Fertility Friday: Unleashing The Power In A Woman’s Cycle (guest post)
By Guest Blogger on Friday 3rd February 2012
For centuries, the female menstrual cycle has been shrouded in mystery; a taboo subject, seen as unclean or a ‘curse’. But it shouldn’t be like that. Every woman has a right to know what is happening in her body, and the empowerment that comes with this knowledge is amazing. Let’s look at some of the basics.
A woman’s menstrual cycle starts on the first day of her period and ends on the day before the next period starts. There is a general assumption that the cycle lasts for 28 days – but in reality, only 5-10% of women have a regular 28 day cycle.
Another assumption is that a woman will ovulate in the middle of her cycle, usually taken to be day 14. But if your cycle isn’t the textbook 28 days, then it is unlikely that you will ovulate on day 14.
The cycle is split into 2 phases.
The first phase – often called the pre-peak or follicular phase – starts on day 1 of the period and ends on the day of ovulation (referred to as the peak day).
The second phase – known as the post-peak or luteal phase – starts on the day after ovulation and ends on the day before next period starts. The average length of the post-peak phase is 13 days, but this may vary for each individual. However, this phase is generally very consistent so once a woman has worked out what her typical post-peak length is, it will only vary by a day or so every cycle. This gives her a very reliable indicator of when her period is due. In contrast to this, the pre-peak phase can be very variable in length, so this is what makes cycles irregular. The key to being able to work out the length of these two phases is being able to identify when ovulation takes place.
There are a number of ways of doing this, ranging from ovulation predictor kits, taking temperature and monitoring changes in the cervix but by far the most simple and reliable method is to observe changes in cervical mucus. A woman can do this by observing the tissue when she wipes, every time she visits the bathroom. Changes in the mucus are governed by events that are happening in the ovary, as follows: Every cycle, an immature egg is selected in one of the ovaries and a follicle will develop around the egg. As the follicle gets bigger, it produces increasing amounts of the hormone oestrogen. At the point of ovulation, the follicle bursts and releases the egg, which passes into the fallopian tube. The follicle breaks down and becomes a corpus luteum. The level of oestrogen drops and the corpus luteum produces another hormone called progesterone. These two hormones cause significant changes to happen in the lining of the uterus, preparing it to receive and sustain a new life. However, they also have an impact on the cervix, which is an organ at the opening, or neck, of the uterus. The increasing level of oestrogen stimulates the cervix to produce a mucus discharge that starts off as a cloudy, white, sticky fluid, then progresses to become clear in colour and stretchy in consistency. The woman is also likely to experience a sensation of lubrication when she wipes. If you were to look at this mucus under a microscope, you would see that it is arranged in parallel strands. These effectively act as swimming lanes and allow the sperm to swim through the cervix, into the uterus and out into the fallopian tubes ready to fertilise the egg. The mucus also makes it a sperm-friendly environment and allows the sperm to survive inside the woman’s body for 3 – 5 days. The woman will then notice a dramatic change and her cervical mucus will either dry up or revert to being sticky and cloudy again. This coincides with the fall in the level of oestrogen and the rise in progesterone. The last day that a woman experiences any mucus that is clear, stretchy or lubricative is known as her peak day. This generally correlates with her day of ovulation, but as it is possible to ovulate before or after the peak day, she must consider that she is fertile as soon as she observes the start of her mucus symptoms until 3 full days after the peak.
When a woman’s observations are recorded on a chart she is able to quickly build up a picture of her cycles, identifying her fertile and infertile times. This information can be used by the couple in two ways – either to help them to achieve or avoid a pregnancy. However, it is much more powerful than this because charting will often reveal information about the woman’s gynaecological health. Certain markers, such as the length and characteristics of the menstrual flow, the quality of the mucus and the length of the post-peak phase can indicate potential hormonal imbalances and physiological issues which may require medical treatment and lifestyle changes to address. Stress can also have a huge impact on a woman’s cycle; the body recognises that it would not be good to have a pregnancy during a time of stress so it effectively puts ovulation on hold…resulting in a vicious circle.
The tools are there for you to work with your body, understand your fertility and regain control over what is happening to you using natural, ethical and holistic methods. Embrace your cycle and unleash the power that it holds for you.
Sarah Finch FCP is a practitioner teaching the Creighton Model FertilityCare System. She is based in Reading, Berkshire,UK and works in conjunction with the LIFE FertilityCare Clinic in Leamington Spa, which provides NaPro (Natural Procreative) Technology treatment. For more information, please visit www.natural-fertility.org.uk.
What methods do you use to track your cycle?