Two of the most straightforward things to track during your cycle are how often you get your period and how long it lasts. Knowing this is an important first step to decoding your period – but your period is just one phase of the cycle. In this section we’ll explore the three phases of your cycle and answer the following questions:
- How long is a healthy cycle?
- What happens during each phase of your cycle?
- How long does a healthy period last and how frequent should it be?
- What does it mean if your period is shorter or longer than normal?
- What does it mean if your cycle length is longer or shorter than normal?
- How does cycle length and duration relate to fertility issues?
- Why are fertility issues relevant to everyone, including people not interested in having kids?
- What can you do to achieve a normal, healthy period?
What does a healthy period look like in terms of frequency & duration?
A normal, healthy cycle is 28-30 days long, with four days of bleeding, and it doesn’t vary much from month to month. While a 28-30 day cycle tells us that everything is working as it’s supposed to in terms of how your body is responding to hormonal signals, cycles outside that range tell us that there’s room for improvement.
Cycles that are 26-32 days long are not cause for alarm, but the closer to 28 days, the better. Throughout this article, we’ll use the 28-day cycle as the standard, as that’s what’s considered optimal.
A 28-day cycle is important because your menstrual cycle has 3 phases and each phase is carefully timed to produce different effects in the body. If your cycle is less than 28 days, it means that one or more of the phases is being cut short. If it is longer than 30 days, something is taking too long. Short cycles, long cycles, and cycles that vary widely from month to month may indicate health problems.
What happens during each phase of your cycle?
Bleeding Phase – 4 Days
The bleeding phase begins (you guessed it) on the first day of your period, which is also Day 1 of your cycle. During this phase, the uterine lining is dissolved and expelled from the body.
Follicular Phase –10 Days
The follicular phase is when estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormones work together to help your egg develop before ovulation. It takes 10 days for a high quality, ready-for-fertilization egg to be produced. This takes place during day 5 through day 14 of a healthy cycle.
Luteal phase – 14 Days
The luteal phase is the final phase of your cycle. It begins with a surge in luteinizing hormones that trigger ovulation (which is instantaneous, by the way) and it lasts until your next period begins. This phase takes up the whole second half of your cycle, normally day 15 through day 28. During this time progesterone helps build and stabilize the uterine lining so that it’s ready for implantation.
What does cycle length have to do with fertility? And what does fertility have to do with our overall health?
Research shows that cycles that don’t fit the 28-day pattern are associated with fertility issues, in some cases decreasing the chance of delivery by up to 50%. Even if you’re NOT trying to get pregnant, not now and not ever, fertility issues are still relevant to you and your overall health as they indicate that something isn’t working right.
Essentially, fertility issues are a sign that your reproductive system isn’t responding well to the hormonal cues that your body is sending. There are two key causes for this, which relate to the length and frequency of your cycle:
- Your ovaries aren’t as receptive to hormones as they should be.
- The blood supply to your reproductive organs isn’t optimal.
If your ovaries aren’t as receptive to hormones as they ought to be, your body will produce MORE hormones to get your ovaries in line. This increase in hormones can lead to hormone-related symptoms that may affect your mood, give you acne, mess with your body’s temperature regulation, and even increase lifetime hormone exposure risk. Blood supply issues, on the other hand, can cause bleeding issues like scanty bleeding, clotting, and cramping.
What does it mean if one of the three phases is shorter or longer for you?
- The length of your period is a good indicator of the health of your uterine lining, and a healthy uterine lining is what allows for the implantation and nourishment of a fertilized embryo. Both short and long bleeding phases are associated with a decreased chance to conceive each month AND menstrual cramps, but the underlying causes and implications are different. Short bleeding phases can indicate that your uterine lining is too thin. Long bleeding phases may mean that your lining is very thick or that your body is having issues fully expelling it after each cycle.
- Both short and long follicular phases indicate that something is off in your reproductive system and you might be experiencing fertility issues, but once again their causes are quite different. If the follicular phase is too short, egg quality can suffer. If you have an abnormally long follicular phase, it could mean your ovaries aren’t responding to hormonal signals your brain is sending.
- When it comes to your luteal phase, there isn’t much to sweat in terms of duration. In part that’s because it’s uncommon for someone’s luteal phase to be shorter or longer than 14 days – it’s much more likely that your follicular phase length will vary.
- If your luteal phase is longer, it actually doesn’t change much. If your luteal phase is significantly shorter, it may decrease chances of conception, but probably won’t affect much else.
How can you improve the length and frequency of your cycle?
Even if your cycle really doesn’t line up with a ‘normal’ cycle in terms of duration and frequency, improvement is possible. That said there is no easy fix – everything that’s going on in your body is interconnected and you have to work on the whole to achieve optimal health and a perfect period. What is going on with your cycle is just one piece of the puzzle – you need to look not only at your menstrual symptoms but also at your day-to-day symptoms and habits.
Here are some tips to help you on your way to a ‘normal’ cycle in terms of frequency & duration:
Track your period.
If you’re not already doing it, start – you can do it in a journal, on your calendar or on one of the period tracking apps. If you’re already doing it, keep going and be sure to reflect on the data, not just record it. Keeping tabs on the length of your period, the length of your cycle, and how much it varies (if at all) will help you better understand what’s going on in your body. If you notice one of the phases of your cycle is longer or shorter than normal, you can come back to this article to unpack what it means.
Try taking our PMS Support formula.
It is designed to regulate hormones and keep your period on track. (Shameless plug, but we wouldn’t be making it if it didn’t work.)
Work on improving your cycle and overall health.
Regardless of the length and frequency of your cycle, there are steps you can take to improve it. Because everything is interconnected, addressing your overall health will help you achieve a healthier period. Here are the key tips we recommend for all people with periods.
Talk to your doctor.
If your cycle or your period is shorter or longer than what’s considered healthy, be sure to mention it to your OB-GYN about it at your annual check-up.
Ask us questions.
We are not a substitute for your doctor, but our founder is a women's’ health expert and reproductive acupuncturist with over twenty years of experience fixing periods. She’s a wealth of knowledge and she’s committed to answering every question we get. So, if you’re left with doubts, ask away.
Tying it all together
Now that you understand what the length and frequency of your cycle and period are telling, it’s time to look at the bigger picture. Your cycle has lots more to tell you. The color, clottiness, and flow of your period are important, as are the cramps and PMS symptoms you may be experiencing.
Our goal is to help you feel empowered to take charge of your cycle and your health, not to overwhelm you with information. That’s why we’re breaking it all down into different sections.
In the next article, we’ll decode what your flow is telling you. Are you ready to get to know your flow?