Understand Your Menstrual Cycle: 5 Period Myths Revealed: Between parental talks and middle-school health class, it’s safe to say that many women did not get an adequate education in reproductive health. This lack of information is rooted in the taboo subject of women’s bodies and sex, paired with a general spread of misinformation. Often parents and educators didn’t get an adequate education, so the information being passed down is lacking or flat-out wrong.
Understand Your Menstrual Cycle: 5 Period Myths Revealed
Understanding your body as a woman is one of the most empowering tools. It enables women to take back their power and participate in caring for their bodies and their health. The menstrual cycle is indicative of whole-body health. These tools and information enable women to become a part of the conversation with their healthcare providers, and it empowers them to pass on this information to the next generations.
Let’s bust some myths and lay down some facts regarding menstrual cycles because it’s better late than never!
Period Myth #1: You Can Get Pregnant on Every Day of Your Cycle
A major myth often perpetuated by reproductive healthcare educators is that you can fall pregnant at any time during your monthly cycle. This is not true. Women have a fertile window that lasts 5-6 days, and the rest of your period is, in fact, infertile.
Knowing your fertile window requires developing body literacy, a field of reproductive health that teaches you to chart your menstrual cycle, among other things. Various methods include taking your basal body temperature (BBT), becoming aware of your cervical fluid, and the position of your cervix. Knowing your body will enable you to pinpoint your fertile window to over 99% accuracy (when the technique is applied correctly).
Although there are apps out there that predict your fertile window based on previous months, this is not a suitable way to know your fertile window. You should never predict your fertile window because ovulation is impacted by external factors like stress, meaning that the date can vary from month to month.
The symptom-thermal method of charting your cycle is the most accurate and requires observing your body’s state daily to make assessments and conclusions. There are many books and online literature to learn more about. There are also guides, such as Holistic Reproductive Healthcare Practitioners (HRHPs). This guide correctly teaches the Justisse Method on how to chart your menstrual cycle and become body literate.
Knowing your fertile window has significant implications whether you’re interested in avoiding pregnancy or are trying to conceive. If you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, becoming aware of your fertile window means you can better equip yourself during that period and take extra precautions. For those trying to conceive, knowing your fertile window means you can concentrate your efforts at the right time of the month!
Myth #2: You Ovulate Several Days Per Menstrual Cycle
Another common myth within the realm of female reproductive health is that you can ovulate more than one day per month, which is invalid. Although you can release more than one egg, the body begins to release progesterone after ovulation. Progesterone stops ovulation for the rest of your cycle until the time you menstruate.
Unlike rabbits, the female human body undergoes an intricate and specific hormonal pattern leading up to and following ovulation. We do not simply ovulate when sexually aroused (like our long-eared furry friends).
Myth #3: The Length of Your Cycle and When You Ovulate
This “period myth” is essential to understand. If your period is late and you aren’t pregnant, there was likely disruption is the pre-ovulatory phase of your menstrual cycle. As we’ve explored above, you only ovulate once per cycle, and this is the time between your menstruation, and ovulation is the ‘flexible’ part of your period. The phase after ovulation, before menstruation, is known as the luteal phase, and for the most part, it is a fixed number of days.
If your period is ‘late,’ it’s generally due to an influence on your body during that pre-ovulatory phase. Often this means stress, which can be chemical, emotional, or environmental. Common reasons for fluctuations in the duration of your menstrual cycle include:
- Change in an exercise routine
- Sudden change in diet
- Change in sleeping patterns
- Illness (either bacterial or specific to reproductive health and hormones like PCOS, endometriosis, or thyroid disease)
- Too much blue light exposure after sundown
- Too much EMF exposure
- Stress (at work, at home, etc.)
There’s no need to worry if your cycle isn’t exactly 28 days; in fact, for most women, it isn’t. You should keep track of what a typical length is for your body. A healthy range can be between 24-35 days, so being ‘late’ has less to do with the population’s average and more to do with what is normal for you.
It’s also worth noting that women are not robots that always menstruate on the same day each month. Stress is an inevitable part of being human. There is no reason to worry or intervene if you fluctuate slightly from month to month. If your cycle varies wildly from one month to another, you may consider managing stress and addressing lifestyle factors. Also, consider working with a qualified functional medicine practitioner to closely examine your hormone levels.
Period Myth #4: If You Bleed, You Ovulated
Although menstruation always follows ovulation, bleeding doesn’t necessarily mean that you ovulated. The term ‘menstruation’ refers to the bleed after you ovulated, but the bleeding that can happen even if you haven’t ovulated is called a ‘breakthrough bleed.’
Breakthrough bleeding during an anovulatory cycle (a cycle where you don’t ovulate) can happen for a few reasons. To understand, let’s explore the hormonal fluctuations during the menstrual cycle.
An estrogenic hormone called estradiol rises steadily for the first half of a ‘normal’ cycle. This hormone supports the growth of your uterine lining and helps trigger ovulation. Ovulation occurs when an egg (or more) is released in the ovaries, becoming a corpus luteum. At this point, the corpus luteum begins to secrete another hormone called progesterone. This hormone further strengthens the uterine lining in preparation for a potential pregnancy.
If a sperm does not fertilize the egg, it stops producing progesterone, which results in the shedding of the uterine lining, a process that is known as menstruation. Without ovulation, there is no corpus luteum or progesterone secretion, but the uterine wall still sheds at some point. This breakthrough bleed is caused by a drop in estrogen (not progesterone).
There are multiple reasons for anovulatory cycles, generally rooted in stress. Having a significant change in schedule, diet, sleep, or any other lifestyle factor can impact your hormones enough to skip ovulation that month. If anovulatory cycles are chronic, managing stress and examining hormone health with a qualified practitioner is essential. It could be a symptom of various reproductive health or hormonal conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, or thyroid disorders.
Period Myth #5: The Pill Can Be Used to Regulate Your Menstrual Cycle
The pill is an oral contraceptive that uses synthetic hormones to shut down your hormone production. By taking the pill, you are effectively suppressing your body’s natural hormones. Therefore, you do not ovulate, nor do you menstruate.
The bleeds that occur while taking the pill are called breakthrough bleeds. They were introduced as a way to make the pill feel more natural to women in the 1950s when it was first put to the market. Indeed, these bleeds were included as a marketing tool. The manufacturers thought that a birth control pill that completely removed monthly bleeding would sound too unnatural.
Many doctors continue to prescribe the birth control pill as a way to ‘normalize periods’ or ‘regulate hormones.’ However, the reality is that the pill has no such effect on the body. These hormones are not even real hormones. All they do is suppress your body’s natural functions. This may appear to fix the problem, but unfortunately, they suppress it.
When women come off of the pill, they are often faced with these same pre-pill problems. These problems re-emerge, and often, these problems have worsened. It’s important to realize that the pill does not get to the root cause of any hormonal reproductive health issues. Therefore, it should not be taken as a means to heal the body in that way.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of some period myths. With this new understanding, you can gain a more intuitive approach to your menstrual cycles and hormonal health.
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