What Really Happens in those 28 Days?!
Have you ever wondered about the
connection between your body's 28 day cycle and the cycle
of the moon? Here's the theory. In the days before electricity,
women's bodies were influenced by the amount of moonlight
we saw. Just as sunlight and moonlight affect plants and animals,
our hormones were triggered by levels of moonlight. And, all
women cycled together. Today, with artificial light everywhere,
day and night, our cycles no longer correspond to the moon.
This article is dedicated to exploring menses: fact and fiction,
then and now.
The philosophic foundation of the Feminist Women's Health
Center is "Knowledge is Power." We believe when
women have complete, unbiased information, they are empowered
to make their own decisions leading to healthy whole lives.
An important role of the FWHC
is to provide information, resources for additional information,
and give an analysis of the information we present. Here we
describe a typical 28 day menstrual
cycle and we begin to challenge the dominant American
cultural assumptions about menses.
Consider for a moment all you've heard about menstruation.
Who first told you? What did they call it? How is menstruation
viewed by your culture? What taboos have influenced you? How
does your partner feel about your period? What impact has
advertising had on your knowledge and attitude? What is the
motivation of the advertiser? Is your experience different
now compared to earlier in your life?
First we'll discuss the basic biology of menstruation, then
we'll look at ancient traditions.
Basic Biology: the cycle begins
Did you know that when a baby girl is born, she has all the
eggs her body will ever use, and many more, perhaps as many
as 450,000? They are stored in her ovaries, each inside
its own sac called a follicle. As she matures into
puberty, her body begins producing various hormones that cause
the eggs to mature. This is the beginning of her first cycle;
it's a cycle that will repeat throughout her life until the
end of menopause.
Let's start with the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus
is a gland in the brain responsible for regulating the body's
thirst, hunger, sleep patterns, libido and endocrine functions.
It releases the chemical messenger Follicle Stimulating
Hormone Releasing Factor (FSH-RF) to tell the pituitary,
another gland in the brain, to do its job. The pituitary then
secretes Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and a little
Leutenizing Hormone (LH) into the bloodstream which
cause the follicles to begin to mature.
The maturing follicles then release another hormone, estrogen.
As the follicles ripen over a period of about seven days,
they secrete more and more estrogen into the bloodstream.
Estrogen causes the lining of the uterus to thicken. It causes
the cervical mucous to change. When the estrogen level reaches
a certain point it causes the hypothalamus to release Leutenizing
Hormone Releasing Factor (LH-RF) causing the pituitary
to release a large amount of Leutenizing Hormone (LH).
This surge of LH triggers the one most mature follicle to
burst open and release an egg. This is called ovulation. [Many
birth control pills work by blocking this LH surge, thus inhibiting
the release of an egg.]
As ovulation approaches, the blood supply to the ovary increases
and the ligaments contract, pulling the ovary closer to the
Fallopian tube, allowing the egg, once released, to find its
way into the tube. Just before ovulation, a woman's cervix
secretes an abundance of clear "fertile mucous"
which is characteristically stretchy. Fertile mucous helps
facilitate the sperm's movement toward the egg. Some women
use daily mucous monitoring to determine when they are most
likely to become pregnant. Mid cycle, some women also experience
cramping or other sensations. Basal body temperature rises
right after ovulation and stays higher by about .4 degrees
F until a few days before the next period.
Inside the Fallopian tube, the egg is carried along by tiny,
hairlike projections, called "cilia" toward the
uterus. Fertilization occurs if sperm are present. A tubal pregnancy, called ectopic pregnancy,
is the rare situation when e a fertilized egg implants or gets lodged outside the uterus. It is a dangerous life-threatening situation if the
fertilized egg starts developing and growing into an embryo inside the fallopian tube or elsewhere. The tube will rupture causing internal bleeding and surgery
A woman can use a speculum to monitor her own ovulation and
use this information to avoid or encourage a pregnancy. This
is the all-natural fertility
awareness method (FAM) of family planning.
