When you ovulate, if there are no sperm cells in your fallopian tube – either because you haven’t had sex or you used a contraceptive – then the egg won’t be fertilised. Your body then gets rid of the lining of the womb, so mucous and blood comes out of your vagina. This is called menstruation, or having your period. In general, it lasts between 4 and 7 days.
Your menstrual cycle runs from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. This takes about 28 days (4 weeks), but different people’s cycles vary between 21 – 42 days (3-6 weeks).
Phase I: Menstruation (Day 1 to Day 5)
On the first day of your cycle, the tissue from the lining of the womb, the blood, and the unfertilised egg cell leave your body through your vagina. You have your period. In a 28-day cycle, this phase lasts between one and five days. Don’t worry if your period is as short as 2 days or as long as 8 days. This is normal.
Phase II: Follicular (Day 6-14)
After your period ends, your womb lining begins to get thicker. Also, one of your ovaries produces one mature unfertilised egg. You may notice changes in vaginal discharge. It may become stickier, white, milky, or cloudy. These changes may signal that you are entering the fertile time of the month.
Just before you ovulate, your vaginal discharge may change to a texture and colour similar to a raw egg white. This discharge can be slippery and clear, which can help sperm travel to the egg. Like the menstruation phase, the length of this phase varies: it can be as short as 7 days or as long as 19.
Phase III: Ovulation (Day 14)
During ovulation, the ovary releases a mature egg, which passes into the fallopian tube. Some women may feel a slight pain on one side of their lower back or abdominal area around the time of ovulation. This too is normal. Ovulation takes place about 14 days after the first day of your period. Meanwhile, the lining of your womb gets even thicker.
Signs of Ovulation
Some women experience changes when they are ovulating like:
- a change in vaginal discharge
- a brief pain or dull ache felt on one side of the abdomen
- an increased desire for sex
- a bloated abdomen
- a keener sense of vision, smell, or taste
Phase IV: Ovulation to Menstruation (Day 15-Day 28)
The released egg travels down the fallopian tube to the womb. The womb lining gets even thicker to receive the egg. If the egg isn’t fertilised by a sperm cell, it dies. Your body gets rid of the extra womb lining and egg cell, and your period starts again.
If the egg cell is fertilised and it settles into the lining of the womb, and your period doesn’t come: you’re pregnant. The menstrual cycle stops until after you give birth.