Want to know when you are ovulating? It starts with understanding your menstrual cycle. This is the monthly series of changes that a woman’s body goes through to prepare for the possibility of getting pregnant. The release of an egg from the ovary is an essential part of this process.
The luteal phase is the second half of your menstrual cycle. It starts after ovulation and ends with the first day of your period.
The 101: What is Ovulation?
During reproductive ages, the ovary releases an egg every month. This event occurs when ovary follicles rupture and release the oocyte which travels to the fallopian tube and becomes an ovum or egg.
The rupture of the ovary follicles can cause some light spotting and some can even feel it happen in their body.However, for the vast majority of women, the moment of ovulation usually goes unnoticed.
The process of ovulation is controlled by the hypothalamus of the brain and through the release of hormones. This means that ovulation can be impacted by hormone levels and stressors.From jet lag to thyroid disorders, the sensitive process of ovulation can be disrupted when your body undergoes changes. Hormonal contraceptives inhibit ovulation to prevent pregnancy.
After the oocyte is released from the ovary, it moves into the fallopian tube. At this point it is called an ovum or egg. The egg stays in the fallopian tube for about 24 hours, waiting for a single sperm to fertilize it.
If the egg is not fertilized by sperm during that time (and pregnancy does not occur), it disintegrates (breaks down) and menstruation (your menstrual period) begins 11-16 days later.
Ovulation and Pregnancy: The Fertile Window
For many, ovulating is an unnoticed process. However, for those hoping to get pregnant, knowing when you might be ovulating is important.
Your most fertile days ("the fertile window") are the 3 days leading up to and including ovulation. This is when you’re most likely to get pregnant. So, having sex then gives you the best chance of ensuring the egg is fertilized by sperm so you become pregnant.
But, as previously mentioned, ovulation is a delicate process. Not to mention, the woman's reproductive cycle is just one side of the equation. Sperm heath is also key in your chances of getting pregnant.
As most women will attest, your cycle can be impacted by stress, exhaustion or emotional events (like grief). Moreover, nutrition, smoking and seasonal changes can also impact ovulation and therefore fertility.
This is one of the reasons birth control doesn’t just focus on ovulation. When the realities of life kick in, the fertile window can be a bit of a moving target. As we all know, our bodies don’t always follow the rules ;)
When Does Ovulation Happen?
Every woman’s cycle is different. Some of us have longer periods than others, for example. So the timing of ovulation is not always the same in every woman's cycle.
But, generally, a woman’s entire menstrual cycle is on average 28 days. That said, it can range between 21 to 35 days in adults and from 21 to 45 days in young teenagers. That's why most women track their own cycle with a periods calculator or diary.
The first day of a menstrual cycle is counted from the first day of your menstrual period. You ovulate about 14 days before your period starts.
So, if your average menstrual cycle is 28 days and the first day of your cycle is Day 1 of your menstrual period, day 14 in your cycle is your day of ovulation, and your most fertile days are days 12, 13 and 14. These are the days pregnancy is most likely to occur.
Or, if your average menstrual cycle is 35 days ovulation happens around day 21 and your most fertile days are days 19, 20 and 21.
Ovulation usually goes unnoticed in many but there are some ovulation symptoms that most women can learn to track or pay attention to. These include your basal body temperature, cervical music and more...
Your Basal Body Temperature Falls
One of the most objective ovulation symptoms is that your basal body temperature drops a little bit just before your egg is released from your ovary. Then, 24 hours after the egg is released, your basal body temperature rises and stays up for several days. If you're trying to get pregnant, it's advisable to take your temperature to understand when you're ovulating.
According to Healthlink BC:
36.1°C (97°F) to 36.4°C (97.5°F) BEFORE ovulation and
36.4°C (97.6°F) to 37°C (98.6°F) AFTER ovulation
If you're trying to get pregnant, take your temperature daily and keep track of your body temperature in a journal or app.
Discharge Changes When You Ovulate
The changes in your cervical mucus over the course of your menstrual cycle also hold clues about when you might be ovulating.
If your cervical mucus is...
- Dry or sticky: It’s unlikely you’re ovulating
- Creamy cervical mucus: Ovulation may be coming
- Wet or watery: Ovulation may start soon
- Wet and stretchy (egg white texture): You may be at your day of ovulation
It’s worth noting that cervical mucus is just one component of vaginal discharge, which can also include vaginal lubrication, arousal fluid and more.
