Female Reproductive System | Cleveland Clinic

How does the female reproductive system work?

The female reproductive system provides several functions. The ovaries produce the egg cells, called the ova or oocytes. The oocytes are then transported to the fallopian tube where fertilization by a sperm may occur. The fertilized egg then moves to the uterus, where the uterine lining has thickened in response to the normal hormones of the reproductive cycle. Once in the uterus, the fertilized egg can implant into thickened uterine lining and continue to develop. If implantation does not take place, the uterine lining is shed as menstrual flow. In addition, the female reproductive system produces female sex hormones that maintain the reproductive cycle.

During menopause, the female reproductive system gradually stops making the female hormones necessary for the reproductive cycle to work. At this point, menstrual cycles can become irregular and eventually stop. One year after menstrual cycles stop, the woman is considered to be menopausal.

The female reproductive anatomy includes both external and internal structures.

The function of the external female reproductive structures (the genital) is twofold: To enable sperm to enter the body and to protect the internal genital organs from infectious organisms.

The main external structures of the female reproductive system include:

The internal reproductive organs include:

Females of reproductive age (beginning anywhere from 11 to 16 years of age) experience cycles of hormonal activity that repeat at about one-month intervals. Menstru means "monthly leading to the term menstrual cycle. With every cycle, a womans body prepares for a potential pregnancy, whether or not that is the womans intention. The term menstruation refers to the periodic shedding of the uterine lining. Many women call the days that they notice vaginal bleeding their period, menstrual or cycle.

The average menstrual cycle takes about 28 days and occurs in phases. These phases include:

There are four major hormones (chemicals that stimulate or regulate the activity of cells or organs) involved in the menstrual cycle. These hormones include:

This phase starts on the first day of your period. During the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle, the following events occur:

The ovulatory phase (ovulation) usually starts about 14 days after the follicular phase started, but this can vary. The ovulatory phase falls between the follicular phase and luteal phase. Most women will have a menstrual period 10 to 16 days after ovulation. During this phase, the following events occur:

The luteal phase begins right after ovulation and involves the following processes:

During fetal life, there are about 6 million to 7 million eggs. From this time, no new eggs are produced. At birth, there are approximately 1 million eggs; and by the time of puberty, only about 300,000 remain. Of these, only 300 to 400 will be ovulated during a woman's reproductive lifetime. Fertility can drop as a woman ages due to decreasing number and quality of the remaining eggs.

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Female Reproductive System | Cleveland Clinic

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