What Are The 4 Stages Of A Menstrual Cycle? Here's How Each One Affects Your Body All Month Long

Periods are like theater productions, in that PMS is the rehearsal week leading up to the main event, aka when you actually bleed. But there’s also a lot of behind-the-scenes action at play that you might not even realize is happening throughout the entire month, not just between the time you start experiencing symptoms and stop bleeding. Similar to the moon's cycle, menstruation can be broken down into phases, and each one affects your body in different ways. If you don’t know what the four stages of a menstrual cycle are, and how they coincide with the way you feel at different points in your cycle, listen up, because this is important.

It shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that the four phases of your menstrual cycle operate according to your hormones, specifically the big three: estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. What’s really fascinating is that you could take things even further, and talk about how your hormones don’t just fluctuate by phase; the ways in which they change and influence how you feel varies daily. In other words, you’ll probably never feel the exact same way emotionally, or physically, from one day to the next, which is why Rebecca Booth, M.D., OBGYN and co-founder VENeffect, tells Elite Daily that the key to understanding your cycle is to understand your hormones — why they fluctuate, and what you can do to "take charge of these variations," she says.

So what are the four phases of your menstrual cycle, and how do they correlate with how you feel on any given day of the month? I asked a few experts in the space to break down the basics of what you need to know — here's what I found out.

Menstruation Is The Main Event

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Personally, I always thought that a cycle ends when bleeding starts, but according to Dr. Booth, getting your period actually signals the beginning of the four menstrual phases.

"Cycle Day 1 is the first day of the period, and the three major female hormones (estrogen, progesterone, testosterone) are all low on this day," she explains, while "estrogen and testosterone slowly begin to rise most notably by Cycle Day 3," she explains.

If you've ever experienced a period, then chances are you already have an idea of how menstruation affects your body. But, just in case the details are a little fuzzy (or you've trained yourself to forget them), I asked Dr. Booth to clarify. Basically, over the course of these seven or so days, you might notice your body feels especially weak and tired. Pretty standard, right? But did you also know that, according to Booth, because your hormone levels are so low around this time, your body is actually more prone to catching a cold and other viruses? Great.

What's more, the OBGYN adds, your period might take a toll on your skin, too, as low levels of estrogen can lead to "less stimulation of collagen, elastin, and hyaluronic acid ‚ that dewy substance that gives us the glow," she tells Elite Daily.

The Follicular Phase Can Feel Sexy AF

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As your period dwindles, you might start to notice that the blood down there might be replaced by a kind of cervical mucus, or discharge, in your underwear/on your toilet paper. When this happens, the follicular phase begins, in which the hormones estrogen and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are "high and rising," Ann Mullen, director of Health Education at Cycle Technologies, tells Elite Daily.

The follicular phase begins around the eighth day of the 28-day menstrual cycle, continues on through about Day 15 of your cycle, and according to Booth, it's also a "perfect crescendo" of estrogen and testosterone rising together throughout this phase and into ovulation, creating what she refers to as "The Venus Week."

“'The Venus Week' [encourages] confidence and romance," Dr. Booth explains. "The dynamic duo of the power hormones estrogen and testosterone increase romantic and positive thinking, as well as confidence and desire. This is enhanced by an increase in dopamine and endorphins to stimulate mood and energy." Translation: It's the time of the month when you're most likely to be really feeling yourself, both in your general self-confidence and even in terms of your sexual self-expression.

Basically, the follicular phase is a good time for you, and it can be equally as good for your partner, if you know what I mean.

Ovulation Is Prime Baby-Making Time

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During ovulation, estrogen and testosterone are at their peak. According to Nicole Jardim, a certified women's hormonal health coach and the creator of Fix Your Period, this is when an egg releases from its follicle and nestles itself into your ovaries. It survives for about 12 to 24 hours, and then it waits to be fertilized.

"You may feel that you look better and feel more confident [during ovulation]," Jardim wrote in an article for MindBodyGreen, "so it will be easier to verbalize your thoughts and feelings. Plus, your sex drive will be at its highest!"

The Luteal Phase Is When PMS Starts

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The luteal phase is kind of like a rollercoaster ride. Toward the beginning of this phase, your hormones are still at their peak, but after about two or three days, estrogen and testosterone take a dip, and your body starts mass-producing progesterone, aka the calming hormone that can make your body feel sluggish.

"Just after ovulation, estrogen and testosterone take a dip as progesterone, the hormone Mother Nature sends out to protect the assumed pregnancy, takes charge," Booth tells Elite Daily. During this phase, you might notice a shift in your mood, your appetite (I'm looking at you, cravings), and it's basically going to be when all those lovely PMS symptoms have their fun.

Unfortunately, it kind of all goes downhill from here, until you start bleeding. "As the cycle progresses, progesterone begins to fall, and the mood takes even more of a dive as a response to [estrogen, testosterone, and progesterone] dropping," Booth explains. "Since the hormones support feel-good brain chemicals, the sudden drop causes dopamine, endorphins, and serotonin to all fall as well."