Between midcycle and menstruation, the follicle from which
the egg burst becomes the corpus luteum (yellow body). As
it heals, it produces the hormones estrogen and, in larger
amounts, progesterone which is necessary for the maintenance
of a pregnancy. [RU-486 works by blocking progesterone production.]
In the later stages of healing, if the uterus is not pregnant,
the follicle turns white and is called the corpus albicans.
Estrogen and progesterone are sometimes called "female"
hormones, but both men and women have them, just in different
Progesterone causes the surface of the uterine lining, the
endometrium, to become covered with mucous, secreted from
glands within the lining itself. If fertilization and implantation
do not occur, the spiral arteries of the lining close off,
stopping blood flow to the surface of the lining. The blood
pools into "venous lakes" which, once full, burst
and, with the endometrial lining, form the menstrual flow.
Most periods last 4 to 8 days but this length varies over
the course of a lifetime.
Bleeding - A New Theory
Some researchers view menses as the natural monthly cleansing
of the uterus and vagina of sperm and bacteria they carried.
Cramps and Other Sensations
Women can experience a variety of sensations before, during
or after their menses. Common complaints include backache,
pain in the inner thighs, bloating, nausea, diarrhea, constipation,
headaches, breast tenderness, irritability, and other mood
changes. Women also experience positive sensations such as
relief, release, euphoria, new beginning, invigoration, connection
with nature, creative energy, exhilaration, increased sex
drive and more intense orgasms.
Uterine cramping is one of the most common uncomfortable
sensations women may have during menstruation. There are two
kinds of cramping. Spasmodic cramping is probably caused by
prostaglandins, chemicals that affect muscle tension. Some
prostaglandins cause relaxation, and some cause constriction.
A diet high in linoleic and liblenic acids, found in vegetables
and fish, increases the prostaglandins for aiding muscle relaxation.
Congestive cramping causes the body to retain fluids and
salt. To counter congestive cramping, avoid wheat and dairy
products, alcohol, caffeine, and refined sugar.
Natural options to alleviate cramping:
- Increase exercise. This will improve blood and oxygen
circulation throughout the body, including the pelvis.
- Try not using tampons. Many women find tampons increase
cramping. Don't select an IUD (intrauterine device) as your
birth control method.
- Avoid red meat, refined sugars, milk, and fatty foods.
- Eat lots of fresh vegetables, whole grains (especially
if you experience constipation or indigestion), nuts, seeds
- Avoid caffeine. It constricts blood vessels and increases
- Meditate, get a massage.
- Have an orgasm (alone or with a partner).
- Drink ginger root tea (especially if you experience fatigue).
- Put cayenne pepper on food. It is a vasodilator and improves
- Breathe deeply, relax, notice where you hold tension in
your body and let it go.
- Ovarian Kung Fu alleviates or even eliminates menstrual
cramps and PMS, it also ensures smooth transition through
- Take time for yourself!
Anecdotal information suggests eliminating Nutra-Sweet from
the diet will significantly relieve menstrual cramps. If you
drink sugar-free sodas or other forms of Nutra-Sweet, try
eliminating them completely for two months and see what happens.
The hormones in our bodies are especially sensitive to diet
and nutrition. PMS and menstrual cramping are not diseases,
but rather, symptoms of poor nutrition.
PMS has been known by women for many many years. However,
within the past 30 or so years, pharmaceutical companies have
targeted and created a market to treat this normal part of
a woman's cycle as a disease. These companies then benefit
from the sale of drugs and treatments.
Premenstrual syndrome refers to the collection of symptoms
or sensations women experience as a result of high hormone
levels before, and sometimes during, their periods.
One type of PMS is characterized by anxiety, irritability
and mood swings. These feelings are usually relieved with
the onset of bleeding. Most likely, this type relates to the
balance between estrogen and progesterone. If estrogen predominates,
anxiety occurs. If there's more progesterone, depression may
be a complaint.
