Women: Understanding Your Reproductive Health

Understand What Is Normal and What Is Not

Know When All Is Well and When You Need To Seek Help

Feb. 12 to 18 is Sexual and Reproductive Health Awareness Week. Regardless of whether or not you are sexually active, if you're a menstruating woman, there's something I want you to know about.

Your body goes through some amazing changes every month and there are several signs that you can observe to know that all is well. Put these signs together and you can gain great insight into your hormonal health.

This is not just important for helping to conceive or avoid pregnancy. Our hormonal health can impact so many health concerns that women have today, from weight gain/loss, thyroid health, acne, difficult periods, poor energy, low mood and more.

Understanding and tracking cycles is something I often ask women to do. For the woman, it's an empowering way of understanding her body better and it can give me valuable information to help her ensure optimal hormonal health.

Although your 6th grade health class focused only on the period as the main event in a woman’s cycle, the reality is there's a lot more to it.

HERE'S A BRIEF SYNOPSIS OF SOME IMPORTANT MONTHLY EVENTS.

  • Follicles containing eggs develop every month in our ovaries and when ovulation occurs (the release of the egg from the follicle in the ovary), the egg is released into the fallopian tube moving toward the uterus, available for conception.
  • The egg does not live long and if not fertilized in about 24 hours it is no longer available.
  • If sperm meets egg, the fertilized egg journeys to and implants in the uterus about a week later.
  • The follicle that contained the egg in the ovary goes on to become the corpus luteum – it's job is to emit the hormone progesterone.
  • Progesterone from the corpus luteum will help to sustain the pregnancy until the implanted egg can take over.
  • If conception does not occur, the corpus luteum will cease to emit progesterone in 12 to 16 days and the period will follow.

THERE ARE THREE MAIN SIGNS A WOMAN CAN USE TO KNOW WHERE SHE IS IN HER CYCLE:

  1. After ovulation, a woman’s waking temperature will rise and stay up (this is due to the extra progesterone). Assuming pregnancy does not occur, her waking temperature will drop at the time of her period when the corpus luteum fizzles out. If measured correctly, a cycling woman should have a predictable monthly rise and fall of her waking temperature.
  2. The second sign is cervical fluid. This is the fluid that comes from the vagina in varying amounts and consistency depending on where she is in her cycle. Around the time of ovulation the fluid is there to help sperm with nourishment and motility and is recognizable in it's texture and amount.
  3. The third sign is the position and feel of the cervix – the lowest part of the uterus at the top of the vagina. Using her fingers a woman may, with practice, get to know where she is in her cycle based on the feel of this organ.

* What I am discussing here is known as the Fertility Awareness Method, used consistently and properly, it is a valid method for helping to achieve or avoid pregnancy (but of course not useful for avoiding STI's). As I've tried to illustrate above, it is so much more than that!

LEARNING MORE:

An app that tracks your periods but asks for no additional information WILL NOT be able to predict when you are most fertile or whether you are cycling properly. There are some apps though that will use these details to help you organize the information in an understandable way provided you have a good understanding of how to gather it.

I recommend the book: Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler. It's useful for any woman who wants to understand her body better.

For the teenage girl, Toni Weschler has written a book called Cycle Savvy – The Smart Teen's Guide to the Mysteries of Her Body. How amazing would it be if we'd all learned to understand our bodies early on!

Dr. Alexis Blanks, ND

Dr. Alexis Blanks is a naturopathic doctor who is clinically trained and naturally focused. She is co-owner of Flourish Naturopathic at Moss Street Healthcare Centre. Learn more at FlourishND.com.