How much do you know about your body?
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How much do you know about your body?
Understand how your reproductive system works.
Every female has a specialized reproductive system in her body that makes her uniquely a woman. It’s an amazing God-given gift that enables us to bring life into the world, but many of us don’t know much about this distinguishing part of our womanhood because it’s completely internal and not visible to the eye. However, it’s important to understand how your body works, because this helps you understand the changes you feel at different stages of your menstrual cycle, calculate the time you are most likely to conceive, and recognize if something goes wrong. You’ll also be more confident discussing any concerns with your gynecologist.
Your reproductive system is located in your pelvis. Starting from the vaginal opening and going upwards, it is made of several organs:
This muscular tube, 6 to 12 cm in length depending on the individual, extends from the vaginal opening up to the uterus. It is the organ for sexual intercourse as well as the birth canal, the passage through which a baby is born. At its upper end, the vagina opens into the cervix.
The Cervix and Uterus
The cervix is the opening of your uterus, a pear shaped organ around the size of a fist. In spite of its small size, the uterus has a very thick, highly expandable muscular wall that allows it to accommodate a fully developed baby. The cervix acts as a “guard,” keeping the uterus closed. In the center of the cervix there is a very small opening which allows the passage of menstrual blood out of the uterus and the passage of the male’s seminal fluid into the uterus when a couple is trying to conceive. It also keeps the fetus inside the uterus during pregnancy until the time of delivery, when the cervix dilates (opens) wide enough to allow the baby’s passage out to the birth canal.
The Fallopian Tubes
The two fallopian tubes are identical and are each 6 cm long. The tubes are the passage where a woman’s egg (ovum) goes to be fertilized by a man’s sperm and then travels down to the uterus. At one end, the tubes attach to the uterus, and at the other end, they attach to the right and left ovaries.
Every female has two small organs called ovaries. Each ovary is the size of a large strawberry. Their function is to produce, store and release a woman’s eggs (ova), as well as to make the hormones estrogen, progesterone and testosterone. A baby girl is born with all of her eggs already stored in her ovaries, about 400,000 in all. These ova remain dormant until puberty, when the first monthly menstrual cycle begins.
The Menstrual Cycle
The menstrual cycle is the time from the beginning of one menstrual period until the beginning of the next. This is an average 28 days, but it varies from woman to woman, ranging from 21 to 35 days. What exactly is this cycle? It is the process by which your body readies itself for pregnancy. Your uterus produces a thick lining in preparation for a receiving a fertilized egg. If the egg is not fertilized, the uterus sheds this lining, which is your menstrual blood.
Days 1 to 12
Day 1 of your cycle is the first day of your period, when the uterus begins to sheds its lining along with the unfertilized egg from the previous cycle. The menstrual period usually lasts 2 to 7 days, varying from one woman to another. After your period ends, the hormone estrogen in your body begins to gradually increase, causing the lining of your uterus to be rebuilt with tissue and blood vessels once again. In the meantime, your body releases other hormones, which stimulate one of your ovaries to make several tiny fluid-filled sacs (follicles). Each follicle harbours an egg. Usually, only one follicle will eventually mature and rupture, releasing just one egg to be fertilized.
Days 13 & 14
This is the time when you have the highest chance of getting pregnant. A surge of hormones causes the follicle to rupture and release the egg – this process is called ovulation. The egg travels from the ovary to the fallopian tube, where it may be fertilized by a man’s sperm if you have had intercourse around this time. A woman’s maximum fertility lasts only 24 hours, but a man’s sperm remains alive in a woman’s body for a few days, so if you have had intercourse in the days before ovulation, there is still the possibility of conception.
Days 15 to 28
Your body now produces the hormone progesterone, which helps make the lining of your uterus grow thick and spongy to receive and nourish the fertilized egg. If the egg has been fertilized, it travels to the uterus and embeds in the lining on the 20th day of the cycle. Thus, a woman becomes pregnant and the fertilized egg will grow into a baby.
However, if the egg has not been fertilized, a woman’s hormone levels drop a few days before the end of the cycle, causing the lining of the uterus to break down and shed, along with the unfertilized egg. This marks the beginning of the next menstrual cycle.