Going through menopause is a major milestone—but you may not be aware of how or when your monthly visitor will vanish. For many women, the various stages of menopause (which include perimenopause, menopause, and postmenopause) are a mystery until they actually happen.

“Every woman will go through the stages a little differently,” says Mary O’Toole, MD, an ob-gyn at Hoag Hospital in Laguna Hills, California. That said, there are certain things you can expect throughout each stage as your estrogen levels decrease and your period finally becomes a thing of the past. Here’s what lies ahead:

This is the period leading up to menopause where estrogen and progesterone start to decrease, explains Dr. O’Toole. It can begin as early as your mid-40s and usually lasts for around four years, according to the Cleveland Clinic. “It’s difficult to pinpoint the onset, but irregular menstrual cycles may be the initial sign,” says O’Toole. You can still get pregnant during this time, so it’s important to use contraception if you’re not looking to conceive.

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