The female body cycles through menstrual cycles as a way to prepare the body for pregnancy. Whether pregnant or not, your body is going to go through a menstrual cycle if you are having periods. Cramping is a symptom associated with periods. Some women start cramping a week before their period, but why?
Keep reading to find out.
Understanding the Menstrual Cycle
There are four phases in the menstrual cycle. Keep in mind, some phases of your cycle overlap. Let’s review.
- Phase 1 - menstruation: Day one of your cycle starts when your period starts, also known as menstruation. The terms period and menstruation can be used interchangeably. Periods occur when our uterus lining sheds, causing blood to flow out of the vagina. Period blood contains mucus and some cells from the lining of your uterus. Most women experience phase one for 3-8 days.
- Phase 2 - follicular phase: On day one of your cycle, the follicular phase also begins. Typically, this phase continues for 13 to 14 days. Ovulation marks the end of this phase. During ovulation an egg is released.
- Phase 3 - ovulation: The pregnancy window… ovulation. During ovulation a mature egg is released from an ovary. Usually, one ovary will release an egg one cycle, and the next cycle it will come from the other ovary. Ovulation can last for 16 to 32 hours, and there are ways to test and find out when your ovulation window is. Keep in mind that irregular cycles can cause inconsistencies. Some women may skip ovulation cycles too.
- Phase 4 - luteal phase: Following ovulation comes the luteal phase. This phase can look different depending on if you are pregnant or not. Cells in the ovary, also known as corpus luteum, release a small dose of estrogen and progesterone which causes the uterus lining to thicken. This is intended to prepare the body for pregnancy. If you did not conceive during ovulation, the corpus luteum dies and the uterus lining sheds, restarting the cycle with your period.
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual symptoms (PMS) are probably something you are familiar with as a woman. While they can change from cycle to cycle, being aware of where you are at in your cycle can help you prepare and or manage PMS. Symptoms of PMS can include the following.
- Emotional symptoms
- Mood swings
- Physical symptoms
- Breast tenderness
- Greasy hair
Causes of Cramping a Week Before Your Period
A week before your period, you should be in the luteal phase, which we described earlier.
During this phase, progesterone levels drop if you are not pregnant and the uterus lining sheds, resulting in your period.
As your hormone levels fluctuate and the body prepares to shed its lining, cramps can occur.
It’s common for women to experience cramps before, during, and after periods. Here are some causes of cramping a week before your period:
- Hormonal fluctuations: Hormones such as progesterone or estrogen can cause cramping. Specifically, low progesterone and high estrogen can result in cramps. There are lifestyle and diet changes you can make to subside cramping pain before your period if they are due to a hormonal imbalance.
- Stress and anxiety: Stress and anxiety can impact our period or cause irregular periods. It can also cause cramping.
- Natural cycle of your body: As we mentioned above, it’s normal for women to experience cramping before their period. If cramping is intense or irregular, you may want to consult your doctor. Whether period symptoms are regular or not, it’s wise to provide your doctor with all details associated with your cycle so they can help you understand your body better.
Tracking Your Menstrual Cycle
Understanding our bodies helps us manage our lives better. We encourage women to track menstrual cycles as this can help you predict when symptoms may occur.
It can also help you identify where you are in your cycle. Tracking cycles can also help you identify irregularities or patterns better. There are applications available that make tracking cycles easier.
These applications can help you track cycle dates, symptoms, ovulation, and more.
They are designed for all women with a period, not just those trying to conceive.
In most cases, you will need to input the dates of your period and the application will guide you through the rest.
Log daily for more accurate tracking.
Managing Premenstrual Cramps
Comfort is always a top priority, especially when you might not be feeling your best. To better manage premenstrual cramps, here are some tips.
- Over-the-counter pain relief: Midol or other over-the-counter options can offer pain relief. Consult a pharmacist for recommendations.
- Heat therapy: Heating pads, warm towels, or a warm bath can help relieve cramping discomfort. Heat therapy can help you get through your work day or relax to take a nap. Allowing your body to relax can also help with cramping a week before your period.
- Dietary changes: Our diet can influence how our body reacts. Changes such as reducing caffeine and salt intake can help manage cramping. For personalized diet recommendations, you may want to seek the advice of a dietician or nutritionist.
- Stress management techniques: Stress can weigh heavy on our minds and bodies. While it’s unavoidable for most of us, find ways to release stress. Taking time to breathe and relax daily, even if it’s just a few minutes, can help cramping.
Managing your cycle, cramps included, is something we learn overtime. With so many things to focus on regularly, it’s easy to overlook the needs of our body.
Always make time to connect with yourself and seek the help you need to manage any symptoms you may be experiencing.
Cramping a week before your period can make it difficult to predict when your period is actually coming.
Stressing about your period surprising you can create more stress… which can mean more cramps too.
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