Again, making such observations is not an exact science and no woman is an exact clock. But if you keep a period diary and ovulation calendar, it might be worthwhile to also note any observable changes to cervical mucus. Over time, you may see a pattern emerge.
Your Cervix Softens and Opens Up
As you approach your most fertile time, your cervix softens. This is sometimes known as having a short, high, open and wet cervix
For a step-by-step guide to checking your cervix position, visit this guide on Flo’s website.
You May Experience Slight Twinge or Cramping
Mittelschmerz translates literally as “middle pain” and is the name for the slight twinge or cramp that some women experience when the follicle releases the egg on the day of ovulation during your menstrual cycle.
For many women, there is no sensation whatsoever.
The pain will occur on one-side of your lower abdomen. Because you have ovaries on two sides, the pain will switch sides each month, distinguishing it from the uterine cramping associated with menstruation.
According to the Mayo Clinic “Mittelschmerz pain occurs on the side of the ovary that's releasing an egg (ovulating). The pain may switch sides every other month, or you may feel pain on the same side for several months. Keep track of your menstrual cycle for several months and note when you feel lower abdominal pain. If it occurs midcycle and goes away without treatment, it's most likely mittelschmerz.”
If the pain is more severe, you should seek medical advice from a healthcare professional.
Some Light Spotting May Occur When You Ovulate
When the ovaries release the egg, a tiny follicle ruptures to allow the egg to be released. This can be a cause of spotting for a day or so.
For some women, spotting that occurs around the time of ovulation is light red or pink in color. This is because we also produce more cervical fluid around the time of ovulation and the blood gets mixed with that fluid, causing it to be a lighter shade.
Increased Libido or Sex Drive
The most well-known sign of ovulation is an increased sex drive. This is thought to be an evolutionary reaction to increase the likelihood of pregnancy. It’s important to know that this does not mean you’ll only want to have sex during ovulation. But it may definitely mean that you may experience an increased libido when ovulation occurs.
According to a report on Psychology Today, "ovulating women do clearly increase their sexual desire, and they do increase the frequency with which they have sex with their current partners.”
How Long Do You Ovulate For?
Ovulation or the “fertile window” lasts between 12 and 24 hours. That's how long the egg released by the ovary is viable for fertilization.
How to Know Your Fertile Window: Ovulation Predictor Kits
In addition to tracking the signs of ovulation listed above, there’s another step you can take to predict ovulation. This is especially helpful for those struggling with getting pregnant, who need to identify the "fertile window."
An ovulation predictor kit (also sometimes called an OPK, which stands for Ovulation Predictor Kit) is a test that detects the presence and concentration of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. Between 12-48 hours on average before ovulation, there is a brief surge in LH levels.
Ovulation predictor kits may be especially helpful for women trying to get pregnant or increase their fertility awareness, but who have irregular cycles. However, again the body can find ways to fool such methods...
According to the American Pregnancy Association, “When taken correctly, ovulation predictor kits are approximately 99% accurate in detecting the LH surge that precedes ovulation. However, these tests cannot confirm whether ovulation actually occurs a day or two later. Some women may have a surge in the LH hormone without releasing an egg. This condition is known as Luteinized Unruptured Follicle Syndrome (LUFS).”
Your Ovulation Calculator
Learning when you ovulate, means you can predict when you’re likely to be fertile. More generally, it helps you become more familiar with your own body. This can help you appreciate the wondrous complexity of your body, but also notice any changes that might need medical attention.
Note: Online calculators give approximate ovulation dates and fertile times for women who have regular periods. These tools assume regular menstrual cycles, so if your cycles are irregular, they may not be reliable in helping you to pinpoint the day on which you ovulate.
If you're hoping to get pregnant it's also important to talk to your healthcare provider about your overall health. Ideally, bring your partner with you. You may both have questions about the process and family planning impacts you both.
Some of the things you should discuss:
- Stopping birth control: If you've been on birth control, you should discuss how to stop taking it.
- Supplements and lifestyle changes: Your doctor may advise you to take some supplements, like folic acid, before you get pregnant.
- Current medications: If you're on any other medications, you'll want to discuss them with your doctor in light of a possible pregnancy.
- Fertility questions: If there are suspected fertility problems, a male partner will also need fertility testing.
Don't be shy about asking questions. Good luck!