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One of the first steps to ‘working with your menstrual cycle’ is to understand your menstrual cycle. Our menstrual cycle is a complex interplay of hormones that affect our physical, emotional, and psychological well-being.
Whenever you read about a menstrual cycle, a 28-day cycle will usually be used as an illustration. However, most women don’t have a 28 day cycle, do they?
That’s the first thing you need to know about your own cycle, whereas understanding your entire menstrual cycle is very important to your health and can help spot irregularities or potential problems.
Track your menstrual cycle
The first step you need to take to understand your menstrual cycle is to track it. I have been tracking my cycles for about 6-8 years now and the information I have gathered has been invaluable.
Recently, while investigating some hormone-related issues, a GP wrote “early menopause?” in my records, but I was sure that although some symptoms overlapped, my cycle assured me that they did not.
I’ve used several apps over the years (and still do), including Period Tracker, Wild AI, FitrWoman, Garmin, and Whoop; more recently, I also started using the Natural Cycles app.
Recommended Reading: Period Power: Harness Your Hormones And Make Your Cycle Work For You
Recommended Reading: You May Have a Better Period
Natural Cycles App Review
I started using the Natural Cycles app in December 2022 with an annual subscription and have been very diligent in entering my temperature into the app every morning so I can learn about my cycle and provide accurate information.
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 changes to progesterone, body temperature rises further and remains elevated until the start of the next period.
The temperature change is usually only a fraction of a degree, so monitoring it requires using a basal body temperature thermometer and monitoring it every morning before getting out of bed.
I keep my thermometer on my nightstand 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 flashlight turns on for 10 seconds, making it easy to read the thermometer on dark fall/winter mornings.
There is also the option of using luteinizing hormone (LH) tests to support ovulation prediction. 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 luteinizing hormone in the urine, as there is normally a rise 24 to 48 hours before ovulation.
Natural Cycles Discount Code
Natural Cycles runs a refer-a-friend program that will get you 20% off an annual subscription to Natural Cycles° and a free thermometer using this link.
Please note that Natural Cycles promotes itself as a hormone free birth control solution, however I do not use the app for this nor recommend it by sharing my referral code.
Understanding a shorter menstrual cycle
According to Natural Cycles, I have a regular cycle. I entered periods backwards for the last 1-2 years to help the algorithm get to know me and my cycle a little faster.
Speaking with Coach Alison recently, we were discussing how there is very limited information on shorter menstrual cycles, so I vowed to share mine as just over 3 weeks, and very rarely (if ever) 28 days.
Here is an overview of my typical loop:
MY AVERAGE CYCLE DURATION AND VARIATION: 24+/- 2 days
PERIOD: 5 days
FOLLICULAR PHASE: 12+/- 1 day (average temperature 36.32 +/- 0.16C)
OVULATION: Cycle Day 13+/- 1 day
LUTEAL PHASE: 12+/- 1 day (average temperature 36.70 +/- 0.18C)
The story of my cycle
My period story began around the age of 13 in my freshman year of high school. One of my earliest 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, regardless of physical activity.
The doctor prescribed a strong medicine that worked for a while; then my body got used to them and the pain was getting worse every month. The final option was to take the pill. And that story literally covers the history of my cycle up to age 31.
How did the pill work for me?
I stopped taking the pill in 2016 after ~17 years. Half the reason was because I was disorganized and didn’t realize I had run out, before it was really time to request a repeat recipe and stick to it. The other half of the reason was that I was curious about a time in my life where I could be completely “me” without adding hormones to my system and the opportunity to get to know my body.
Now, I’m not a pill advocate at all – I’m a 100% believer in choice where each individual does whatever works for their body. The side effects can sometimes outweigh the benefits, but this was not the case for me.
Recommended Reading – Sweetening the Pill
Recommended Reading – Vagina: A New Biography
While on the pill, it allowed me to control if/when I had my period, in turn allowing me to do sports, exercise and be physically active without wondering how I would feel or if I would measure up.
However, in recent years, I began to wonder how good or bad the pill might have been for my body and after talking to several friends, I tried to have a conversation with my doctor to ask if I should take a break. .
My doctor’s response was that I “he was (still) 5 years older” (up to 35 years). I wasn’t entirely happy with that answer, but I continued on the pill anyway, since that was basically all I knew.
I wonder if some of my post-pill issues (like acne) have been related, but basically, I’ll never really know.
Do you know all the ins and outs of your menstrual cycle?