THE MENSTRUAL CYCLE

After the uterus has completely shed the lining and the girl stops bleeding, the lining starts to grow thick and spongy again. While this is happening, the ovaries are getting ready to ovulate again. About ten days or so after a girl finishes her menstrual bleeding, another ovum pops off one of her ovaries. It, too, travels through the Fallopian tube towards the uterus. Unless it is fertilized by a sperm in the tube, it won’t plant in the uterine lining either and will once again disintegrate.

Because the ovum hasn’t been fertilized, the newly grown lining isn’t needed. So it breaks down and dribbles out of the uterus into the vagina, and the process starts again:

• The girl starts bleeding.

• The bleeding lasts for a few days or maybe a week or so, and then it stops.

• The lining of the uterus starts to grow thick and spongy again.

• The ovary releases another ripe ovum.

• The fingerlike ends of the Fallopian tube grasp the ovum and pull it into the tube.

• The hairs inside the tube sweep the ovum towards the uterus.

• Unless the ovum is fertilized, it disintegrates inside the uterus.

• The newly grown lining breaks down and dribbles down the vaginal walls and out through

the vaginal opening.

• The girl starts bleeding and having another menstrual period.

Some girls choose to use sanitary towels or pads to absorb the menstrual blood. The towels are held in place by means of a sanitary belt, or by adhesive strips on the bottom of the pad that make the pad stick to her underwear.

Some girls choose to use tampons. Some types of tampons are inserted by using the fingers to push them into the vagina; others come in special inserter tubes. The tampon is removed by pulling on the string.

The whole process, which is called the menstrual cycle, takes about a month. The cycle repeats itself, month after month, over and over again, year in and year out, throughout most of a woman’s life. When she gets to be about 45 to 55 years old, the cycle stops. The woman stops ovulating and menstruating each month. This stopping of the monthly cycle is called the menopause.

Between puberty, the time when she first starts menstruating, and the menopause, the time when she stops menstruating, a female generally has her period fairly regularly, about once a month. This isn’t a hard and fast rule, though. There are lots of exceptions. For one thing, women stop menstruating when they get pregnant. If a sperm fertilizes an ovum in the Fallopian tube, the fertilized ovum travels to the uterus and plants itself in the uterine lining. The lining provides the blood and nourishment the fertilized ovum needs to grow into a baby. So for the nine months of her pregnancy, while the baby is growing inside her uterus, a woman doesn’t shed her uterine lining. (Here again, there are exceptions to the rule; occasionally, a woman will have one or even two periods after she’s become pregnant. But such periods are shorter than normal periods, and most women don’t have their periods at all once the ovum has been fertilized.) After childbirth, the woman’s periods may start again within a few weeks or a month or two, or it may take several months before they start again.

Also, young girls who’ve just started menstruating don’t always have their periods regularly once a month. It usually takes a while for the body to adjust to menstruating. Many girls have their first period and then don’t have a second one for a number of months. Some have their second period just a couple of weeks after their first. Girls often don’t start having their periods very regularly until they’ve been menstruating for two to three years.

There are certain medical problems that can cause a woman to miss one or more menstrual periods or to stop menstruating altogether. Even healthy women without a single medical problem sometimes miss a period or two. Gaining or losing a lot of weight, moving to a new home, travelling, stress, excitement, nervousness, emotional ups and downs – all these things can cause a woman to miss her period. And there are some perfectly healthy women who menstruate only a few times a year. That’s just the way their particular bodies work.

Most of the time, though, most women have their menstrual periods fairly regularly, about once a month. By ‘fairly regularly’ we don’t mean that it happens once every thirty days exactly. There’s a lot of variation. Some women have periods that come as close together as every twenty-one days; others have periods that come as far apart as every thirty-six days. The average is about twenty-eight days.

No woman’s period is like clockwork. One month the menstrual cycle may last twenty-five days, the next month it may last twenty-eight days and the following month, thirty days. One month the bleeding may last for three days, the next month for five days. Some women’s periods vary quite a bit and others are more regular. In general, though, a woman’s period comes about once a month and lasts for a few days to a week or so.

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