Published by Hera Fertility
October 17, 2023
Oh, the menstrual cycle. It’s a natural, complex, and often mysterious journey that nearly every person with a uterus experiences at some point in their life.
Every month it’s a rollercoaster of hormones, emotions and physical changes that can leave even the most knowledgeable — and in-tune-with-their bodies — person feeling baffled at times.
This confusion extends down to the very definition of the menstrual cycle. “Some people might not know what a ‘cycle’ means, because we’re often taught that it’s your period,” says Cindy Golubisky, Clin Ops & Fertility Clinician at Hera Fertility.
But your period is just part of the whole menstrual process, one that typically lasts 28-34 days. Some people diligently track their cycles and know the precise date that their period will start. Others just let nature take its course and don’t spend too much time thinking about it, making their periods more of a surprise.
[Read our blog post: The truth about female infertility diagnosis and testing]
If you’re planning to get pregnant at some point, though, understanding your menstrual cycle is key. And for those seeking fertility help, one of the first questions you’ll be asked is: What day did your last period start?
“No matter what treatment somebody does, we always want to know what day they get their period, because that’s how we can instruct them, and guide them to what happens next,” Golubisky explains.
Whether you’re planning to get pregnant or not, knowing how the menstrual cycle works can be empowering: At any given time you can recognize what phase you’re in, and recognize the often subtle — but extraordinary— changes in your body.
So what’s really going on down there? Let’s break it down into the four main phases.
Menstrual Phase (Days 1-5): Setting the Scene
The first phase of the menstrual cycle is the “menstrual phase,” which is also known as your period. This might seem confusing, but remember: Your period is not your whole menstrual cycle — just a part of it.
The menstrual phase marks the shedding of the uterine lining, which was built up in anticipation of a potential pregnancy in the previous cycle. When conception doesn’t occur, the body says, “It’s time to start over.”