Sugar craving, fatigue and headaches signify a different
type of PMS. In addition to sugar, women may crave chocolate,
white bread, white rice, pastries, and noodles. These food
cravings may be caused by the increased responsiveness to
insulin related to increased hormone levels before menstruation.
In this circumstance, women may experience symptoms of low
blood sugar; their brains are signaling a need for fuel. A
consistent diet that includes complex carbohydrates will provide
a steady flow of energy to the brain and counter the ups and
downs of blood sugar variations.
- Every woman's cycle is or should be 28 days long.
- Every woman will or should bleed every month.
- Every woman will or should ovulate every cycle.
- If a woman bleeds, she is not pregnant.
- A woman cannot ovulate or get pregnant while she is
The above statements are myths. Every woman is different.
It's true that most women will have cycles that are around
28 days. But, a woman can be healthy and normal and have just
3 or 4 cycles a year. [However, while variations might be
healthy and normal, they could also be a sign of a serious
underlying problem. For example, a recent news article suggested
that irregular menstrual cycles may predict
Type 2 Diabetes.]
Ovulation occurs about 14-16 days before women have
their period (not 14 days after the start of their
period). The second half of the cycle, ovulation to menstruation,
is fairly consistently the same length, but the first part
changes from person to person and from cycle to cycle. In
rare cases, a women may ovulate twice in a month, once from
Conception/Fertilization of an egg, can only occur after
ovulation. The egg stays alive for about 24 hours once released
from the ovary. Sperm can stay alive inside a woman's body
for 3-4 days, but possibly as long as 6-7 days. If a couple
has intercourse before or after ovulation occurs, they can
get pregnant, since the live sperm are already inside the
woman's body when ovulation occurs. Thus a woman can become
pregnant from intercourse for about 7-10 days in the middle
of her cycle. (See Fertility
Awareness for a complete description of visible signs
is a birth control method where women monitor their cycles
daily to identify ovulation. They are learning to predict
ovulation to prevent or encourage pregnancy. It requires training
and diligent record keeping.
From our work providing abortion services, we know that some
women can be pregnant and continue to have periods at the
same time. We also know of cases where women have gotten pregnant
during their menstrual period.
Technically menopause is the last menstrual flow of a woman's
life and the climacteric is period of time preceding and following
this event. In general usage, menopause refers to the whole
process. For most women, menopause
occurs between the ages of forty and sixty and takes place
over a period from 6 months to three years.
The menstrual cycle usually goes through many changes, some
slow and some sudden, before stopping altogether. A woman's
periods may become erratic, closer together, or further apart.
She may skip a period or two, or have spotting at other times
in her cycle.
A common experience is loss of large amounts of blood with
a period and passage of large clots. When a woman nears the
cessation of her periods, she may not ovulate for one cycle
or several cycles. In this case, the endometrium doesn't receive
the chemical message to stop thickening. It grows and grows
until its heavy bulk causes a heavy flow.
Signals of menopause include hot flashes or flushes, changes
in sleep patterns, headaches or migraines, high energy, high
creativity, and/or mood changes. As with PMS, some of these
symptoms are hormone imbalances caused by poor nutrition.
Did You Know?
- Women lose between 20 and 80 cc's (1-2 ounces) of blood
during a normal period.
- One in six fertilized eggs naturally results in miscarriage,
some of which are reabsorbed by the body and the woman is
not aware she's been pregnant.
- The length of a woman's menstrual cycle (the number of
days from the first day of one period to the first day of
the next) is determined by the number of days it takes her
ovary to release an egg. Once an egg is released, it is
about 14 days until menstruation, for nearly all women.
Alternatives for Handling Menstrual
- Chlorine-free biodegradable 100% cotton tampons recently
hit the market in response to environmentally conscious
feminists. Studies have shown that organochlorines can be
linked to cancer. Women using chlorine-free tampons are
not putting chlorine into their bodies, nor are they supporting
an industry which produces enormous volumes of industrial
waste containing chlorine. If your regular pad or tampon
isn't chlorine-free, write and urge them to make 100% cotton
pads and tampons without chlorine.
