If you’re a long-time menstruator reading this, theoretically you should be a period expert by now. I mean, the red tide visits us 12 times a year for an average of 38 years. That’s 456 periods (which may seem super depressing, TBH). Point is, most of us just go with the flow and wake up to the gifts Mother Nature has for us for the day and, ultimately, we know that your period (love it or hate it) is an important part of your health — and it’s something that you should want to understand fully.
Have you ever wondered why your boobs hurt at certain times of the month? Why you’re more tired? Whether it’s the right time to take a pregnancy test? Maybe it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture — the whole cycle. Most menstrual cycles run for 28 days, with periods lasting about five days. But some women run on a 32-day clock, with anywhere between a three-day (lucky!) and a seven-day (sorry) period.
To help keep track of your cycle — or remind you to take the pill — there are several apps you can download. But generally, here’s what you can expect each day during a 28-day series.
Phase 1: Menstrual
Day 1: Ready, set, go! The first day of your cycle begins with the day your period starts. Estrogen is at its lowest, and since estrogen is responsible for increasing serotonin (the “feel-good” chemical), you may be feeling pretty lousy today.
Day 2: Gettin’ heavy with it. On average, the second day yields the heaviest flow. But even though you may be at high tide, you may be feeling a bit more relaxed as estrogen levels start climbing again.
Day 3: pH roller coaster. With all those tampons and extra blood flow, your vaginal pH has increased, which can lead to increased susceptibility to yeast infections.
Day 4: Light at the end of the tunnel. Today your period is a helluva lot lighter — the end is near! The number of your scowled looks continues to decrease too as estrogen climbs higher, and we are nice to our boyfriends again.
Day 5: Crossing the finish line. Thank the heavens, and shove your tampons to the back of the cabinet. You won’t be needing those for a while.
Phase 2: Follicular
Day 6: One in 100,000. After your period ends, the most dominant follicle in your ovaries continues to grow in preparation to eventually release an egg.
Day 7: Carpe diem. You should be your normal self now but possibly a bit more optimistic than usual. You can thank the increasing levels of estrogen for your newly found motivation to ask for a raise.
Day 8: Mirror, mirror on the wall. You’re the fairest of them all. Your skin is glowy and bright, you feel good, and you have the confidence to strike up a conversation with that male model at the bar.
Day 9: Making bed for baby. While you’re chatting it up with all the cute guys at work, your uterus lining is thickening to make the softest and comfiest bed for your golden egg.
Day 10: Oh, happy day! Every cup is half full, and everything is coming up in roses. Your levels of optimism may be making your friends sick but are making you count every blessing.
Day 11: Let the baby-making begin. OK, ovulation is just around the corner, and since your ovulation day can change from cycle to cycle, it wouldn’t hurt to start the baby-making process now. That is, if you want a baby — otherwise, you had better use protection.
Day 12: Got that lovin’ feeling. Some say you are possibly your most fertile a couple of days before ovulation, which would make sense that your libido is at an all-time high.
Day 13: Estrogen reaches Mount Everest. Your estrogen levels peak right before ovulation and then drop suddenly right after. So take this as your last day to make lemonade from life’s lemons.
Day 14: Ovulation! The dominant follicle releases the egg for its journey down the fallopian tube. The egg will live 12 to 24 hours, while sperm can survive three to five days.
Phase 3: Luteal
Day 15: Hello, progesterone. Goodbye, estrogen. Estrogen levels plummet as progesterone levels begin to take its place. You may be a bit irritable, but don’t worry — estrogen will be back soon.
Day 16: It’s getting hot in here. With increased amounts of progesterone, you may notice your body temperature sits a little higher than usual.
Day 17: Don’t waste your money. Anxious to see if you’re pregnant? It might be too early to tell just yet. Hang in there, and check back in next week.
Day 18: Back for round two. Estrogen levels begin to rise again, along with the increasing amounts of progesterone.
Day 19. Easy with the girls. The hormones in your system increase blood flow to your breasts and may cause them to be fuller but extra sensitive.
Day 20: You’re cut off. If your egg hasn’t been fertilized, then your body will call it quits on producing estrogen. Enter: PMS.
Day 21: Baby on board? Now is the time to visit your doctor or buy those pregnancy tests. If fertilized, the egg has had enough time to settle in, and your hormone levels should accurately answer your pressing “am I pregnant?” question.
Day 22: You’re getting sleepy. Today your progesterone levels are at their max, which may equate to an increased tendency to fall asleep in the middle of that super-exciting board meeting.
Day 23: Cool! Small pores. Progesterone activates the production of sebum and swells the skin, causing your pores to appear smaller in size. But the swelling is actually compressing your pores, and the sebum is building up underneath — a situation that will rear its ugly head in a few days’ time.
Day 24: Reschedule your waxing appointment. At this time, your body is more susceptible to pain than during other times of the month. Avoid tweezing, waxing or laser hair removal.
Day 25: Don’t you dare step on that scale. You might scare the crap out of yourself when you see that you are up to 10 pounds heavier. Just remember that the number doesn’t matter. With all the hormone changes, our bodies tend to hang on to extra water in our system. One of the most ironic cures? Drink more water.
Day 26: Burn, baby, burn. In the midst of your catastrophic mood swings, I’ll tell you some good news: Your body burns up to 11 percent more calories now than it does during any other time of the month.
Day 27: Me want food. If you go overboard with your cravings, you will lose the benefit of that extra-calorie burn. (But, also, truly, who cares?)
Day 28: Hi, Acne, not nice to see you again. What better way to end your cycle than with a visit from the Whiteheads? Remember those small pores and sebum production? Well, here’s the result. Additionally, now that your hormones are at an all-time low, your constant testosterone level is actually higher than estrogen and progesterone, causing more stimulation of sebum and a higher chance of cystic acne — not to mention oil-slick skin and large pores.
A version of this story was published in January 2016.
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