Journey to Motherhood: Understanding Your Cycle

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Understanding your cycle is important to every woman. It can be a big clue when something is wrong. No two women's cycles are exactly the same and the cycle can vary from month to month. Learning how to observe what part of your cycle you are in can help you know if there's a problem, prevent pregnancy, and conceive.

The average menstrual cycle can last 21 to 35 days.(If your's is shorter/longer, check with your doctor. There may be a issue.) The examples below are of a 28 day cycle, actual cycle days may vary.

*Menstruation (Cycle Day 1-7)
Cycle day 1 is measured from the first day of your period. A normal period can last 2-7 days. 

*Follicular Phase (CD 8-13)
Follicle-stimulating hormone(FSH) is produced causing follicles to develop in ovaries. A follicle is a group of cells that contain an egg. These follicles produce estrogen , which thickens the uterine lining to prepare for the implantation of a fertilized egg. Once the follicle has matured, it moves to the surface of ovary. 

During this phase cervical mucus will go from dry(no mucus) to sticky to creamy(white and creamy, similar texture to lotion) and then right before ovulation it will be wet(wet and slightly stretchy)

*Ovulation (CD 14)
Ovulation occurs 12-16 days before your next period. The rise in estrogen triggers your body to begin producing luteinising hormone (LH). LH signals for the egg to be released from the follicle. It then travels down the Fallopian tube toward the uterus. The egg will only live for 24 hours, unless it is fertilized. 

During ovulation cervical mucus reaches egg white stage(looks like egg whites, clear or pink tinged, slippery and stretchy)

*Luteal Phase (CD 15-28)
The follicle that the egg was released from is now called corpus luteum. It produces large amounts of progesterone. Progesterone helps to maintain the thick uterine lining and is essential for your babies early development. Progesterone is also what you can thank for PMS and pregnancy symptoms.

A woman is only fertile about 1 week each month, since sperm only lives 5 days and the egg 1. These days are the 4 days prior to ovulation, ovulation day and a couple days after ovulation(in case it is delayed).

Ovulation can be determined by:
*Monitoring cervical mucus.
*Using Ovulation Predictor Kits-OPKs detect the surge of LH which occurs 24-78 hours before ovulation. This is helpful is trying to conceive but not a good method if trying to prevent pregnancy.
*Charting (Basal Body Temperature)- This is the best method if trying to prevent pregnancy. After ovulation your BBT spikes and thus confirms that ovulation has taken place.

Knowledge of these fertile periods will help you to know when to avoid intercourse if trying to prevent pregnancy and the best times to conceive.

A good book for a more in depth look at this topic is Taking Charge of Your Fertility

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