Guess what I heard in my clinic, again!
Here’s something I hear often in my clinic when I’m gathering information on client’s cycles. ‘Oh yes, I have regular cycles, from 28 to 35 days…’
Hmmmm. A cycle with a variable length like this is NOT regular! A healthy cycle can be anywhere between 21 and 35 days, (28 days is only an AVERAGE) but regularity means that you have the same cycle length each month.
Why should my cycle be regular?
If you are not taking any contraceptive medication, a natural menstrual cycle *should* have two definite phases – the follicular – building up to ovulation, and the luteal – post ovulation, with a day for ovulation in the middle. Each phase has a purpose, and each needs to be long enough so your intricately balanced hormones can do their jobs.
What would a regular cycle be like?
Cycle timing is based on a series of events taking place in the ovaries. First, ovarian follicles are at the end of their development – this is the follicular phase, and should last around two weeks (but it can be shorter or much longer). Second, you have ovulation, which lasts about 24 hours. Finally you have the luteal phase – which is usually around 14 days. Adding this together, a healthy cycle can be anywhere from 21 to 35 days.
The follicular phase – what is happening?
The follicles maturing during this cycle started developing months ago – they take 100 days to mature from the dormant/sleeping stage to ovulation. If they become unhealthy during any part of that development process, you are likely to see a period/cycle problem months later – this is why regularising cycles can be a long term (3 months+) project. We can’t fix issues with a snap of the fingers – addressing issues over a period of time is much more likely to have an effect, but it’s not instant!
During the follicular phase, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) rises, which stimulates the ovarian follicles. The developing follicles release an oestrogen (estradiol), which helps to stimulate the uterine lining into thickening in preparation for a baby. It also stimulates the production of fertile cervical fluids, which helps sperm survive and travel towards the egg that should be released at ovulation.
When a dominant follicle finally ripens, luteinising hormone (LH) triggers it to rupture and release its egg – this is ovulation and marks your ‘fertile window’ if you are trying to conceive. The next stage of the cycle is the luteal phase!
Luteal phase – what should happen?
The luteal phase is all about preparing for a pregnancy, and relies on the production of progesterone. Progesterone is magic – it’s made from the empty follicle (now called the corpus luteum) which restructures itself into a gland which secretes progesterone hormone. The corpus luteum is the final stage of the follicle’s 100 day development – so its health is affected by EVERYTHING that affects the follicles during that time.
Progesterone helps increase blood flow to the uterus, making it soft and ready to hold a developing embryo. It keeps the uterine lining intact, in order to sustain a pregnancy. Your basal body temperature rises with progesterone levels. It also balances your oestrogen, and is known as the calming hormone, which can help promote sleep, reduce inflammation, and help you cope with stress.
Problems of short or long cycles
Irregular cycles are an issue, as they are an indicator of fluctuating hormone levels. Of course, our hormones are supposed to fluctuate throughout our cycle, but if they’re doing it at the wrong time, we start to see issues like scanty or heavy bleeds, spotting, PMS and painful periods.
Knowing if you are ovulating or not can be a bit of a mystery, unless you are monitoring signs during your cycle. This would mean charting a basal body temperature every day, observing cervical fluids, positive urine ovulation stick, and having a regular cycle!
Periods are not a sign of ovulation. You can have a cycle without ovulation (anovulation) which is like a follicular phase, followed by breakthrough bleeding, which would again indicate your cycle needs help. They should come every 35 days, otherwise this is irregular, which indicates anovulation or a very long follicular phase. If your period comes before 21 days, this is a short cycle, again an irregular cycle which is anovulatory, short follicular phase OR short luteal phase – which indicates progesterone issues.
What can I do to support a regular cycle?
We can see that not ovulating, spotting, painful periods and variable length cycles can each (or combined) have a potentially negative affect on fertility, because the cycle does not provide optimal conditions for pregnancy, or a smooth transition between one cycle and the next.
Be aware that it can take a few months for anything you do to have an effect on your cycle. My suggestion if you have irregular cycles is to start charting your cycle, not just your period, because this gives you valuable information. You can use that information for the NEXT cycle and those beyond.
With my clients, I recommend using either a digital thermometer and temperature charting app like Fertility Friend (my favourite, for lots of reasons, go and have a look!), or a medical device like Ovusense – who offer an internal or skin-worn monitor, enabling you to chart with very little effort. Doing this, together with monitoring your cervical fluids can help you see patterns, and whether you are ovulating (or not).
* Track your period – is it light, heavy, how long does it last, do you experience pain, sore breasts etc. Remember emotional changes too – irritation, tearfulness and so on are also related to cycle wellbeing. They are all clues to the state of your hormones. If you’ve recently stopped hormonal contraception, expect cycles to take up to a year to re-establish themselves naturally. Yes, it can take that long!
* Simple lifestyle changes can have a massive impact – and they are usually good for your overall wellbeing too. A balanced and functioning menstrual cycle means your life will be more pleasant – hormones working together instead of wobbling around. Look at your stress factors, what can you do to reduce them? Are you taking any time out for yourself – daily walks, a bit of fun etc. Are you eating regular meals with proteins and veggies, to support gut and brain health? Are you taking Vitamin D during the winter months?
* What about sleep? – it’s an important factor in hormone health – for everyone, not just people trying to conceive. Do you have a dark enough room to get to sleep, and are you getting to bed at a sensible time. Are you switching screens off 2 hours before bedtime, excluding them from the bedroom? We live in such a ‘switched on’ world now, it does matter that you take time out and allow your body and brain to switch off.
Investigate my website and social media – I have tips, advice and downloads that might help you. Ask for advice – did you know that I offer a FREE discovery call to potential clients who are looking for support? Book yours here.
Finally, invest in an expert (and yourself!) if you need in-depth and personalised advice. They take a lot of the hard work and uncertainty on for you – that’s why they’re experts! I can work with you, using my unique blend of therapies, specialist knowledge and experience to support your progress towards balanced and regular hormone health. Regular, specific reflexology protocols designed to support hormone balance have proven results in improving cycle issues like those I have discussed in this post (check on the Association of Reproductive Reflexologists page for case studies and data). Don’t leave it to Dr Google, get in touch with me using the contact form – it’s on every page of this site!
Tell me, are your cycles regular?