“How long is my menstrual cycle supposed to be?” 

“Is it normal to have clots?” 

“What about the length of my actual period? Should it be 3, 4 or 5 days long?” 

Remember the days of sex ed? Or more importantly, do you remember what you learned in those classes? Yeah, I don’t either! I went to a Catholic high school so my sex ed class was called Christian Family LifeEducation – I kid you not, I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!

My CFLE class (yes, there was an acronym) consisted of discussions on why we shouldn’t have sex. Essentially, it was no-sex education and wasn’t much help to me and my classmates. I certainly wasn’t getting the answers to the questions I posed above. Were you?

That’s probably why I’ve been asked these questions and a variation of them A LOT over the years. Women are dying for the most basic information about how the hell their bodies function.

That’s where I come in. Today I’m going to give you a walk-through of what an ideal cycle actually looks like.  Hopefully it will give you an idea of what your menstrual baseline is and what you should be working toward if your cycle is irregular.

Cycle Length

An optimal cycle length should be anywhere from 25 to 35 days. If your cycle is 24 days or less then you might have a condition called Luteal Phase Defect, which means that your luteal phase or the second half of your cycle after ovulation is too short to either get pregnant or stay pregnant.

Note: LPD is typically caused by low progesterone – remember, progesterone is produced in the second half of your cycle after you ovulate. Once the little follicle in your ovary has released an egg, this follicle turns into what is known as a corpus luteum and it produces progesterone. So it’s safe to say that lack of ovulation or sporadic ovulation can lead to low progesterone.

The Follicular Phase

The follicular phase begins on the first day of your period and ends the day before ovulation. It’s length can vary greatly but it needs to be a minimum of 11 days in order for it to be a fertile cycle.

If you have a short follicular phase, it could mean you don’t have enough estrogen to do the job in the first half, or there is too much progesterone.

If you have a long follicular phase, it could mean you have too much estrogen which can delay ovulation.

Ovulation

Ovulation does not necessarily occur on day 14 of your cycle – don’t let anyone tell you that it should! It typically occurs between days 12 – 17 and is affected by a number of factors including diet and STRESS!

You should begin to notice wetter quality cervical fluid as ovulation approaches and the actual event occurs on the last wet day. Your cervical fluid will either become sticky or dry up beginning the day after ovulation.

The Luteal Phase

The luteal phase begins the day after ovulation and lasts until the day before your period. It should be 10-14 days long but closer to 14 days is best. It physically cannot last longer than 16 days – you’re either pregnant or you did not ovulate.

If it is less than 10 days long then you might have Luteal Phase Defect.  If it’s more than 14 days long then there is probably another issue, possibly PCOS (lack of or sporadic ovulation) or something else causing a long luteal phase.

Your Period

Every month you should be checking out your period to make sure it is coming on time and to see what the blood looks like. You should also keep tabs on how you feel physically and emotionally during the week before and the week of your period. Using a period app is a great way to keep track of all this stuff! See my post on period apps for my faves.

Your period can be anywhere from 3-7 days but 5 days is where you want it to be. It should start with a nice saturated red color that’s vibrant and healthy, kind of like cranberry juice. And it should just taper off at the end.

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Your period should go one of two ways:

It may start light and then get heavy, reduce to medium and then taper off lightly OR it should start heavy and then gradually decrease until menstruation ends.

If your blood is: heavy, dark, clotted, clumpy – it resembles frozen crushed up blueberries, this is indicative of higher estrogen levels.  Estrogen is a stimulating hormone that promotes growth of the uterine lining. When it becomes dominant over it’s counterpart Progesterone, you may experience breast tenderness, heavy periods, stubborn weight, acne, headaches/migraines and the dreaded PMS monster.

Screen Shot 2014-01-21 at 11.08.50 PM Is this too graphic?

Over time an estrogen/progesterone imbalance can be detrimental to your menstrual health. If you want to quick estrogen reset, check out my Lovely Liver Cleanse: A 5-Day Detox for Your Hormones. This is a super easy food-based cleanse that will kickstart your liver so it can get rid of excess estrogen more effectively.

If your blood is: thinned out, too little, lighter in color (kind of like watered down cranberry juice) this can indicate your estrogen is too low. Symptoms may include sporadic periods, vaginal dryness (lack of lubrication), low libido, hair loss and hair thinning.

Believe it or not, there should be no signs of physical or emotional PMS.  It is not actually normal to feel like a maniac the week before your period! If PMS or even PMDD is an issue for you, this could be indicative of too high estrogen and not enough progesterone (the calming hormone) and you might want to consider doing my cleanse to get your estrogen under control.

Soooo…what’s your menstrual cycle like?? I always love hearing about what everyone experiences each month because it looks so different for each woman.