Fertility 101: What You Need to Know about Ovulation

Period talk has been taboo for so long that we’re (sadly) only recently going public about menstruation, but what about ovulation? We can’t bleed or make babies without the big ‘O.’ It is, in fact, the axis point of our entire menstrual cycle.

What is Ovulation?

Females are born with millions of egg cells that lie dormant in their bodies. From the time of puberty until menopause, the cells mature into eggs so that one can be released roughly once a month. This is ovulation, and it begins in the brain.

Your ovaries are full of follicles that contain eggs waiting to be released when they get the signal from your pituitary gland. This releases a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) that tells the body it’s time to ovulate.

The ovaries respond by releasing estrogen, which lets the pituitary gland know the egg (ovum) is ready to go. A luteinizing hormone (LH) then blocks the FSH so the egg can be released. It’s a hormonal tag team that makes sure menstruation, or pregnancy, can happen.   

The ovum makes its way into the fallopian tube, where fertilization takes place, and releases progesterone to signal its imminent arrival in the womb. The endometrium (womb lining) will thicken in order to support a potential fetus, but if the egg arrives unfertilized, this lining is shed as your period.

When Do I Ovulate?

Ovulation occurs roughly half way through your cycle, and two weeks before your period. This can fall anywhere between day 10 and day 20, depending on the length of time between your menstrual bleeds.

If you’re tracking your periods, you can note recurring symptoms of ovulation. These vary as much as our bodies do, but some are more common than others. When we ovulate, it can feel like a practice run for our periods with cramps, breast tenderness, fluid retention, and appetite or mood changes.

What Are the Signs of Ovulation?

Vaginal discharge will change two to three days before you ovulate. Raised estrogen levels stimulate the production of cervical mucus, which makes it easier for sperm to travel towards the released egg. Ovulation discharge looks like raw egg whites and feels sticky. So test some between your fingers and thumb. If the discharge stretches without breaking, you’ve entered your fertile phase.

The rush of hormones you experience before and after ovulation can cause breast tenderness or nipple soreness, similar to your premenstrual phase. You can also feel a mild ache or twinge in one side of your lower abdomen as the egg is released, but this sensation should be short-lived.  

As your fertility peaks, so will your sex drive. You become super sensitive to male pheromones, and a heightened sense of smell may go hand in hand with a high libido. It’s simply your body signaling that it’s ready to conceive.  

How Can I Predict Ovulation?

Your fertile phase begins five days before ovulation, and peaks at two to three days before the egg is released. Once the ovum has left the follicle, it’s viable for up to 24 hours, giving you an extended window for fertilization.

Monitoring your basal body temperature (BBT) can maximize opportunities for conception. A digital thermometer will help you keep track if used every day as soon as you wake up. BBT takes a dip followed by a sharp increase after ovulation. Daily temperature fluctuations of around half a degree are normal, but a more sustained rise confirms the ovum is ready to be fertilized.

An ovulation predictor kit can also measure levels of LH, which stimulates the release of the egg, in your urine. Ovulation typically takes places up to 12 hours after the hormone peaks.  

Why Am I Not Ovulating?

Anovulation could be a sign of inflammatory pelvic disease. Endometriosis, polycystic ovary syndrome, thyroid problems, and fibroids can all prevent or delay ovulation. Conscious lifestyle choices can sometimes help; better nutrition, more rest, and less stress can impact the hormones needed to release your eggs.

Ovulation is one of the most important dates in your calendar, even if you’re not preparing for pregnancy. The first half of your cycle is the follicular phase. It’s masculine and action-orientated. The second half is the feminine luteal phase, which asks you to slow down and turn inwards. Ovulation marks the transition from one to another, like the change of seasons. If we tune into our menstrual wisdom, we can work with these energies, rather than against them, so life and fertility can flow.

Featured image by Toa Heftiba

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