How To Track Your Menstrual Cycle

by | Oct 3, 2018

In the good ol’ days, keeping track of your period was a matter of marking a red dot in the diary and assuming it would arrive at the same time next month. These days, however – thanks to advances in tech (and a little know-how) – it’s lot easier to predict Aunt Flo’s next visit.

Here, Gynaecologist and fertility specialist Dr Natasha Andreadis, helps simplify what to expect from your cycle.

How many stages are there in a menstrual cycle?

There are four key stages of your menstrual cycle:

  • Menstruation
  • The Follicular phase
  • Ovulation
  • The Luteal phase

Menstruation is the stage most commonly known as your ‘period’ and involves the elimination of the thickened lining of the uterus from the body, through the vagina. A period usually occurs over the course of three – seven days.

The Follicular phase starts on the first day of menstruation and ends with ovulation. During this phase, follicle stimulating hormones are released encouraging the growth of ‘follicles’ by the ovaries. Each of these follicles house an immature egg, where usually only one will mature.

Ovulation occurs about halfway through your cycle, or roughly two weeks before menstruation. During ovulation, a mature egg will travel down a woman’s fallopian tubes, where fertilization may occur. Once the egg is released (ovulated), it has 24 hrs to fertilise, hence it’s best for sperm to be waiting in the fallopian tube to maximise chances of pregnancy.

The luteal phase occurs after ovulation and before menstruation, during which your ovaries will produce the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is essentially telling the lining of your uterus to grow, in preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy doesn’t occur, this lining sheds bringing the start of menstruation.

RELATED: The One Workout You Should Be Doing When You’re On Your Period

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What are the most notable signs of each stage?

Menstruation

  • Pelvic or abdominal cramping
  • Fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Bloating
  • Bleeding from the vagina

The Follicular Phase

  • Increase libido
  • Boosts of energy

Ovulation

  • Rise in basal body temperature
  • Thicker discharge
  • Vaginal spotting

The Luteal Phase

  • Mood swings
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Changes in libido
  • Weight gain

Should you tailor lifestyle factors (i.e., sleep, exercise, food) around where you’re at in your cycle? 

Every woman’s cycle is different, and as such different lifestyle factors will affect the different stage of your menstrual cycle. For example, many women often have issues with their sleep a week or so before their period. You may want to account for this and allow for some extra time to rest.

A lack of sleep can also be due to the source of irritability and moodiness. I like to use my Fitbit Versa to track sleep for this reason and understand how much I’m actually getting during the different phases.

For many, exercises such as yoga and pilates during menstruation does much to manage pain caused by cramps and improve your overall blood flow in the body. This again may help to reduce bloating, improve your mood, and assist with sleep.

Diet plays a key role in the quality of menstrual cycles and period pain. Do you eat lots of junk? Processed foods? Dairy? Gluten? Alcohol? Caffeine? Reducing these or eliminating them completely may help make your cycles less problematic.

I recommend a great book called Healthy Hormones by Belinda Kirkpatrick, Naturopath. She discusses not only diet but useful supplements too. Supplements can be very effective, provided you take the right ones for the right reasons.

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Is it normal for your cycle to change month to month?

The regularity of your menstrual cycle is a good sign of gynaecological health, while non-existent or irregular periods can indicate underlying issues. This also applies to the heaviness of your period. Although it’s not uncommon for your menstrual cycle to change somewhat month to month, there should not be dramatic changes.

What influences this?

Cycle irregularity can be caused by a variety of factors including over exercising, stress, low body weight or poor nutrition. Additionally, irregularity could also be the signs of conditions such as Polycystic ovarian syndrome or ovarian insufficiency or the beginning of menopause.

Heavy periods (80mls of blood or more) can be due to structural issues such as fibroids, polyps, adenomyosis, endometriosis, or normal hormonal changes such as the perimenopause.

What’s the best way to track your cycle?

As your cycle can sometimes fluctuate over days and months, it’s useful to wear a Fitbit which has Female Health Tracking to ensure you’re in sync with your body and understand where you’re at in your cycle. The added benefits of Female Health Tracking are that data is collected over time, helping users predict when their period is due or estimate when their fertile window will occur.

What is considered the ‘norm’ when it comes to women’s cycles?

Again, there is no such thing as ‘normal’ when it comes to menstrual cycles as every woman’s body is different. A common cycle usually involves menstruation taking place anywhere over the course of three to seven days once every three to four weeks. Typical blood loss levels are between 10-35ml. Additionally, although pain during your period is common, pain levels should NOT be intolerable.

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If yours is off track, what should you do?

If you’ve noticed your cycle is off track or irregular, a really useful first step is to see how your lifestyle choices over the month have differed from months prior. Another really useful feature of Fitbit’s Female Health Tracking is being able to see the impacts of things like diet, exercise and sleep on your menstrual cycle. This could highlight the need for a healthier diet, a more regular sleep pattern, or more (or less) exercise.

Of course, if you are ever concerned about your cycle, speak with a Gynaecologist. Tracking your cycle can even help them with diagnosis.

RELATED: What The Colour Of Your Period Is Trying To Tell You

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Women Fleeing Domestic Violence Can Now Receive A One-Off Support Payment

It’s been labelled the shadow pandemic and the fact remains that for many women across Australia, domestic violence is a lived reality that doesn’t discriminate by age, occupation, or socio-economic status. Researchers have found that during Covid-19 lockdowns, there was a surge in family and domestic violence, with agencies experiencing a surge in demand as nearly half their clients reported an increase in controlling behaviours. 

As many who have lived through such turmoil and trauma can attest, the roadmap to fleeing such situations at home can be fraught with challenges and extremely difficult to navigate, particularly when such bureaucracy makes it even harder. Now, it’s been announced that women fleeing a violent relationship will be given a one-off $5,000 payment as part of a federal government trial scheme. 

Known as the “escaping violence payment scheme,” the government has set aside $144.5 million over the next two years to give women $1,500 cash, with the remainder to pay for goods and services, bond, school fees and other necessaries to establish a new safe home. UnitingCare Network will be tasked with delivering the payments while helping link women and their children with relevant community services. 

As the Daily Telegraph reports, “An analysis of domestic violence data by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that while it is more common for women from poorer areas, women from high socio-economic areas are not immune from experiencing partner violence.”

As Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston explained, the trial has been introduced with the aim to help women overcome the financial barriers that might deter them from leaving a violent relationship. “We know that financial hardship as well as economic abuse - which may involve interfering with work or controlling or withholding money - reduces women’s ability to acquire and use money and makes it difficult to leave violent relationships,” she said. 

“The payments will assist people who need financial support to leave. We know the size of the house a woman is fleeing doesn’t matter. Often she bundles the kids into the car, maybe the dog too and they leave with nothing more than the clothes on their backs.”

To be eligible for a payment, women must be facing financial stress and have some evidence of domestic violence such as a referral from a family and domestic violence service provider with a risk assessment and safety plan, or an AVO, court order or police report. As UnitingCare Australia National Director Claerwen Little said, “We believe that all people, especially women and their children, have the right to live freely and without fear, and this payment is an important step forward to ending violence against women and children.”

If you require immediate assistance, please call 000.

If you’d like to speak to someone about domestic violence, please call the 1800 

Respect hotline on 1800 737 732 or chat online. 

Under 25? You can reach Kids Helpline at 1800 55 1800 or chat online.