The female reproductive system contains the organs responsible for reproduction, including the uterus (womb), ovaries, fallopian tubes and vagina. These organs prepare a woman’s body for pregnancy on a regular cycle – the menstrual cycle.
Anatomy and functions
The female reproductive system creates, transports, nurtures and meets the needs of the egg and also the foetus (unborn baby), if a pregnancy happens.
The female reproductive system includes:
- Two ovaries - female hormones (oestrogen and progesterone) are produced in the ovaries, and eggs are stored here to mature and be released in ovulation.
- Fallopian tubes - these are two thin tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus so they can transport the egg.
- Uterus - if pregnancy occurs, the fertilised egg will implant and grow into a baby here.
- Cervix - the lower part of the uterus that connects it to the vagina.
- Vagina - a muscular tube connecting the cervix to the outside of the body.
How does the menstrual cycle work?
The menstrual cycle occurs approximately monthly - a 28 day cycle is average - usually starting when a woman is around 10-16 years old.
Each cycle prepares a woman for a possible pregnancy. Ovulation releases an egg from the ovary, and there is growth of the endometrium (internal lining of the uterus) to nurture the egg if it is fertilised.
If pregnancy doesn’t happen, the lining (mostly blood) separates from the uterus and leaves the body from the vagina as a period (the menstrual flow).
Menopause starts after the final period, usually between the ages of 45 and 55 years.
What can go wrong?
Conditions that involve the female reproductive system include:
- premenstrual syndrome
- polycystic ovary syndrome
- fibroids (non-cancerous growths of the uterus)
Symptoms vary depending on the condition and may include:
- mood swings, irritability or depression
- breast tenderness
- pain in lower abdomen, upper thighs or back
- painful, heavy or irregular periods, or no periods
- pain during or after sex
- bowel problems (such as constipation, diarrhoea).
Each woman experiences her menstrual cycle differently, most without any difficulties. If there is any change in your cycle that worries you, see your doctor.
Last reviewed: October 2016