Phases of the menstrual cycle

What are the different stages of your monthly cycle?


The menstrual cycle is the continuous changes that happen within a woman’s body, marked by a monthly period. There are four phases of the menstrual cycle which serves to prepare the body for pregnancy in women of childbearing age. 

These phases are called: 

  • menstrual phase
  • follicular phase
  • ovulation phase
  • luteal phase

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Menstruation is when you have your monthly period. This is when your body recognises that no pregnancy has taken place, and therefore rids itself of the thickened womb lining which was in place ready to nurture a fertilised egg. This leaves your body as menstrual blood, combined with mucus and tissue.

This is different for every woman, but on average you can expect your period to last between 5-7 days. You’ll usually notice light bleeding at first which will darken as your period comes to an end. It’s normal for women to experience the following symptoms: 

  • Cramps
  • Mood swings
  • Feeling irritable and tired
  • Bloating
  • Tenderness in the breasts
  • Lower back discomfort 


Follicular phase

This is where follicles are produced inside of your ovaries, each one containing an egg. This starts to happen on day one of your period and up to 20 are created over a period of around 16 days. Whichever egg is the healthiest will mature and go on to be released during ovulation. While this follicle is growing, it triggers a rush of the oestrogen hormone which causes the lining of the womb to become thicker. 



Ovulation is when an egg is released from your ovary, which makes its way down the fallopian tube and into the womb. It’s at this point when you are fertile and can become pregnant: the womb is thick and ready to receive an egg and the egg itself is available to be fertilised if sperm was to enter. 

This happens midway through your cycle, which is day 14 on average. A slightly higher temperature and thicker vaginal discharge are indications that you are ovulating. Some women experience ovulation pains during this time. 


Luteal phase

Remember the follicle which housed the mature egg before it was released into the womb? This follicle now forms something called a corpus luteum which keeps the level of progesterone hormones high, preparing the body for pregnancy. This phase lasts for around 14 days and is the time between ovulation and your period starting. 

If a pregnancy doesn’t happen, then the hormone levels drop and the corpus luteum shrinks and is absorbed back into the body. It’s this drop in hormones that triggers the symptoms often associated with menstruation, such as changes to your mood. 


How long is the menstrual cycle?

This is different for every woman and can change over time. It can be anywhere between 21 and 35 days, with 28 days being the average. Some women experience irregularities in their periods so they may not happen in the same time frame each month. This is especially true for younger teens who are still going through puberty. 

What’s normal for one woman, might be completely different from another. It’s important to become familiar with your own cycle and body, getting to know what’s normal for you. There are some indicators of potential problems, however. These include: 

  • A lot of irregular periods
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Pelvic pain
  • Periods that are longer than 7 days
  • Very heavy bleeding
  • Having periods more or less often than normal 
  • Skipping periods

If you notice something out of the ordinary, speak to your GP to discuss your symptoms. 



The Health Line> Stages of the Menstrual Cycle:

The Health Line> How Does the Corpus Luteum Affect Fertility?

NHS> Periods and Fertility in the Menstrual Cycle:

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