What is ovulation?
Ovulation is when one or more eggs are released from one of your ovaries. This happens toward the end of the time you’re fertile between periods.
Each month, between 15 and 20 eggs mature inside your ovaries. The ripest egg is released and swept into one of your fallopian tubes. Your fallopian tubes connect your ovaries to your uterus (womb).
Your ovaries do not necessarily take it in turns to release an egg. It happens quite randomly.
When you ovulate (or release an egg from your ovary), that egg has a chance of getting fertilized. When that egg gets fertilized, you’re pregnant!
You’re most fertile from two to three days before you ovulate through the day of ovulation. If you know when you’ll ovulate, you can time sex accordingly and boost your chances of getting pregnant (or of preventing pregnancy, if that’s what you’re trying to do).
What are the phases of ovulation?
The entire ovulation phase is defined by a period of elevated hormones during the menstrual cycle. The process itself can be informally divided into three phases:
Periovulatory (follicular phase): a layer of cells around the ovum begins to mucify (become more mucous-like) and expand, and the uterus lining begins to thicken.
Ovulatory (ovulation phase): enzymes are secreted and form a hole (or stigma) that the ovum and its network of cells use to exit the follicle and eventually enter the fallopian tube. This is the period of fertility and usually lasts from 24 to 48 hours.
Postovulatory (luteal phase): a hormone called LH or luteinizing hormone is secreted. A fertilized egg will be implanted into the womb, while an unfertilized egg slowly stops producing hormones. In addition, the lining of the uterus begins to break down and prepares to exit the body during menses.
What Causes Ovulation In Your Body?
Your ovaries are amazing almond shaped organs. They develop egg-containing follicles in preparation for ovulation. Every cycle, Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) promotes the development of around 5-12 follicles. The most dominant follicle gets released at ovulation. The growing follicles produce oestrogen. As a result of high oestrogen levels in your blood, Luteinizing Hormone (LH) triggers ovulation in your body. Ovulation occurs around 12-24 hours after the LH surge, when the mature follicle bursts through the ovarian wall. If sperm is waiting for the egg, or if you have intercourse at this point, you could very well get pregnant. For 90% of women, cycle length can vary from 23-35 days, with ovulation occurring mid-cycle. Other factors (e.g. stress) can result in ovulation being delayed, until as late as the third or fourth week. However, the way our care providers calculate pregnancy due dates is by assuming ovulation on day 14 of a 28 day cycle. You can already see a major reason why due dates aren’t so accurate! Not every woman has a 28 day cycle, nor ovulates on day 14. A normal, healthy menstrual cycle should be about 26-32 days in length. Find out more about what a healthy menstrual cycle should look like, and when you might need help to resolve any issues.
Ovulation Symptoms There are several ovulation symptoms you might notice. These include (in no particular order):
Ovulation Pain or Mittelschmerz
The most uncomfortable ovulation symptom for some women is ovulation pain or mittelschmerz – a German word meaning mid (mittel) pain (schmerz). For these women, ovulation causes a sudden, constant pain in their lower abdomen. It’s important to understand that painful ovulation is not normal. A mild sensation is normal, but pain is not. It could be a sign you have ovarian cysts, adhesions from previous abdominal surgery, or other heath issues. It should be investigated right away, especially if you’re trying to conceive, as pain can be a symptom of a medical problem that can result in infertility.
Drop In Basal Body Temperature
In order to notice a drop in your basal body temperature, you need to chart your cycle, taking your temperature every morning upon waking (close to the same time every day). Charting plays a key role in understanding your cycle, and identifying what your body is doing and what it normally does. If you haven’t been charting your cycle previously, this information won’t be helpful for this cycle.
You will need a basal thermometer. These are specifically designed for measuring slighter than normal fluctuations in temperature. They are accurate to +/-0.05 degrees centigrade, measuring to two decimal places. There are several ‘fertility’ thermometers on the market these days, but as long as it’s a basal thermometer, you’re set. After ovulation, you will notice your temperature normally rises, and stays that way until your next period. If you become pregnant, your temperature stays higher. This is how some women know when to expect their period, noting a drop in temperature around the time their period is due.