- Natural sponges from the ocean (not cellulose) are used
by some women. They are dampened then inserted directly
into the vagina. When full, they are removed, washed with
water, and reused. Washable reusable cloth pads are also
- The menstrual cap is another reusable alternative. It
is similar to the cervical cap, but worn near the vaginal
opening in the same place as a tampon. When full, it is
simply removed, washed and reinserted. A cervical cap has
also been used successfully in this manner.
Keeper - a specially made reusable device for catching
- Cloth (washable) pads - this is what most women around
the word have always used.
Women are reclaiming the products we use to deal with menstruation.
Check out these wonderful new small woman-owned companies
and their products.
To learn more about YOUR OWN cycle, keep a journal or calendar
and make note of how you feel, emotionally and physically,
thoughts about yourself, your body, your relationships with
other cycling women.
Throughout all cultures, the magic of creation resides in
the blood women gave forth in apparent harmony with the moon,
and which sometimes stayed inside to create a baby. This blood
was regarded with reverence: it had mysterious magical powers,
was inexplicably shed without pain, and was wholly foreign
to male experience. Early menstrual rites were perhaps the
first expression of human culture.
Native American (Lakota):
"Follow your Grandmother Moon. Her illuminating cycles
will transform your spirit." Begin with the Grandmother
Moon at her brightest and most open. This is a time of outward
activity and high energy. Sleep where the moonlight touches
you. Walk outside where there are no artificial lights. Feel
joy and creativity. As the Grandmother begins to cover her
face, begin to withdraw into a quieter, less social place.
Move to that inward place that is more about "being"
than "doing." In the dark of the moon, when bleeding,
the veil between you and the Great Mystery is the thinnest.
Be receptive to visions, insights, intuitions. Go to a quiet
separate place such as a Moon Lodge. Later, come out of the
dark, a woman with a cleansed body. As the moon returns, come
back out into the world, carrying your vision.
Customs and Traditions
- Indians of South American said all humans were made of
"moon blood" in the beginning.
- In Mesopotamia, the Great Goddess created people out of
clay and infused them with her blood of life. She taught
women to form clay dolls and smear them with menstrual blood.
Adam translates as bloody clay.
- In Hindu theory, as the Great Mother created the earth,
solid matter coalesced into a clot with a crust. Women use
this same method to produce new life.
- The Greeks believed the wisdom of man or god was centered
in his blood which came from his mother.
- Egyptian pharaohs became divine by ingesting the blood
of Isis called sa. Its hieroglyphic sign was the same as
the sign of the vulva, a yonic loop like the one on the
- From the 8th to the 11th centuries, Christian churches
refused communion to menstruating women.
- In ancient societies, menstrual blood carried authority,
transmitting lineage of the clan or tribe.
- Among the Ashanti, girl children are more prized than
boys because a girl is the carrier of the blood.
- Chinese sages called menstrual blood the essence of Mother
Earth, the yin principle giving life to all things.
- Some African tribes believed that menstrual blood kept
in a covered pot for nine months had the power to turn itself
into a baby.
- Easter eggs, classic womb-symbols, were dyed red and laid
on graves to strengthen the dead.
- A born-again ceremony from Australia showed the Aborigines
linked rebirth with blood of the womb.
- Post-menopausal women were often the wisest because they
retained their "wise blood." In the 17th century
these old women were constantly persecuted for witch craft
because their menstrual blood remained in their veins.
The Roman Goddess of measurement, numbers, calendars, and
record-keeping; derived from the Moon-goddess as the inventor
of numerical systems; measurer of time.
