How To Tell Where You Are In Your Menstrual Cycle

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You’ve probably heard that there are four stages of the menstrual cycle (menstrual, follicular, ovulation, and luteal, in case you were wondering) and that what stage you’re in affects your fertility. But how do you know what stage you’re currently going through? As the period-tracking app Clue's Science and Education Manager Anna Druet explained during a recent talk at New York's Tictail Market, several signs can give you valuable information about where you are in your cycle and, consequently, how fertile you are.

Learning to recognize what cycle stage you’re in can do a few different things. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it can help you learn when you’re ovulating so you can have sex then. If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, you may want to be extra careful around ovulation. That does not mean, however, that you should forego birth control during your period. Your fertile window can overlap with your period. Plus, sperm can survive three to five days in the womb, so even if you're not able to get pregnant on the day you have sex, you could soon after.

"Knowing where you are in your cycle can help you plan ahead and predict what's coming next, including timelines for when you're likely to get your period next or when you're more likely to have certain symptoms," Druet tells Bustle. "This way, you can schedule... your hormonal test or pap smear at the best times for you in your cycle. It can also let you know what's normal for you during a certain time so you don't wonder why you might feel a certain way. For example, if you know you have ovulation pain around when you ovulate, you'll know what that abdominal pain is and not be concerned. If you know you tend to want more alone time at certain points in your cycle, you'll know to give that to yourself without questioning why."

And many things will change with the stages of your cycle, too. "Certain sex positions might feel more or less comfortable at certain times of the cycle, or you may have differences in muscle gain in weight training, for example," she says. "If you know your headaches are related to where you are in your cycle, you may treat them differently than if they are more random. The list goes on, and you can explore it depending on what's important to you."

So, how do you know what stage of your period you're going through? Here are a few key indicators.

1A Period-Tracking App

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One way to recognize where you are in your period is to track it with an app like Clue or MyFLO. After you enter when your period starts and ends for a few cycles, you'll begin to see how many days each phase of your cycle tends to take. However, not all cycles are the same length, so this won't be perfect.

2Your Cervical Position

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The cervix is lower down during your period, Druet explained during her talk, which some actually find pleasurable for sex, while others find it uncomfortable. However it feels to you, it probably indicates that you're nearing your period. Some scientists think this helps sperm reach your uterus. On the flip side, if your vaginal canal is longer and narrower than usual, you're probably nearing or going through ovulation.

3Your Cervical Fluid

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To make your uterus a more hospitable place for sperm, your cervical fluid production will also increase during ovulation, which will likely mean more vaginal discharge. Your fluid during ovulation will likely be whitish and stretchy, Druet said, and afterward, it'll become drier and stickier.

4The Feeling In Your Ovaries

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I was surprised that many women in the audience said they could feel themselves ovulating. One said she feels momentary pain on one side of her pelvis, which is likely where the egg is being released. Druet said the sensation sometimes lasts for hours or days. If you have a similar discomfort on one side of your body about midway between periods, it could be the egg being released from your fallopian tube!

5Your Temperature

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This may be more effort than you're willing to put in if your'e not trying to get pregnant, but you can track your cycle stage based on your basal body temperature, which is your temperature right when you wake up. It's lower in the first half of your cycle, shoots up right after you ovulate, and stays high as you approach your period. This may be your body's way of preparing for pregnancy. "It's warmer when you might have a fertilized egg that implants in your uterus," Druet said.

Your cycle stage can affect all sorts of other things, from who you're attracted to to how likely you are to tear your ACL. But if you're looking to figure out where you are in your cycle, these five indicators are your best bet.