Observing your cervical mucus several times a day is also important, as this is one of the more reliable ovulation symptoms. Your mucus changes in response to being at fertile or infertile stages of your cycle. It’s also a good indicator of when your fertility has returned after having a baby. Cervical mucus changes with fluctuations in hormones (e.g. oestrogen). Following a period, mucus will typically be dry before becoming sticky, then creamy, then watery, before its most fertile state – clear, slippery and stretchy. Highly fertile mucus looks like raw egg white. This best aids the sperm on its passage to the egg, and provides an alkaline protection from the vagina’s acidic environment. As you get older, you will have fewer days of egg-white cervical mucus (EWCM). For example, a woman in her 20s might have up to five days of EWCM, whereas women in their late 30s might have one or two days at most.
Your cervix gives away some fantastic clues as to when you are fertile. Checking your cervix position is a helpful tool to work out when ovulation is near. You’ll probably need a few cycles to get the hang of it and understand all the variations and changes in your cervix. Checking the position of your cervix is best done at the same time each day, as it doesn’t remain in one spot all day. Always wash your hands before you check your cervix. Just like your cervical mucus, the cervix is clever and changes to optimise the chances of conception. When you’re not fertile, you’ll notice your cervix feels low, hard (like the tip of your nose) and dry. To identify a fertile cervix, remember SHOW: Soft (more like your ear lobe), High, Open and Wet.
Other Possible Signs
Here’s a list of other possible ovulation symptoms, however they are not as reliable as the above symptoms: Breast tenderness and sensitivity Increased libido Increased energy level Heightened sense of vision, smell and taste Water retention Spotting – mid-cycle spotting is believed to be a result of the sudden drop of oestrogen prior to ovulation. Due to there being no progesterone right away, the lining can leak a small amount of blood until then.
A woman’s monthly cycle is measured from the first day of her menstrual period until the first day of her next period.
On average, a woman’s cycle normally is between 28-32 days, but some women may have much shorter or much longer cycles.
Ovulation can be calculated by starting with the first day of the last menstrual period (LMP) or by calculating 12-16 days from the next expected period.
Most women ovulate anywhere between Day 11 – Day 21 of their cycle, counting from the first day of the LMP.
This is what many refer to as the “fertile time” of a woman’s cycle because sexual intercourse during this time increases the chance of pregnancy.
Ovulation can occur at various times during a cycle, and may occur on a different day each month. It is important to track your cycle and fortunately there are a number of free fertility charting tools available to help women identify their peak fertile days.
Infertility can be caused by a multitude of factors, one of which being disorders that affect a woman’s ability to ovulate. These disorders include:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Hypothalamic dysfunction
- Premature ovarian insufficiency
- Excess prolactin.
In cases of PCOS, women experience a variety of symptoms due to hormonal changes and imbalances. These imbalances lead to disruption in ovulation, as well as insulin resistance, obesity, abnormal hair growth and acne. PCOS is the leading cause of infertility in women.
Hypothalamic dysfunction is most evident in women who experience menstrual irregularities or amenorrhea (no menses), due to disruption in the production of the hormones responsible for ovulation – follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone. Causes of hypothalamic dysfunction include excessive physical or emotional stress, extreme body weight or substantial changes in weight (gains or losses).
Premature ovarian insufficiency (premature cessation of egg production) can be caused by autoimmune diseases, genetic abnormalities or environmental toxins. Women affected by this condition are typically under the age of 40, and additionally experience a decrease in their estrogen levels.
In certain situations, such as medication intake or a pituitary gland abnormality, women can produce excessive amounts of prolactin that in turn causes a reduction in estrogen production. Excess prolactin is a less common cause of ovulatory dysfunction.
How can I increase my chances of getting pregnant?
Try to have sex every two to three days. Then sperm with good motility will be in the right place whenever you ovulate. Regular sex throughout your cycle gives you the best chance of conceiving.
Having sex when your cervical mucus is wet, slippery and most receptive to sperm will also increase your chances of conception. And you’ll be happy to know that the odds are with you.
In normally fertile couples, there is between a 20 per cent and a 25 per cent chance of getting pregnant each cycle.
Over 80 per cent of women aged under 40 who have regular sex without using contraceptives will get pregnant within a year . Over 90 per cent of couples conceive within two years.
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