White underwear stained with chilli powder to resemble menstrual blood
(C) Love Matters | Rita Lino

Menstruation, ovulation, and fertilisation

Towards the end of puberty, you start having periods. Having a period means losing some blood through your vagina approximately once a month.

Most women and girls lose between two and four tablespoons of blood each month. You can use tampons or sanitary towels (pads) to soak it up.

How does it work?

When you reach puberty, your ovaries start producing oestrogen and progesterone. These hormones make the lining of your womb get thicker once a month and ready for getting pregnant.
Meanwhile, there are hormones also signalling your ovaries to produce and release an unfertilised egg. In most women, this happens once every 28 days or so.

No fertilisation = getting your period.

In general, if you don't have sexual intercourse around the time of your ovulation (when your ovaries release an egg), it's unlikely that any sperm reaches and fertilises your egg. So the womb lining, which became thicker to prepare for pregnancy, is shed as menstrual blood. And you get your period! This cycle is called menstruation.

Changes over time

If you’ve only just started having periods, you might not actually ovulate yet. This is a natural way to protect you if your body isn't actually ready for pregnancy just yet.

During the first year you have your periods, you may only ovulate (release an egg) 20 per cent of the time. So, if you have 12 periods a year, you probably only release an egg two or three times.

Remember, every woman is different and once you’re sexually mature you can get pregnant any month! You can even get pregnant if you’ve never had a period. Don’t think just because you haven't been having periods for long you don’t need to use birth control. That could be a very big mistake!

Fertilisation and ovulation

Ovulation is the release of eggs from the ovaries.

When you ovulate, if there are no sperm cells in your fallopian tube – either because you haven’t had sex or you used a contraceptive – then the egg won’t be fertilised. Your body then gets rid of the lining of the womb, so mucus and blood come out of your vagina. This is called menstruation, or having your period. In general, it lasts between four and seven days.

Your menstrual cycle runs from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. This takes about 28 days (four weeks), but different people’s cycles vary between 21 and 42 days (3–6 weeks).

The menstrual cycle
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Phase I: Menstruation (day 1 to day 5)
On the first day of your cycle, the tissue from the lining of the womb, the blood, and the unfertilised egg cell leave your body through your vagina. You have your period. In a 28-day cycle, this phase lasts between one and five days. Don’t worry if your period is as short as two days or as long as eight days. This is normal.

Phase II: Follicular (day 6 to day 14)
After your period ends, your womb lining begins to get thicker. Also, one of your ovaries produces one mature unfertilised egg. You may notice changes in vaginal discharge. It may become stickier, white, milky, or cloudy. These changes may signal that you are entering the fertile time of the month.
Just before you ovulate, your vaginal discharge may change to a texture and colour similar to a raw egg white. This discharge can be slippery and clear, which can help sperm travel to the egg. Like the menstruation phase, the length of this phase varies: it can be as short as seven days or as long as 19.

Phase III: Ovulation (day 14)
During ovulation, the ovary releases a mature egg, which passes into the fallopian tube. Some women may feel a slight pain on one side of their lower back or abdominal area around the time of ovulation. This too is normal. Ovulation takes place about 14 days after the first day of your period. Meanwhile, the lining of your womb gets even thicker.

Signs of Ovulation
Some women experience changes when they are ovulating like:

  • A change in vaginal discharge.
  • A brief pain or dull ache felt on one side of the abdomen.
  • An increased desire for sex.
  • A bloated abdomen.
  • A keener sense of vision, smell, or taste.

Phase IV: Ovulation to menstruation (day 15 to day 28)
The released egg travels down the fallopian tube to the womb. The womb lining gets even thicker to receive the egg. If the egg isn’t fertilised by a sperm cell, it dies. Your body gets rid of the extra womb lining and egg cell, and your period starts again.

If the egg cell is fertilised and it settles into the lining of the womb, and your period doesn’t come: you’re pregnant. The menstrual cycle stops until after you give birth.

Can I ovulate right after my period?

It depends on how many days are in your cycle.

If you have a regular cycle – with 28 days from the start of one period to the start of the next – it is less likely that you will ovulate right after your period.

You may bleed up to the seventh day of your cycle, and we know ovulation usually starts 12–16 days before your next period. This means you ovulate between day 12 and 16 of your cycle.

If you have an irregular cycle – lasting just 21 days or as long as 42 days – it’s more likely that you could ovulate soon after your period. For instance, in a 21-day cycle, you may stop bleeding on day seven of your cycle, but you may ovulate between day five and day nine of your cycle.

How can I work out when I’m going to ovulate?

Well, it takes a bit of maths! You have to work backwards from when your period starts. The time you’re likely to ovulate lasts four days, between 16 and 12 days before the first day of your period.