It has been shown that calendar consciousness developed first
in women because their natural body rhythms corresponded to
observations of the moon. Chinese women established a lunar
calendar 3000 years ago. Mayan women understood the great
Maya calendar was based on menstrual cycles. Romans called
the calculation of time menstruation, meaning knowledge of
the menses. In Gaelic, menstruation and calendar are the same
The lunar calendar's thirteen 28-day months had four 7-day
weeks, marking the new, waxing, full, and waning moons. Thirteen
months is 364 days. Pagan traditions describe an annual cycle
as a 13 months and a day. Even today, Easter is the first
Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox.
The 13 month calendar also led to pagan reverence for the
number 13 and the Christian attempts to demolish it. Generally,
the ancient symbols of matriarchy were the night, moon and
13. Patriarchy (under Christianity) honored the day, the sun
Menopausal Years: The Wise Woman Way by Susan S. Weed
PMS Self-Help Book and Menstrual Cramps by Susan M.
A New View of a Woman's Body
by the Federation of FWHCs
Bodies Ourselves by the Boston Women's Health Book
Buffalo Woman Comes Singing by Brooke Medicine Eagle
The Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets by Roberta
Blood, Bread and Roses by Judy Grahn
of Fertility: A Guide to Charting your Fertility Signals
to Prevent or Achieve Pregnancy -- Naturally -- and to Gauge
your Reproductive Health by Katie Singer. This book, published
in 2004, describes the changes a woman experiences throughout
the menstrual cycle; how to chart your fertility signals (the
waking temperature and cervical fluid); how to determine,
by fertility charts, when you are fertile and not fertile;
how to practice natural birth control that is virtually as
effective as the Pill; and when to time intercourse if you
want to conceive. It explains how to identify, by your fertility
charts, whether you're ovulating, indicating a propensity
for thyroid problems, poly-cystic ovarian syndrome, or miscarriage.
It tells how to establish and identify unambiguous infertility
while breastfeeding, and how to identify that ovulatory cycles
are resuming. See www.GardenofFertility.com
- Fertility Awareness Method of Birth Control (FAM). Understanding your body's symptoms and signs makes it possible to know when you are fertile which helps you get pregnant when you want to and when to use protection or a barrier method of birth control when you don't want to get pregnant.
includes several articles about Fertility Awareness, fabulous
photos that show the changes the cervix goes through during
a menstrual cycle unless a woman's on the Pill, fertility
charts that can be downloaded at no charge, and more.
- Society for Menstrual
Cycle Research - a nonprofit organization and multidisciplinary
group of women pioneers in understanding the centrality
of menstrual cycle research to women's health.
- connecting heart, mind, body and spirit - Menstruation
is an Art because if we are living our cycles and tapping
into the gifts, power and responsibilities of being authentically
Feminine, then we are tapping into an ever-changing, never-ending
source of creativity.
- Museum of Menstruation
- Herstory of menstruation, menstrual pad alternatives,
and selected women's health topics, and lots of goofy stuff to make menstruation fun.
Calendars from Snake and Snake
- Organic Tampons
- Diva cup - cup for catching menstrual blood, a menstrual cup
- Tools for Self Exam - use your own speculum, mirror and flashlight.
- information about using birth control pills to not ever
have a period.
the Red Web - educating women and girls about the positive
aspects of menarche, menstruation and menopause.
- Lotus Pads is a trusted name in feminine products, affirming our commitment to helping sustain the health of women and the Earth.
Awareness for Birth Control
- Wikipedia on Fertility Awareness
- Fertility Awareness Center
- My Beautiful Cervix (www.beautifulcervix.com) - photographs of an individual's cervix for one whole cycle. Many people have found it very interesting and useful (whether they are trying to conceive, avoid pregnancy, or even just curious about discharge).
- Femipouch.net - makes a discreet way to carry feminine hygiene products.
June 2, 2012
day we bear witness to each woman's knowledge of holding the profound power to
decide whether or not to allow the life within her to come to term. The sharing
of those moments makes abortion work sacred."
-Merle Hoffman, owner
of Choices Women's Medical Center in New York.
Feminist Women's Health Center