Overview of the Female Reproductive System
The female reproductive system is the system in a woman's body with the purpose of making babies. The female reproductive system includes both external genital organs (outside the body) and internal genital organs (inside the body).
The external genital organs include:
Not all of your external genitals are your "vagina." The vagina is really just the birth canal.
The internal genital organs include:
Vagina: Birth canal
Uterus (womb): The internal organ where a fetus grows and develops before birth
Cervix: The thick, round end of the uterus, which has an opening for menstrual blood to flow out and for a baby to be delivered
Ovaries: A pair of organs that make eggs and female hormones such as estrogen
Fallopian tubes: The tubes through which eggs pass from the ovaries to the uterus
Breasts are sometimes considered part of the female reproductive system.
The main activities of the female reproductive system include:
A newborn girl's ovaries already have all the eggs she will ever have. But these eggs can't become babies until the girl's reproductive system goes through a series of changes called puberty. During puberty:
In the monthly menstrual cycle:
An egg matures and is released (a process called ovulation)
The lining of the uterus swells up with blood vessels so it's ready to accept the egg if it gets fertilized by a man's sperm
A fertilized egg attaches to the lining of the uterus and starts growing OR
The egg doesn't get fertilized, so it doesn't attach, and the lining of the uterus comes off and is released as menstrual blood
If a woman doesn't become pregnant, the menstrual cycle repeats about once a month. Women have a menstrual cycle until about middle age. Menopause is when the cycles stop.
Conception is when a man's sperm joins with (fertilizes) a woman's egg. Fertilization usually happens in one of the fallopian tubes.
The reproductive system is controlled by hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers made in certain parts of your body that travel through the blood to signal other parts of the body what to do.
Some hormones come from the pituitary gland in the brain. Reproductive hormones from the pituitary gland rise and fall each month and trigger the menstrual cycle. If you become pregnant, your reproductive organs produce other hormones that turn off your menstrual cycle and signal the uterus to grow and support the baby. After birth, another hormone signals your breasts to make milk to feed your baby.
The most common problems with the reproductive system involve hormones. A woman's reproductive system involves many hormones that work together in complicated ways. Many different problems can interfere with the hormones, which can result in:
Many diseases, such as infections and cancer, can affect the reproductive organs.