If you have a period every 28 days, take 16 away from 28:
28 - 16 = 12

That means the four days you’re most likely to ovulate begin 12 days after your period starts. So your period starts on day one, and you ovulate between day 12 and 16.

If you have a period every 21 days, take 16 away from 21:
21 - 16 = 5

That means the four days you’re likely to ovulate begin five days after your period starts. So your period starts on day one, and you ovulate between day five and day 9.

Puzzled? Try an online ovulation calculator!

Could I ovulate without having a period?

You could ovulate without having a period if:

  • Your body weight is very low.
  • You're breastfeeding.
  • You're approaching the menopause.

Getting pregnant

You’re only able to have a baby during certain times of your life. For many girls and women, this is between about the ages of 15 and 49, when you have monthly periods and are ovulating regularly.
Most girls or young women ovulate every month, in between their periods. During ovulation, an unfertilised egg cell travels out of one of the ovaries and down the fallopian tube to the womb.

To get pregnant, you have intercourse with a man around the time you ovulate – usually about 14 days after the first day of your last period. After sex, the sperm swims up the vagina and into the fallopian tubes. If there’s an egg waiting in one of the fallopian tubes, the tiny sperm tries to burrow their way inside it. If one sperm gets inside the egg, it’s fertilised.

The fertilised egg then moves down the fallopian tube to the womb. Hormones make sure the lining of the womb is ready to receive the egg. If the fertilised egg nestles into the lining of the womb, you become pregnant.

Can I get pregnant when I’m having my period?

Yes. Since sperm can live in the vaginal opening for up to five days after sex, if you have unprotected sex during your period and you ovulate soon after your period, the sperm can fertilise the egg. And you get pregnant.

Period pains

You may not feel so good when you get your period, or right before your period. If this is not you, count yourself lucky!

Many get stomach aches and get in a bad mood. Sometimes you may feel tired, grumpy, or sad right before your period. This is pretty common. Most of it's related to the changes in your hormones levels.

What can you do when you've got period pain?
The best thing to do is look after yourself. Here are some suggestions:

For stomach aches:

  • Use a hot water bottle/bag on your stomach to ease the cramps.
  • Take a paracetamol or aspirin.

For a headache:

  • Take a paracetamol or aspirin.

For bloating or swelling:

  • Cut down the amount of salt you eat for a few days before your period.

For tiredness:

  • Take vitamin supplements that include calcium (or drink milk).
  • Have plenty of rest and try to get eight hours of sleep.

For moodiness:

  • Exercising regularly for up to 30 minutes a day helps maintain a happy outlook on life
  • For food cravings like chocolate:
  • Eat dark chocolate, yoghurt, or drink milk

If you've got extreme pain, and these suggestions don't help or you have problems with irregular cycles or excessive blood flow, contact your nearest health care provider for more guidance.

Comments

Hey, yes it is okay to have sex during your periods if both partners are comfortable with this. Infact it can be a great way to relieve some of that period pain. Remember, however, there is a chance one can get pregnant if they don't use protection. Have a look at the following article;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/our-bodies/female-body/sex-during-your-period-top-five-facts

Ma, I had sex three days before my period and am suppose to see my period and nothing yet,but I have been feeling the signs of menstral pain,what will be the cause of delay

Hello Cindy, missed or late periods happen for many reasons other than pregnancy. Common causes can include hormonal imbalances, stress, change in diet, change in environment, extreme exercise, use of a birth control method or in some cases a medical conditions. You may want to give it afew more days before considering a pregnancy test. 

Thanks your this information.my period seem to be appearing less than 4 weeks every month. This month I had a serious signal in my abdomen like i was menstruating, but the blood never came for about 3-4days, then the.next day I would see little black blood which kept increasing till the 3rd day, on the 4th day i started having my usual flow but it was so so.heavy(so much blood), lasted for about 5 days, and almost immediately am ovulating (less than 5 days)and having serious cramps at the same time. (The mucus is flowing more than usual) Please I know this is a lot but Just help me understand what is going on.Thanks

Dear Jenny, there seems like there is so much happening to you and your menstrual cycle. First its normal to have a cycle that is less than 4 weeks = 28 days. A normal cycle ranges between 21 days to 42 days. Second, some women experience pains in abdomen, back pains, nausea, fatigue when they are a week to their period day. From your message, from the first day you spotted menstrual blood to the last day it took 9 days, for this you may need to seek medical attention as a normal period should last not more than 7 days. I suggest that you visit a health facility for medical advice. 

