Your reproductive system through the decades

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My body is changing, am I normal? The main function of the female reproductive system is to produce hormones and sex cells, but as we age a number of natural changes occur.

Even though you might be familiar with how your body looks and feels, many women are unaware of what actually happens to the reproductive system as they age.

Here’s a guide to what you can expect:


Puberty normally kicks in between the ages of 8 and 13. During the puberty cycle, your body releases hormones that stimulate the ovaries, enabling them to start producing oestrogen. The release of oestrogen results in a girl’s body changing into a woman’s body. Most women will have developed breasts and started having periods by 16.

Did you know? As your body produces more oestrogen, it begins the process of sexual maturity, meaning that your breasts start to grow, your periods will start and you’re also prone to spot outbreaks and mood swings.

Early 20s

Now that puberty has passed, things get a little easier for a while. Periods become more regulated, but of the 1-2 million eggs you were born with, you now have 100 -200 thousand eggs remaining. Don’t worry though, as when it comes to reproducing it’s about quality over quantity, and in your early 20s egg quality is still very high.

Did you know? You are at your most fertile in your early 20s, so it is imperative to be extra cautious when it comes to contraception.

Late 20s

As you get closer to the 30 mark, you will experience a slight dip in fertility. Egg quality is still high, but the chance of getting pregnant within a year is around 75%.

Did you know? Due to an increased level of the hormone prostaglandin in your body, period cramps can become more intense at this age.


Reproduction opportunities slow down when women head into their 30s, as we produce fewer eggs than in the 20s. As women move into their late 30s, the odds of conceiving within 12 months reduces and the odds of miscarriage can increase.

Did you know? While your fertility begins to decrease your libido will do the exact opposite. Studies* have shown that women reach their sexual prime in their 30s, while men reach theirs in their 20s.

Early 40s

A woman’s odds of conceiving a child with the chromosomal disorder Down Syndrome increases to one in 100 when in the 40s.

Did you know? Lower oestrogen levels in your early 40s mean that you’ll be prone to vaginal dryness and UTI’s. It’s not all doom and gloom though, as the lower levels of oestrogen also mean that your periods become less frequent.

After 45

Although not impossible, fewer women will have a successful full-term pregnancy and the odds of conceiving a child with Down Syndrome jump to 1 in 30.  This is also the age when menopausal changes can begin, which can carry on until 65. Oestrogen and progesterone levels drop which results in a thinning of the urethral and vaginal walls.

Did you know? The menopause is responsible for many changes happening to your body after 45.  These include hot flushes, mood swings and decreased libido.


*Sexual Behavior in the Human Female, Institute for Sex

8 awkward questions you were afraid to ask about…. Periods

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  1. Why is the blood a brownish colour at the start of a period?

A brownish colour usually indicates that it’s just older blood coming out, but it’s nothing to worry about. Most likely it’s some of the uterus lining left over from your last period, or you might just shed the lining at a slower rate so the blood turns brown before you see it on your tampon.

  1. Why does it sometimes smell a bit fishy downstairs during a period?

The blood itself doesn’t usually smell, but when it mixes with bacteria and sweat you might start to notice an unwelcome aroma. Changing your tampon or sanitary pad frequently to stop blood building up will really help, as will regular showers. But don’t be tempted to use harsh soaps, gently does it when you’re dealing with your delicate lady bits.

  1. Do orgasms really help period pain?

The great news is they do! Monthly cramps are caused by the uterus contracting to shed the endometrial lining. So those involuntary muscle spasms you feel in your body when things reach fever pitch, can help the uterus shed its lining more effectively and relieve the cramping. And if that wasn’t enough your body produces a hormone called oxytocin during sex, which acts like a natural pain reliever. Result!

  1. Are heavy periods something to worry about?

Some women just experience heavier periods which is usual for them, but if things suddenly change and your period gets heavier and stops you doing things, then speak to your GP about it. They will check there is nothing else going on such as fibroids and may be able to offer a change to your regular contraceptive pill to reduce the monthly bleed.

  1. Are large blood clots during a period something to worry about?

It’s not uncommon to experience blobs of blood up to the size of a cherry, particularly during the heavier days of your period. This is just a sign that your uterus lining is shedding particularly quickly. If however you start to get bigger blobs, or you are worried then speak to your GP about it. They will probably want to check for anaemia if you’re losing quite a bit of blood.

  1. Can you get pregnant during a period?

Irregular periods mean that you can experience bleeding at different times in your cycle, including while you’re ovulating, which means you can still get pregnant. What’s more, because sperm can live for up to five days inside the female reproductive tract, the window of conception opportunity gets even bigger. If you’ve had unprotected sex during your period or your usual form of contraception has failed and you don’t want to fall pregnant, you might want to consider using an emergency contraceptive. ellaOne is a morning after pill which contains ulipristal acetate – always read the label.


  1. Why do toilet habits change during a period?

During your period, the body produces hormone-like substances called prostaglandins, which is the sign to the uterus to start contracting and shed the lining. These same prostaglandins send a similar message to your bowels, which is why you can feel the need to go urgently and more frequently, sometimes with looser poo. If there are less prostaglandins, then that can cause constipation.

  1. Are there any alternatives to tampons and sanitary pads?

If you want to be more environmentally friendly and save money you can try reusable pads. Just throw them in the washing machine after every wear and they are ready to use again. You can also try a menstrual cup. These are little devices that sit inside your vagina to catch blood. You then remove the cup and rinse it out before replacing it. Alternatively, you can try wearable period pants – knickers which are designed to absorb blood without the need for a separate pad. The pants are then just washed as normal and used again.

Read about your choices here.