Anovulation and Irregular Cycles
No two females are the same. Women have cycles that vary. It is dependent on if she is an adolescent girl, just coming off the pill, breastfeeding, or is approaching menopause.
A Typical Cycle
In what is considered a “normal” cycle, the release of the egg occurs in a predictable pattern. After your menses, “under the influence of rising estrogen, you’ll usually have several days of no cervical fluid, building up to progressively wetter fertile-quality cervical fluid (103)”. After the egg is released the cervical fluid will dry quickly. Then the pattern starts again.
Different Phases of Anovulation
The average age of American girls to begin menstruation is 12 to 14 years old. At this age, the onset of menses may not be due to the release of an egg.
One of the characteristics of cycles in teenage girls is the fluctuation of the estrogen cycles. Therefore the cycle of a teenager is not predictable. The distance between menses and duration may vary, with some anovulatory cycles in between.
When breastfeeding “on demand” a woman may not have menses for months. Every time the baby is breastfed the hormones that trigger ovulation are triggered. But, in order for it to work, the baby must feed regularly when baby indicates hunger (no supplementation).
A woman could go a year or more without a change in temperature, experiencing the same cervical fluid. The reason that she would not see the good kind of cervical fluid, at first, is that prolactin will lower the estrogen levels and keep the fertile quality cervical fluid from being produced. The trick here is, to be able to notice if there is any change in the cervical fluid, which will indicate that ovulation is soon to resume.
Premenopause occurs prior to Menopause, when all ovulation and menses cease. It often will last for years. During this time, her cycles may start to be very different than usual. At first, the cycles may shorten because of more frequent ovulations and shorter luteal phases. As time goes on, the length of the cycles increases as the number of ovulations become more infrequent. Finally the cycles end altogether. If the woman is 40 or older and she has had no menses for a year or more, she is said to be in Menopause.
Other Major Causes of Anovulation
Normally, illnesses do not affect your cycle. When illness affects your cycle depends upon the phase of your cycle you are in when you become ill, if before ovulation it may delay or cause no ovulation to occur… If after ovulation, it will rarely cause any problems.
A fever will not affect your ability to chart or interpret it. There are other fertility signs. Not only that, you can still tell whether the temperature affected your cycle in either delaying or preventing the cycle.
Travel is notorious for causing an effect on the cycle. Some women do manage to be regular like clock-work despite traveling.
Your body may interpret traveling as a stressor. Some women may find that they have an extended cycle while others do not ovulate at all…in fact stop menstruating altogether. Despite all this, and the fun of travel, you will find charting using all three signs is beneficial to notate the ambiguities.
Heads up! Strenuous exercise is a well-known cycle buster! It can delay or stop ovulation. Exercise mostly affects competitive athletes with low body fat ratios. For women, it is mostly those who are runners swimmers, gymnasts, and ballet dancers that have issues. But metabolism, thyroid, and diet must be ruled out first.
Weight Loss or Gain
To maintain normal ovulatory cycles, a woman’s body weight should be a minimum of 20% body fat. This is in order to have the body store estrogen and to allow for androgen conversion into to the kind of estrogen necessary for ovulation.
Women who are extremely thin, especially those with anorexia, tend to have their menses stop. This is due to not having enough estrogen to cause ovulation.
Long cycles are often caused by stress. Stresses can be either psychological or physical. Stress tends to delay ovulation rather than cause an earlier ovulation cycle. Therefore, the later the ovulation occurs the cycle becomes longer. If stress is severe it can cause ovulation to stop altogether.
A variety of medical conditions can cause menses to cease. These are:
- Elevated prolactin
- Pituitary gland problems
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome
A common and useful way to determine the cause of anovulation is with a Progesterone Withdrawal Test.
For both breastfeeding and Premenopause, the use of FAM as your contraception method can be tricky.