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Menstruation and Menopause

The menstrual cycle is the process by which a woman's body gets ready for the chance of a pregnancy each month. The average menstrual cycle is 28 days from the start of one to the start of the next, but it can range from 21 days to 35 days.

Most menstrual periods last from three to five days. In the United States, most girls start menstruating at age 12, but girls can start menstruating between the ages of 8 and 16.

Menopause is the absence of menstrual periods for 12 months. The menopausal transition begins with varying menstrual cycle lengths and ends with the final menstruation.

Pregnancy and preconception care

Pregnancy is the term used to describe when a woman has a growing fetus inside of her. In most cases, the fetus grows in the uterus.

Human pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, or just more than 9 months, from the start of the last menstrual period to childbirth.

What are prenatal and preconception care and why are they important?

Prenatal care is the care woman gets during a pregnancy. Getting early and regular prenatal care is important for the health of both mother and the developing baby.

In addition, health care providers are now recommending a woman see a health care provider for preconception care, even before she considers becoming pregnant or in between pregnancies.

Both preconception care and prenatal care help to promote the best health outcomes for mother and baby.

Quick GuideConception: The Amazing Journey from Egg to Embryo

Conception: The Amazing Journey from Egg to Embryo

Fertility and Infertility

Infertility is the term health care providers use for women who are unable to get pregnant, and for men who are unable to impregnate a woman, after at least one year of trying.

In women, the term is used to describe those who are of normal childbearing age, not those who can't get pregnant because they are near or past menopause. Women who are able to get pregnant but who cannot carry a pregnancy to term (birth) may also be considered infertile.

Infertility is a complex problem – it does not have a single cause because getting pregnant is a multi-step chain of events. The cause of infertility can rest in the women or the man, or can be from unknown factors or a combination of factors.

Contraception

Contraception, also known as birth control, is designed to prevent pregnancy. Some types of birth control include (but are not limited to):

  • Barrier methods, such as condoms, the diaphragm, and the cervical cap, are designed to prevent the sperm from reaching the egg for fertilization.

  • Intrauterine device, or IUD, is a small device that is inserted into the uterus by a health care provider. The IUD prevents a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. An IUD can stay in the uterus for up to 10 years until it is removed by a health care provider.

  • Hormonal birth control, such as birth control pills, injections, skin patches, and vaginal rings, release hormones into a woman's body that interfere with fertility by preventing ovulation, fertilization, or implantation.

  • Sterilization is a method that permanently prevents a woman from getting pregnant or a man from being able to get a woman pregnant. Sterilization involves surgical procedures that must be done by a health care provider and usually cannot be reversed.

The choice of birth control depends on factors such as a person's overall health, age, frequency of sexual activity, number of sexual partners, desire to have children in the future, and family history of certain diseases. A woman should talk to her health care provider about her choice of birth control method.

Sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS/HIV

It is important to remember that even though birth control methods can prevent pregnancy, they do not all protect against sexually transmitted diseases or HIV.

SOURCE: National Institute of Child and Health and Human Development; "Reproductive Health."

Last Editorial Review: 8/6/2009

Reviewed on 8/6/2009
References

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