A guest blog this week from my friend and fertility expert, Heidi Brockmyre, L.Ac.
Just like nature cycles through 4 seasons during the course of the year, your body cycles through 4 phases during each menstrual cycle.
As you tune into the changing seasons of the year, you eat different foods and switch clothing to support your body as it adjusts to the environmental changes.
These adjustments are intuitive. You instinctively know to eat in-season produce, drink warm teas during the winter, and eat refreshing watermelon to stay hydrated during hot summer months.
In our modern Western society, however, you may not be as in tune with the needs of your body during each phase of your menstrual cycle. Supporting each phase helps you to maintain a regular healthy menstrual cycle, balance your hormones and sustain the health of your eggs and lining.
In the West, we aren’t taught much about our reproductive systems at all, let alone about the 4 phases of our menstrual cycle. Most of my patients don’t even know what fertile cervical mucus is until they start reading up on how to increase fertility and chart their cycles.
A healthier cycle is the prerequisite for improving fertility and a healthy pregnancy. It's like tilling the soils to prepare for an abundant harvest. By gaining insight into the rhythms of your cycle, you can influence the health of your cycle, which is why it's so important for me to teach you the wisdom Chinese medicine has to offer on the subject.
Primary Goal in Chinese Medicine: Move Blood
Each phase typically lasts about 7 days if you maintain a regular 28 day cycle. The first phase of your cycle begins with the first day of your period. Although you may only have flow for 1-3 days, this first week is considered the first phase.
The primary goal during this phase is to properly shed your uterine lining. Energy needs to be flowing in the right direction, which is down and out of your body. This is a delicate phase. A lot of movement is taking place and so your body should rest and be allowed to do it’s thing.
It takes energy for the body to release the lining. If it’s disrupted, you may not properly shed the lining and old stagnant blood can stick around, causing clots. It’s important to stay hydrated and you may need additional electrolytes. If you crave red meat, you likely need the iron. Otherwise avoid eating heavy and greasy foods.
During your period, avoid exercising. Gentle stretching and light walking are acceptable.
Phase 2-Follicular Phase
Primary Goal in Chinese Medicine: Build Yin and Blood
Phase two begins around 1 week after your period starts and lasts until ovulation.
The primary goal during the second phase is to rebuild blood and substance to nourish a healthy uterine lining and support the maturation of a healthy egg for ovulation. As soon as your flow stops, it’s a good idea to begin nourishing your body and building up blood and fluids again.
This is considered the yin phase (versus yang) of your mentrual cyle. Yin is the substance and fluid material of your body, while yang is energy that fuels movement and function.
Although it’s important during all 4 phases of your cycle to get a good night’s sleep, your body especially needs it during this time. In fact, it’s best to be in bed before 11:00 PM each night. According to the Chinese medicine circadian clock, it's at this time that your body starts replenishing it’s blood supply and healing the tissues of your body while you sleep. By missing out on quality sleep or getting to bed too late, you may not replenish your blood supply adequately, which can affect the health of your lining and eggs, especially if this is a chronic habit.
I also recommend eating plenty of nourishing foods, like soups and stews, iron-rich vegetables and lots of organic animal protein to give your body the support it needs to rebuild your blood supply and mature an egg for ovulation.
Avoid excessively sweating and overly rigorous exercise during this time. You may find that your joints are stiffer, you’re more prone to headaches and fatigue.
Self-acupressure is also a very effective tool for supporting your body during the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle.
Primary Goal in Chinese Medicine: Promote Yang (Warmth and Movement)
Phase 3 begins with ovulation and lasts for one week following ovulation. This phase begins when the “yin” (blood and fluids) have built to a climax and then the energy transforms into yang as the body signals that it's ready for ovulation.
The yang phase is about warmth and movement. This is why your basal body temperature should rise immediately after having ovulated. The hormones released during this phase of your cycle warm up the body to promote the release of the egg-containing follicle. The warmth encourages dilation and blood flow so that the egg can be released from the follicle and travel unobstructed down the open fallopian tubes.
During this phase, it’s important to keep your feet, low back and abdomen warm. Stretching the hips, low back, and pelvic area can help increase blood flow and movement in the reproductive organs while relieving congestion.
Avoid cold foods, raw vegetables, and phlegm producing foods, like sugar and dairy as these can cause congestion and fluid build up in your tubes and uterus. Congestion makes it difficult for the sperm to reach the eggs and for an embryo to make the journey down the tubes.
Phase 4-Implantation or Pre-Menstrual Phase
Primary Goal in Chinese Medicine-Regulate the Flow of Qi (Pre-Menstrual Phase) or Promote Yang (Implantation)
This phase begins about 1 week after ovulation and ends the day get your period or confirm pregnancy with the first day of your late period.
Your temperatures should continue to stay high during this phase and typically drop off right before you being your period. This phase continues to be about warmth and the movement of energy or “qi”. If implantation took place (usually between 7-10 days after ovulation), then warmth and blood flow will continue to be the main priority.
Self-acupressure to promote implantation using a study-proven series of specific points is an effective tool for encouraging your fertilized embryo to successfully implant.
If you are not pregnant, then your body is gathering energy to shed the uterine lining and adjusting hormones. Sometimes this energy gets bottlenecked or doesn’t flow smoothly, resulting in a variety of PMS symptoms like moodiness, bloating, and headaches.
It’s important during this phase to minimize stress, as stress disrupts the flow of qi and can make the symptoms worse. Caffeine and alcohol should also be avoided. Exercise and stretching helps regulate the flow of qi. Peppermint tea helps to relieve PMS symptoms and improve the flow of qi.
Your body performs infinite miracles every moment of every day in every cell. The better you understand your body, the better you can support it. The more in tune you are with your cycle, the more you can till the soils of your fertility.
Heidi Brockmyre, L.Ac is Fertility Expert and Experienced Acupuncturist. She practices out of her San Diego clinic using acupuncture, shamanic healing and other holistic medicines to improve the well-being of her clients, including those struggling with specific health complaints, and women who are trying to conceive, are pregnant, or are in postpartum recovery. Heidi has continued to develop more programs to help women all over the world take control of their fertility health through online courses and products. Heidi also run a mentorship program to help other acupuncturists achieve the same global reach, so that together we can create a worldwide health paradigm shift. Get Heidi’s Free Library of Resources Here.
Dr. Michelle Wendt, L.Ac., DACM
Dr. Michelle Wendt, L.Ac., DACM practices Oriental & Chinese Medicine in Hawaii and Texas.