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The menstrual cycle

2 min read
Cycle Care

Approved by

Dorenda van Dijken - Gynecologist
We use many different names for our period: time of the month, red tide, monthly visitor or shark week, you name it. We always know we’re talking about periods. But do you also know what actually happens when you have your period?

You might be thinking: ‘That’s a weird question, of course I know the basics about my period!’ But there’s also a chance you’ve never given it much thought before and that’s totally fine too! We’re here to give you all the detailed information so you can brush up on your knowledge about periods (even more).

What happens during your period is actually pretty simple if you think about it. During your period, your body sheds the built-up mucosa of the uterine lining. When certain hormone levels increase, your uterus starts preparing for pregnancy by thickening the mucosa. When you don’t get pregnant, or if you stop taking the pill, your hormone levels drop again and the mucosa is shed during the menstrual period. Most girls start their period between the age of 11 and 14. But there’s definitely an emphasis on ‘most’ girls, because it’s also pretty normal to start your period at an earlier or later age. 

‘Your cycle repeats itself about 400 times during your life’

That was the short explanation but of course we also have a more detailed one! Your period is a part of your menstrual cycle, a monthly hormonal cycle that your body goes through to prepare for pregnancy. The length of your menstrual cycle can range from 21 to about 35 days. Firstly, the level of the hormone oestrogen rises and the lining of the uterus (also called the endometrium) grows and thickens in preparation for a fertilized egg. Then ovulation takes place, a phase in which the ovaries release an egg that then travels through one of your fallopian tubes to your uterus. It takes the egg about 1 to 36 hours to reach your uterus. When the egg comes across a sperm there’s a chance that it’ll get fertilized and you’ll get pregnant. But only if the fertilized egg implants itself in the lining of the uterus. For example, when your IUD prevents a fertilized egg from implanting, you won’t get pregnant even though the egg is fertilized. 

Now we know what happens when the egg gets fertilized but what about when the egg doesn’t get fertilized? Well, it disintegrates and either gets reabsorbed into the body or leaves your body during your period. When an egg doesn't implant itself in the nicely-made ‘mucosa bed’ in your uterus, your body removes the mucosa again. Your progesterone levels decrease again causing the mucosa of the uterine lining to shed and leave the body during your period. Menstrual bleeding begins about 14 days after ovulation, lasts around 3 to 7 days on average, and you’ll bleed heavier on the first two days.

This whole cycle then starts again right from the beginning, every single month. You’ll get your period about 400 times during your life and it’ll probably stop once you enter the menopause around the age of 50. Probably, because where one woman has no blood loss at all during the perimenopause, another woman still experiences (irregular) blood loss for some years until she enters menopause.

Do you have an irregular cycle? You can read more about it here.

We recommend you to pay your GP a visit  if you have any worries or doubts about your cycle.


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we're in this together

Cycle is a community where all aspects of the female body are discussed freely. From menstruation to menopause: we'll help you understand your body, mind, cycle and sexuality better, with the help of our Cycle Experts.