Pls, I 'm 42 years, my I am trying to get pregnant, although my menses has stopped over a year ago and I 'm underweight Pls can I do, the drugs or way out.
I have failed to become pregnant for along time. The doctor has said i get scan done called follicular tracking. What is that scan for?
Hi, please I need your help. I saw my period on the 5th may of this month. And am seeing it again on 31st of may. How do I calculate my ovulation and is there any problem with me

Hi Angela, there is nothing wrong with you, your menstrual cycle runs from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. This takes about 28 days, but different people’s cycles vary between 21 and 42 days. Additionally, ovulation takes place about 14 days after the first day of your period. You can also use the following link to help you estimate when you will likely ovulate;- 

https://www.babycenter.com/ovulation-calculator

In Stage IV, day 15 to day 28 what us the egg cell is not fertilized by a sprem and the body fails to remove the lineing and thick walls of the womb... What becomes of the person? Thank you

Hey Caroline, iIf the egg isn’t fertilised by a sperm cell, it dies. The body then gets rid of the extra womb lining and egg cell, which leads to the period starting again. If this doesn't happen it means a person will not experience their periods and it is important for them to seek medical advise. 

Caroline, this is completely normal. From a purely medical point of view, sex during menstruation is totally fine. It even has a lot of benefits for both partners. Some women will have an increased sexual desire during their menstruation. Have a look at the following article for more information;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/our-bodies/female-body/sex-during-your-period-top-five-facts 

There is something that is disturbing me. I have noticed that my husband wants have sex with me when I am menstruating he even knows my dates and treats me nicely during this time ndio tuhavesex. What is the meaning of this please help me understand?

Hello Caroline, does having sex during your period make you uncomfortable? Sex during menstruation is totally fine. It even has a lot of benefits for both partners. Both partners however, need to be comfortable with this. If you are uncomfortable with sex during your period do let him know so that you can agree together on how to proceed. It may also be useful to get to know from him why he is always keen on having sex with you during your periods. Check out this article for more information on Sex during periods;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/our-bodies/female-body/sex-during-your-period-top-five-facts

hi,gud evening thanks for this 1derful enlightment, but i have a question, is it true that 5days before ur ovulation if you have sex you could still get pregnant becox sperm last till the time of ones ovulation.

Hi Veekey, yes this is true. Sperm can stay in the body for upto 5 days and for this reason one can get pregnant even if they had sex days before. If one doesn't intent to get pregnant, it is important to always use protection like condoms which prevent both unplanned pregnancy and Sexually Transmitted Infections. Check out this article;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/birth-control/types-of-birth-control/condom

Hello Agnes, an early period from time to time shouldn't be a concern but if this happens all the time it could be a sign of an underlying issue. Some of the reason that may cause an early period include stress, weight changes, intense exercise, change in normal routine, use of some birth control methods among others. An early period usually isn’t a sign of anything serious. But if you’re in severe pain or discomfort, you should see your doctor.

Hello Trizah, first, using safe days is one of the most unreliable ways to prevent pregnancy, and we really don't recommend it at all. When your safe days are really depends on the length of your cycle. Technically speaking, the first seven days before and after your period, as well as the time of your period, are relatively safe. But, when you have a shorter cycle, that is, shorter than 28 days, or an irregular one, this will vary. Also keep in mind that sperm can survive for up to five days and longer inside the body, which means even if you have sex on a 'safe' day, you can still get pregnant, because the sperm survived until your ovulation date. So you see, it's a very inaccurate. And lastly, of course this won't protect you from STDs. Only condoms will, for these reasons we really recommend a more reliable method. Have a look at the following article for more information;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/birth-control/are-safe-days-safe

Hello Carole, it helps to know when you are fertile or ovulating since this will increase your chances of getting pregnant. Have a look at the following to help you determine when you will be ovulating next using the Ovulation calculator;- https://www.babycenter.com/ovulation-calculator Additionally, have a look at the following article for more tips;- https://lovemattersafrica.com/pregnancy/before-pregnancy/getting-pregnant-when-you-cant-seem-to-have-a-baby

What can cause this thing ma, when u av ur period on 15 last month and this month on 10 what could cause the miss up there.... And is not much at all. For my suggestions can contraceptic drug cause it?

Hello Young, the menstrual runs from the first day of your period to the first day of your next period. This takes about 28 days (four weeks), but different people’s cycles vary between 21 and 42 days (3–6 weeks). What you are therefore experiencing is within whats normally expected. However, as you have mentioned, using birth control can affect your period. Some methods can increase bleeding, other can decrease, periods can be longer, shorter even heavier.Hormonal methods are likely to cause spotting and irregular bleeding particularly in the first few months of using the method. Using emergency contraception can also affect ones period, notably the period maybe early or late. 

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