Ovulation is a completely normal part of your menstrual cycle! But what does it mean? In short, ovulation means that your ovaries release an egg that travels down your fallopian tubes and into your uterus. But let’s look at it in a little more detail!
How does ovulation work?
During your menstrual cycle, small eggs develop in your ovaries inside tiny sacs called follicles. These follicles don’t develop all the way in the course of one menstrual cycle, however. It actually takes them several months – or roughly 6 cycles – for them to get ready to actually release an egg. This means that there are always follicles at different stages of development present in your ovaries. Most follicles will actually never reach the point of ovulation and will instead die off at some point in their development. Why? Easy! At the beginning of each menstrual cycle a few of the developing follicles are chosen for that particular cycle’s ovulation. About halfway through this phase, one of the chosen follicles becomes dominant, and all available resources will go into developing this follicle. This is the point where the other follicles will die off.
Once the chosen follicle is ready, it’ll release the egg that then leaves the ovary and is taken up by your fallopian tube. Did you know that your fallopian tubes and ovaries aren’t actually connected? Think of it the following way: Your ovaries release the egg into your abdominal cavity, and this is where the fallopian tube collects it from. After being released, the egg can be fertilised by sperm in the next 12 to 24 hours. If it’s fertilised, it’ll travel to your uterus where it’ll implant for pregnancy. If it’s not fertilised during that short window, it’ll begin to disintegrate and will leave your body with your uterine lining when your period starts.
But why does ovulation happen? It happens because of a change in your reproductive hormones. These hormones decide which follicle is developed, when the egg is released, and they also prepare your uterus for the possible implantation of the egg if it’s fertilised. So, as you approach ovulation in your menstrual cycle, your body starts to produce more oestrogen. These high levels of oestrogen will trigger an increase in another hormone called luteinising hormone, or LH for short, which is actually in charge of releasing the egg from your ovaries. Generally speaking, ovulation occurs 24 to 36 hours after the surge in LH.
When does ovulation happen?
In a textbook world, ovulation would happen on day 14 of your 28-day cycle But, how many of us actually have a textbook cycle? Exactly, almost no one! Your cycle is likely going to vary anywhere between 23 and 35 days, so ovulation can actually happen between day 12 and 16 of your cycle. It’s also pretty uncommon for you to ovulate at the same day in each menstrual cycle, and it can actually vary by seven days or more!
So, always remember: Your ovulation is not a clock! Anything that can influence your hormones, like diet, exercise, or stress, can also have an impact on your ovulation. Things like these can make ovulation happen earlier, later, or, in some cases, not at all!
Why is ovulation so important?
Not ovulating once in a while is generally no cause for concern and is actually pretty common. If it happens regularly, however, or if you stop ovulating altogether, you should get it checked out as it can affect your overall health. Why? Because oestrogen and progesterone aren’t just important for ovulation! They’re also super important for the density of your bones, your heart, your metabolism, your sleep quality, and your mental health. So, when you’re suddenly not ovulating anymore even though you should, speak to your GP about it as anovulation, as it’s called, has been associated with osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and also certain cancers.
Does ovulation cause any symptoms?
You can experience some minor and very tolerable symptoms when you’re ovulating. For example, you might notice more vaginal discharge that’s clear and stretchy – very similar to raw egg whites. A bit yucky, we know! After ovulation, your vaginal discharge will get less again, and it will likely also appear thicker and cloudier again. Other possible symptoms of ovulation can include;
- Light bleeding or spotting
- An increased sex drive
- Tenderness in your breasts
- Discomfort or pain on one side of the abdomen
Did you know that the pain you can experience during ovulation is called Mittelschmerz? Yes, we stole that word from German! But there’s generally no need to be worried about it as it’ll likely only last a few minutes or hours.
How to detect ovulation
If you want to track your ovulation, you can do that super conveniently from home with one of the following techniques.
Basal Body Temperature Charting (BBT)
When you’re ovulating, the progesterone will cause your body temperature to increase slightly. If BBT charting is your ovulation tracking method of choice, you’ll have to check your body temperature with a basal thermometer first thing in the morning throughout your entire cycle. When your body temperature has been above your usual baseline for 3 days, you’re likely ovulating (if you’re not running a fever, that is!). You can get a basal thermometer either online or in most local pharmacies.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK)
OPKs are made to check for traces of luteinising hormone in your urine. They work a lot like pregnancy tests in this regard! If you get a positive result, then you’ll likely ovulate within the next couple of days. So, if you’re trying for a baby, now is the time to get the bedroom action started! Be aware that not all OPKs are 100% accurate, however, and studies have shown that their reliability range anywhere from 19% to 99%. You can buy ovulation predictor kits either online or at most local pharmacies.
Fertility monitors are a more expensive option to track ovulation with some of them going up to £150. They usually track both oestrogen and LH to help identify the fertile window in your menstrual cycle. If you’re interested in getting one, you can either get them online or at your local pharmacy.
Which works best?
It’s pretty impossible to say which one is the best option for your individual situation, but they all have some pros and cons. Your basal body temperature, for example, can be affected by a number of factors like alcohol or illness. One study has confirmed that only 17 of 77 people accurately confirmed that they are ovulating by using the BBT charting method which means that there is still a chance that you can get pregnant when using this method to prevent pregnancy. Fertility monitors, on the other hand, will increase your chance of getting pregnant in only one month of use. That doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily the right for you, however, so it’s always a good idea to speak to your GP about it if you’re experiencing any fertility issues.
Can you ovulate more than once in a cycle?
Yes, it’s totally possible that you ovulate more than once during your cycle and you might release multiple eggs during each ovulation. If that happens, and they both get fertilised, there’s a good chance that you’ll get twins (or triplets, or more!).
Is ovulation the only time you can become pregnant during your cycle?
No! Even though the egg itself can only be fertilised 12 to 24 hours after it’s been released from your ovaries, sperm can live inside your reproductive organs for up to 5 days. That means if you have sex in the days leading up to ovulation, there’s still a good chance that you become pregnant.