Everything You Need to Know about Ovulation
Understand how to know when you’re ovulating – and how having sex during the fertile window can improve your chance of getting pregnant.
What is Ovulation?
Ovulation refers to the phase around halfway through your menstrual cycle when your body releases an egg (ovum). It travels through the fallopian tube where sperm can fertilise it and you can become pregnant.
Pinpointing the day you ovulate can improve your chance of conception since you can ensure you have sex within your fertile window. Your fertile window is a six day window during each menstrual cycle, it includes the five days leading up to the day of ovulation, and the day after ovulation.
If the sperm fertilises the egg and implantation (the attachment of the fertilised egg to the wall of the uterus) occurs, it can develop into a pregnancy. But if it doesn’t implant, around 14 days later, you’ll have a period. Your period (or menstruation) bleed is the uterus wall lining (endometrium) shedding.
Timing is Everything: When Does Ovulation Occur?
Ovulation will usually happen during the middle of your cycle (anytime from 11-16 days after your period starts) if you have a regular period, however, the day of ovulation is dependent on the length of your cycle and can also sometimes vary from cycle to cycle, particularly if you do not experience regular periods.
Whilst it is often true that ovulation occurs halfway through your menstrual cycle, for instance in a 28-day cycle, ovulation occurs on day 14 which is also 14 days after your period starts, however, it is important to remember that not everyone’s cycles are 28 days long. Cycles can vary in length from person to person and even from one cycle to another. Anything from a 21-day cycle to a 35-day cycle is considered regular.
Tracking your menstrual cycle can help you determine when you ovulate. Track it with an ovulation and period tracker app or a physical calendar, but also monitoring signs like basal body temperature changes and discharge changes, along with ovulation test kits can help too.
An egg can only survive for 12–24 hours, which might seem like a brief window of opportunity for the egg and sperm to meet and fertilise, but sperm’s lifespan is much longer. Sperm can survive for up to five days in the female reproductive tract, so if you have sex five days before ovulation, it’s still possible to become pregnant.
If you’re not ovulating, it could be because of various factors including breastfeeding, experiencing menopause, PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome), primary ovarian insufficiency (POI), sudden change in body weight, being stressed or fatigued, or excessive exercise.
If you’re trying to get pregnant and not ovulating, speaking with a fertility advisor could offer advice and support your next steps. There are lifestyle changes and fertility medicines that can help you increase the chance of ovulation and pregnancy.
The Ovulation Process: What Happens in the Body?
Ovulation occurs when your ovary releases a mature egg. The egg then journeys down the fallopian tube, where it can potentially encounter sperm for fertilisation, on its way to the uterus. If sperm does not fertilise the egg, your body reabsorbs it.
If fertilisation occurs (sperm fertilises the egg), after about a week, the fertilised egg will become attached to the lining of your uterus (implantation). During this process, your body releases hormones, specifically oestrogen and progesterone, which cause the thickening of the uterine walls, providing the necessary nutrients for eventual baby development.
As cells continue to grow, some develop into the foetus and others form the placenta. Hormones signal to your body that the baby is growing inside your uterus, and so it adapts to support its development.
This signal prompts your uterus to retain its lining to prevent the usual shedding that results in your monthly period. Not getting a period when you would usually is often an early sign that you’re pregnant.
If you’re taking birth control or hormonal contraception exactly as prescribed, you shouldn’t ovulate. The hormones in hormonal contraception work by stopping ovulation and thickening cervical mucus, which makes it harder for sperm to reach and fertilise an egg.
Recognising Ovulation: Signs and Symptoms
Wondering how to know when you’re ovulating? There are a range of science-backed methods to track ovulation and maximise your chances of becoming pregnant.
Ovulation test kits
Ovulation test kits can determine whether you’re ovulating. They work similarly to a pregnancy test. They test your urine to detect the levels of luteinising hormone (LH) – the hormone released by the pituitary gland in the brain to trigger ovulation. Although LH is always present at low levels, it surges 24-36 hours before you ovulate.
Ovulation prediction kits may not be not suitable for someone with PCOS, because they often have high LH levels which can cause falsely positive results.
Our at-home hormone and fertility test can help you get clarity on what’s going on inside your body including your egg count and highlight any red flags to do with fertility.
It’s personalised to include a comprehensive Online Health Assessment, personalised hormone panel, at-home blood collection kit, and a gynaecologist to analyse your results and help you create an actionable plan for the future.
Tracking your menstrual cycle is an effective way to determine when you’re ovulating. You can use a traditional pen and paper, digital calendar or even period tracking apps that you mark when you’re bleeding. You can also track different symptoms throughout the month to notice patterns that can indicate which menstrual cycle phase you’re in.
Mobile application-based fertile window predictions may not always take into account current cycle variations or factors that might impact your cycle. They are also reliant on the accuracy of the information you input, which is why you should be careful with relying on them for predicted fertile windows, because it could put you at risk of an unintended pregnancy.
Cervical mucus changes
Cervical mucus changes throughout your menstrual cycle and plays a key role in conception. Before ovulation, it’s often pasty and creamy. During ovulation, it becomes clear, slippery and stretchy resembling raw egg whites. This consistency makes it easier for sperm to swim up the vagina and into the uterus to meet and fertilise an egg.
Cervical mucus can be affected by many other factors, such as infections, sex and medications, and may naturally alter within each cycle, which is why relying only on this method alone might not be accurate.
Basal body temperature changes
You may be able to detect ovulation by checking your basal body temperature with a digital basal body thermometer. Your body temperature increases slightly during ovulation by 0.5 to 1 degree.
This method works more effectively if you track your basal body temperature for several months first thing in the morning before you eat, drink and go to the toilet to get an idea of your baseline temperature. That way, you’ll notice when it increases.
Although, it is important to remember that basal body temperature can be affected by many things such as alcohol consumption, a change in sleep schedule or if you are feeling unwell.
Physical ovulation symptoms
Some people who menstruate often feel physical symptoms when ovulating too. It’s common to have tender breasts, an increased sex drive, minor pelvic or abdominal pain (ovulation pain or mittelschmerz), light bleeding or spotting, bloating, a heightened sense of smell, taste or sight, mood changes and appetite changes. However, these symptoms aren’t an effective way to predict ovulation.
Whether you’ve just started trying to get pregnant or are considering your future family options, knowing when you’re ovulating and understanding your body puts you in the driver’s seat of your reproductive journey to give you peace of mind and improve the chance of conceiving.