For many of us, we don’t give much thought to our menstrual cycles apart from once a month when our period rolls around. This changes slightly when we start trying to conceive, and suddenly we become masters of noticing every little sign of ovulation. But then, once we’re in the thick of the parenting trenches, attention to our body and all its hormonal fluctuations falls by the wayside as our priorities shift to the kids. Honestly, some days it feels like a triumph just to have a shower or finish your coffee when it’s still lukewarm. Knowing when you ovulate is probably the very last thing on your mind.
But, did you know there is so much more to your menstrual cycle than reproduction? And that being aware of the phases of your cycle has many more benefits than just boosting (or reducing) your chances of falling pregnant? Our hormones fluctuate wildly throughout the month, and this impacts your mood, your energy levels, and even your general attitude to life and those close to you. It’s a powerful part of our internal chemistry, and one that is often (thanks, patriarchy) overlooked.
Understanding your hormones can be a parenting superpower
Understanding these changes, and then learning how to work with them is basically a parenting superpower. Knowing why you can be the super outgoing “fun mum” one week, and then feel a desperate need for personal space the next can be as simple as understanding your menstrual cycle. This is an act of kindness (to both you and your family), and is an incredible tool to help you parent with more grace and less guilt.
Menstruation Education 101
We are all different, but the menstrual cycle is approximately 21 to 35 days long, with 28 being the average. It is comprised of four distinct phases.
We recommend tracking your cycle so you can feel confident about knowing which phase you are in and when. Nemt has a free, printable tracker which you can download here.
Menstruation phase: a.k.a. “Mummy’s tired”
(Approximately days 1-5)
This is when your endometrium (uterus lining), which has built up over the last phase, breaks down and is released in the form of your period. Your hormones are at their lowest levels during this phase.
What does that mean for me?: Many report feeling tired and depleted at this time, and more introverted and inwards-focused. Cramping is a common side effect, but should never be severe (talk to your doctor if this is the case). For some, the period comes as a form of emotional release as you move out of your luteal phase (i.e. bid adieu PMS).
This is the time of the month where we should be kindest to ourselves and minimise the expectations we place upon ourselves. We are tired and our energy is low – allow yourself to rest as much as you can (this is a great chance for partners to score some serious brownie points by lessening your load).
Ideal mum activities:
– Guilt-free movie sessions (our favorite is anything Disney with some emotional upheaval so we can sneak in a cathartic cry – think Frozen 2).
- Quiet craft activities that involve less parental supervision (no to slime, yes to colouring in).
- Reading time (bonus if you don’t have to do the actual reading – perhaps your eldest can read to your youngest, or download something engaging from Audible).
Follicular phase: a.k.a. Fun Mum
(Approximately days 6-13)
Levels of a hormone called Follicular Stimulating Hormone (FSH) increase, which sends messages to your ovaries to ready some eggs (that grow inside follicles, or small fluid-filled cysts) for release. The follicles also release oestrogen during this phase, which causes your endometrium to thicken again. These higher oestrogen levels can give you a general mood boost, and many report feeling more in tune with other people’s emotions during their follicular phase.
What does that mean for me?: This is your time to shine! Mentally, this is when you’re likely to feel as though your brain is sharper and more “switched on”. You are stronger and more energetic. You feel your most outgoing and like you are better able to cope with the juggling act that is parenting. Dinner spilled all over the kitchen? No worries! Four different sports activities booked in on Saturday? Have at it!
Ideal mum activities:
- Now I know it’s not realistic to schedule kids’ birthday parties around your menstrual cycle, but if you have some flexibility over what to attend, this is the time to do it. You’ll enjoy the social engagement, and the sound of 25 screaming children will be like music to the ears (well, not quite, but you get the picture).
- Messy crafts! What kid doesn’t love making a mess? Sometimes, we just can’t handle it, and that’s okay. If you want to minimise your chance of being irked by glittery green slime running down the leg of your newly upholstered couch, now’s your chance.
- Get active! Kids love to move, and with your energy at an all time high during this phase, now is the time to grab the family bikes and get outdoors. As a bonus, studies have shown that healthy levels of vitamin D (thanks, sun!) help maintain a regular cycle.
Ovulation: a.k.a. call the babysitter
(Approximately day 14)
The changing oestrogen levels from the follicular phase have caused the levels of leutinizing hormone (LH) to rise, which in turn triggers one of your follicles to release a mature egg, which then makes its way to your fallopian tube and onwards to your uterus. This is your body’s way of prepping for pregnancy if an egg has been fertilised.
What does that mean for me?: Ovulation is another phase of hormonal bliss. Many women report feeling their most positive at this phase of the cycle due to the surge in LH. Also this is when you’re feeling your sexiest and most confident. Your skin is glowing, your hair is bountiful. You are unstoppable.
Ideal mum activities:
- Our relationships with our partners and friends often get less focus when we’re in the throes of raising young children, but these relationships deserve attention. If you can, schedule something fun and adults-only around ovulation. This is when you’ll have the biggest appetite for a hot date or a fun night out with your best girl friends. Plus, the break from routine will leave your batteries recharged as you head into the luteal phase.
- Dance parties! What kid doesn’t love to dance? Now’s the time to put on Kidz Bob, crank up the volume and throw down your best moves. Everyone will have a blast!
Luteal phase: a.k.a. Mummy needs a timeout
(Approximately days 15-28)
The follicle that the released egg grew in continues to produce progesterone, and a bit of oestrogen, which keeps the endometrium healthy and is necessary in supporting a healthy pregnancy. If there is no pregnancy, the follicle stops producing hormones, which causes the uterus lining to shed and so voila! – you have yourself another period!
What does that mean for me?: It’s been a bed of roses so far, but what goes up must come down and nowhere is this more evident than in your luteal phase when your hormone levels plummet. This is when PMS symptoms kick in, including stress, anxiety and mood swings. This is also usually when cravings start and sometimes that’s topped with a bout of constipation. Others report feeling more absent-minded and tired around this time.
Your need for personal space often rockets at this time, which can be a challenge as a mum, particularly when the kids are young and feel the need to be touching you at all times. But understanding this, and allowing yourself the space to have some alone time, is an amazing thing you can do for yourself.
Ideal mum activities:
- Share a warm bath and throw in generous handfuls of epsom salts, This is a double whammy activity: the magnesium in the bath salts helps to relieve any cramps you might have, plus it relaxes your children so they are more like to drift off to sleep quickly (cue more alone time).
- Baking is also a great activity for this time. It involves little physical activity, and Grandma’s best brownie recipe is the perfect antidote to those chocolate cravings.
Parenting is a roller coaster
We are not the same person every day, and so we shouldn’t expect to have the same energy and appetite for certain activities all the time.
If you have some flexibility over what activities you can do with your little ones and when, it can make life much easier if you take into account your menstrual cycle. Adjusting the expeditions you place on yourself and not trying to always go at 100% is a great act of self-care and kindness, and something your whole family can benefit from.
By Nina Smith
Nina is co-founder of Nemt, who are launching a line of patent-pending period underwear that finally makes it easy to have a sustainable period. Nemt means easy and effortless in Danish, and that lies at the core of Nemt’s vision. Because with 1.8 billion of us menstruating each month, it shouldn’t be hard.
Visit Nemt’s website at www.nemtlife.com and subscribe to their emails to get first access to their exclusive pre-sale. You can also find them on Instagram (@nemt_life) where you can learn and laugh about all things menstruation.