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What more women should know about their menstrual cycles

Updated: Aug 9

Sexual education is seriously lacking. The amount of women who do not understand their menstrual cycles and anatomy is alarming.

Now, I don't say this lightly, but it has to be said: The education system has failed women. We have been led to believe lies about our bodies that stick with most of us for the rest of our lives.

Below are the top two things I wish we were taught in school about our cycles and bodies.

Truth #1 - Pregnancy can only happen in one 24 - 36 hour window of a woman's cycle

Yes, you read that correctly! We've been fed a myth that we can get pregnant randomly throughout the month, and that is a flat out lie! Because of this myth, women feel tied to taking hormonal birth control for fear of becoming pregnant at anytime throughout their cycle. We have not been taught the basics when it comes to our anatomy and the signs our body gives us to indicate when key moments, like ovulation is about to happen.

Pregnancy can only occur if ovulation takes place. Ovulation is when an ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tubes. If that egg is not fertilized within 24 hours of its release, the egg is reabsorbed by the body and you'll have to wait until the next month to try to get pregnant.

Pregnancy can only occur if ovulation takes place. If that egg is not fertilized within 24 hours of its release, you'll have to wait until the next month to try to get pregnant.

You're probably thinking, "Ok, that's great, but how come my period tracking app says my fertile window is 5-7 days?"

Ahh, that's a great question!

Technically, the fertile window is 5-7 days because sperm can live within the female reproductive tract up to 5 days after unprotected sex. Also, ovulation happens when there is a spike in a hormone called Luteinizing Hormone (LH) from the brain that triggers the ovary to release an egg. After the LH spike, ovulation can occur in about 24 - 36 hours. Hence, the fertile window of 5-7 days.

Sperm can live within the female reproductive tract up to 5 days.

But, Dr. Francesca, how do I know if I've ovulated?

Oh, there are so many signs to know if you've ovulated. I touched on one sign earlier: the spike in LH. You can track your LH surges with LH test strips, also known as ovulation predictor strips.

The other signs of ovulation bring me to Truth #2...

Truth #2 - Fertility awareness can look like tracking your temperature and cervical fluid

Ovulation is an event that takes place about halfway through your cycle and marks the end of the follicular phase and start of the luteal phase, leading up to your period about 2 weeks later. By understanding the signs of ovulation, you can better understand your cycle and your body.

By understanding the signs of ovulation, you can better understand your cycle and your body.

Aside from LH strips to track LH surges, you can track things like basal body temperature (BBT), cervical mucus and position, libido (sex drive), and possible ovulation cramp and mid-cycle spotting. Tracking these signs, specifically basal body temperature, is called the Fertility Awareness Method (FAM).

Basal body temperature (BBT)

After ovulation, progesterone rises and triggers an increase of basal body temperature.

Tracking BBT requires taking your temperature with a basal thermometer every morning before getting out of bed at the same time each morning. BBT is a helpful indicator that confirms the event of ovulation rather than using LH strips to predict or speculate ovulation occurred.

BBT is not a perfect indicator as it is influenced by factors such as alcohol consumption, illness, and stress.

There are many basal thermometers on the market, but the one I use and recommend to my patients is the Tempdrop. It is a wearable thermometer that you wear overnight while sleeping. The best part of it is that it can tell when you are awake and records your waking temperature without you having to set an alarm at the same time every morning to take your temperature with a standard oral basal thermometer.

For 10% off of your Tempdrop, click here or use code: AFDRFRANCESCA at checkout.

Cervix position

Did you know your anatomy can indicate which phase of your cycle you are in?

Your cervix is the lower part or "neck" of your uterus and top of the vaginal canal. The firmness and opening of the cervix changes throughout your cycle.

Right before ovulation, your cervix prepares for conception by feeling softer and slightly open; it will also be raised within your vaginal canal. Before and after ovulation, the cervix will be positioned lower in the vaginal canal and feel hard (like the tip of your nose) and closed.

Cervical mucus

Think of cervical mucus as the lubrication for the sperm to travel into the uterus. So, during the days leading up to ovulation, you will notice your cervical mucus more fluid and watery making it easier for sperm to travel up the vaginal canal and making sex more enjoyable. Other times during your cycle, you may notice stickier discharge or none at all.

Increased sex drive

This sign is due to the surges of estrogen and testosterone before ovulation occurs. This is your body's way of telling you it is prime time to start trying to conceive.

Ovulation twinge

Often, women experience a low abdominal twinge or cramp mid-cycle. This is known as Mittelschmerz.

Mid-cycle spotting

Light mid-cycle spotting is common with ovulation. However, if this is unusual for you or if you are experiencing heavy bleeding, it is very important to consult your doctor.

Knowing the ins and outs of your body is true female empowerment

I hope this blog post has given you the knowledge to better understand your body and how to decipher the signs your body is giving you.

Want to work together?

If you’d like to work with me and get a more in depth look at your hormones and cycle, call The Adapt Lab clinic at 858.209.2400 to make an appointment. I look forward to helping you get your health back on track!

*Disclaimer: Although I am a doctor, I may not be your doctor. The information contained within the pages of this site are for educational purposes only and should not to be used to treat conditions. Please consult with your doctor before implementing any of the treatments, diets, supplements, etc. mentioned in this blog.*

*As an affiliate for Amazon and other companies, Dr. Francesca receives a small commission from the products linked in this blog.*

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