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The Female Reproductive System and How It Works

The female reproductive system performs several functions. The ovaries produce the egg cells which are then transported to the fallopian tube where it may be fertilized by a sperm. The fertilized egg moves to the uterus where the lining has thickened, responding to the hormones of the reproductive cycle. The fertilized egg in the uterus can implant into the thickened lining and continue to develop. If fertilization does not happen, the lining is shed as menstrual flow.

Additionally, the female reproductive system also produces female sex hormones that keep the reproductive cycle going.

During the menopausal period, the female reproductive system slowly stops making the hormones needed for the reproductive cycle. Menstrual cycles become irregular until they completely stop.

What Actually Happens During a Menstrual Cycle?

With every menstrual cycle, a woman’s body gets ready for a potential pregnancy (whether it’s intended or not). The average cycle takes around 28 days and happens in phases:

Follicular Phase

This starts on the first day of your period. During this phase, two hormones – follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) are released and travel through the blood to your ovaries. These will stimulate the growth of 15-20 eggs, each in its own follicle. These hormones also trigger the production increase of estrogen. As estrogen levels rise, it turns off the FSH production. The balance of hormones allows your body to limit the number of follicles to prepare eggs to be released. As this phase progresses, one follicle becomes dominant and mature. This suppresses all the other follicles in the group, causing them to stop growing and die. The dominant follicle then continues to produce estrogen.

Ovulatory Phase

Ovulation starts around 14 days after the follicular phase started. It is the midpoint of the menstrual cycle. During this phase the rise in estrogen triggers a surge in the amount of luteinizing hormone produced by the brain. This causes the dominant follicle to release its egg which is then captured by the fimbriae and sent into the fallopian tube. There is also an increase in both the amount and thickness of mucus produced by the cervix. This thick mucus captures sperm, nourishes it, and helps move it towards the egg.

Luteal Phase

After ovulation, the luteal phase begins. The empty ovarian follicle develops into a structure we call the corpus luteum, which secretes estrogen and progesterone. The latter prepares your uterus for the implantation of a fertilized egg. If a man’s sperm has fertilized the egg, this fertilized egg (now an embryo) will travel through the fallopian tube to the uterus. Once it does, the woman is now pregnant. If fertilization does not happen, the egg passes through the uterus and because it’s not needed to support a pregnancy, the uterus lining breaks down and sheds, beginning your next menstrual period.

If you want to know more about your reproductive system and how it works, if you have any concerns, or if you believe you need help conceiving, Dr. Fay Weisberg may be able to help you. Just call First Steps Fertility to be scheduled for an appointment!