeling uncomfortable, it’s a good idea to talk to a doctor. They can help you understand what’s going on and give you advice on how to feel better. 


It is best to start keeping track of your cycle, whether it’s through a period app on your phone or with handwritten notes, knowing the exact dates, lengths, and flow can be helpful in diagnosing any problems. Taking care of your body is important, and getting help when you need it is a smart move.

But whether your cycle is regular or a bit more unpredictable, it’s uniquely yours. Sure, there might be days when you feel like your uterus is turning against you, but remember – your body is doing great things. You’re not alone in this and together, we can navigate the twists and turns with grace, humor, and maybe a little extra chocolate.


Schedule An Appointment

If you think you could be pregnant, please come in for a pregnancy test and to receive information about your options. All of our services are free of charge.

Pregnancy tests are the only service that can be scheduled online. STD screens and ultrasounds must be scheduled via phone or text.