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Cycle tracking 101

Ah, the menstrual cycle — nature’s way of periodically checking in to remind you that your body is a magical mystery tour. It’s like a monthly subscription box you never signed up for, delivering: mood swings, cravings, pads, and cramps.

Even if women go through their cycles every month, some do not yet understand how tracking works.

First, let’s demystify this 28-ish-day adventure. Why track it? Well, aside from dodging the surprise period, knowing your cycle helps you predict mood shifts, energy dips, and, yes, even those sudden urges to cry over movies. Plus, it’s crucial for managing your health and planning around baby-making — or avoiding it, as the case may be.

Step 1: Know thy phases

Your cycle has four main acts:

Menstruation: The opening scene, where the body sheds the uterine lining. Cue the dramatic entrance of blood, often with a side of cramps.

The Follicular Phase: This starts on day one of your period and goes until you ovulate. It’s like the buildup of hormones — estrogen rises, an egg preps for its big debut, and your energy starts to peak.

Ovulation: Around mid-cycle, your body releases an egg — it’s go-time for fertility. You might notice a spike in libido.

The Luteal Phase: After the egg’s grand performance, progesterone takes the stage. If the egg isn’t fertilized, your body gears up to start all over again. This phase is famous for PMS, where you might find yourself debating whether to eat a salad or demolish a chocolate cake.

Step 2: Choose your tracking tools

Old-school diary, an app, or the classic calendar in your room — pick your potion. Apps like Clue or Flo can be handy digital wizards that predict and remind you of your cycle phases, symptoms, and even when you do not understand what is happening. Plus, they’re less likely to be read by someone else.

Step 3: Note the nuances

Start recording what happens and when: first day of bleeding, heaviness of flow, cramps, mood swings, and any other symptoms that are experiencing.. Over time, you’ll see patterns that make predictions easier.

Once you’ve made note of your past periods and added them to a calendar, you’re ready to look at what a “typical” period looks like for you.

First, you’ll look at how many days your period usually lasts. Period length can vary from person to person and can last anywhere from 2-7 days, but most people have a pattern for how long it usually lasts for them (ex: 3-4 days or 5-6 days). Based on past period lengths, take note of how long your periods last and write down this information.

Next, you’ll look at how long your menstrual cycle typically is. To do this you count the days from the first day of a period to the day before the next period. Typically, cycles are between 26 and 32 days long and vary from person to person. Based on the length of your past menstrual cycles, take note of how long your menstrual cycles usually are and write this information down next to your period length.

Now that you know how long your periods and cycle are, you can start to estimate when your next period will likely come. To do this you begin at the first day of your most recent period (this is day one) and count out the number of days your menstrual cycle typically lasts. On the day following the end of your cycle is when they next period is predicted to begin. You can add a note on this day as a reminder. For example, if your period typically lasts five days, and your cycle is normally 28 days long, this is how your calendar would look:

From that information, you can know which phase you are in, if you are likely to get pregnant, not likely or any other information you may wish to know.

Keeping record of the length and timing of your period, qualities of your menstrual fluid (color, texture, amount), and symptoms like cramping or fatigue can help you learn what is normal for your body.

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