One of the first steps towards ‘working with your menstrual cycle’ is to understand your menstrual cycle. Our menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormones which affect our physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Whenever you read about a menstrual cycle, typically, a 28 day cycle will be used as an illustration. Yet the majority of women don’t have a 28 day cycle, do you?!
That’s the first thing you should know about your own cycle, while understanding your entire menstrual cycle is super important for your health and can help detect any irregularities or potential issues.
Tracking Your Menstrual Cycle
The first step you need to take to understand your menstrual cycle it to track it. I’ve been tracking my cycles for around 6-8 years now and the information I’ve gathered has been invaluable.
Recently when investigating some hormone related issues, one GP wrote “early menopause?” on my records but I was certain that although some symptoms overlapped, my cycle reassured me that this wasn’t the case.
I used various apps over the years (and still do) including Period Tracker, Wild AI, FitrWoman, Garmin and Whoop; more recently, I’ve also started using the app Natural Cycles.
Recommended Reading – Period Power: Harness Your Hormones and Get Your Cycle Working For You
Recommended Reading – You Can Have a Better Period
Natural Cycles App Review
I started using the Natural Cycles app in December 2022 on a yearly subscription and have been super diligent about entering my temperature into the app each morning so it can get to know my cycle and provide accurate insights.
Changes in body temperature are used in the Natural Cycles app as a way to track ovulation and predict fertile days as your temperature changes throughout your cycle due to hormonal fluctuations.
During the first half of the cycle, estrogen levels are high, causing a slight increase in body temperature. After ovulation, when the dominant hormone shifts to progesterone, body temperature rises further and remains elevated until the start of the next period.
The temperature shift is usually only a fraction of a degree, so tracking it requires using a basal body temperature thermometer and monitoring it every morning before getting out of bed.
I keep my thermometer on my bedside table and it takes less than a minute to get my temperature and enter it into the app. I added a shortcut on my iPhone so that when I open the app each morning, my torch turns on for 10 seconds making it easier to read the thermometer on dark Autumn / Winter mornings.
There is also the option to use luteinising hormone (LH) tests to support prediction of ovulation. LH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that triggers ovulation, the release of an egg from the ovary. The tests measure the levels of luteinising hormone in your urine as typically there is a surge 24-48 hours before ovulation.
Natural Cycles Discount Code
Natural Cycles run a refer a friend scheme which will give you 20% off a Natural Cycles° annual subscription and a free thermometer using this link.
Please note that Natural Cycles promote themselves as a hormone free contraceptive solution, however, I do not use the app for this nor do I recommend it by sharing my referral code.
Understanding A Shorter Menstrual Cycle
According to Natural Cycles, I have a regular cycle. I did retrospectively enter periods for the past 1-2 years to help the algorithm get to know me and my cycle a little faster.
Speaking to fellow Coach Alison recently, we were chatting about how there is very limited information around when it comes to shorter menstrual cycles so I committed to sharing mine as just over 3 weeks, and very rarely (if ever) 28 days long.
Here’s an overview of my typical cycle:
MY AVERAGE CYCLE LENGTH & VARIATION: 24+/- 2 days
PERIOD: 5 days
FOLLICULAR PHASE: 12+/- 1 day (avg temp 36.32 +/- 0.16C)
OVULATION: Cycle Day 13+/- 1 day
LUTEAL PHASE: 12+/- 1 day (avg temp 36.70 +/- 0.18C)
The Story Of My Cycle
My period story began around the age of 13 in my first year of secondary school. One of my first memories of being on my period was going ice skating and having the time of my life, pain free and comfortable. But with each monthly cycle came more pain, more discomfort and a loss of motivation to move, never mind be physically active.
The doctor put me on strong medication which worked for a while; then my body got used to them and the pain would again worsen each month. The final option was to go on the pill. And that story literally covers the story of my cycle up to the age of 31.
How The Pill Worked For Me
I stopped taking the pill back in 2016 after ~17 years. Half the reason was because I was unorganised and didn’t realise I had run out, before being really slot to request a repeat prescription and getting it fulfilled. The other half of the reason was that I was curious to have a time in my life where I could fully be “me” without adding hormones into my system and a opportunity to get to know my body.
Now, I’m not an advocate for the pill at all – I 100% believe in choice where each individual does whatever works for their body. The side affects can sometimes outweigh the benefits but this just happened to not be the case for me.
Recommended Reading – Sweetening The Pill
Recommended Reading – Vagina: A New Biography
Whilst I was on the pill, it allowed me to control if / when I had a period in turn allowing me to take part in sport, exercise and physical activity without wondering how I would feel or if I would be up to it.
In the final few years though, I did start to question how good / bad the pill may have been for my body and after speaking to several friends about, I did try to have the conversation with my Doctor to ask if I should take a break.
My Doctors response was that I “still [had] 5 more years” (up to age 35). I wasn’t completely happy with that response but continued with the pill anyway as it basically was all that I knew.
I do wonder if some of my issues post the pill (like acne) have been related, but basically, I will never really know.
Do you know all the ins and outs of your menstrual cycle?