Woman Fertility – What is ovulation?

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.

How does ovulation influence when I can get pregnant?

To become pregnant naturally, one of your eggs and your partner’s sperm have to meet in your fallopian tube. Your egg survives no more than 24 hours after you’ve ovulated. So the meeting of egg and sperm has to occur within this time.

However, sperm can survive for up to seven days. They’ll happily live in your vagina, uterus or fallopian tubes for this length of time.

This means that you don’t have to time sex to the exact moment you ovulate to get pregnant. You actually have a fertile window of about six days.

This window includes the five days before and the day of ovulation itself. So, if you have sex at some time during your fertile window, your freshly ovulated egg could meet live, healthy sperm and be fertilised.

How can I tell when I’m most fertile?

The simplest way to work out your most fertile time is to note down the length of your menstrual cycle. Then look out for signs of hormonal and physical changes in your body.

You’ll start to notice signs that you’re fertile about five days before you ovulate. Ovulation usually occurs between 12 and 14 days before your period starts. This is an average, so it could be a couple of days earlier or later.

For example, say you have a regular 28-day menstrual cycle. Count the first day of your period as day one. Your fertile window is likely to be around days 12 to 17

However, a lot of women have an irregular cycle. If your cycle is irregular, ovulation may occur a week earlier or later from one month to the next.

Working out your fertile window using your cycle dates alone is an inexact science. This is why learning to spot your body’s fertile signs can help. These include:

When does ovulation usually occur?

Ovulation usually occurs halfway through your menstrual cycle — the average cycle lasts 28 days, counting from the first day of one period (day one) to the first day of the next period. But as with everything pregnancy-related, there’s a wide range of normal here (anywhere from 23 to 35 days), and your own cycle may vary slightly from month to month.

5 Ways to Tell You’re Ovulating

Sperm are able to live to fertilize for a lot longer than an egg is willing to hang out, anywhere from three to six days. Which means that even if you have sex a few days before ovulation, there may be plenty of sperm still around to greet the egg when it emerges. (And remember: It only takes one sperm to make a baby.) Of course, having sex the day you ovulate would be ideal. After ovulation, that window tends to slam shut till the next cycle. Clearly, knowing when the Big O occurs is key when doing the Baby Dance. Here are five ways to help you pin down the big day.

How do I know if I’m ovulating?

1. Check the calendar: Keep a menstrual calendar for a few months so you can get an idea of what’s normal for you — or use tools that can help you calculate ovulation. If your periods are irregular, you’ll need to be even more alert for other signs of ovulation, so read on.

2. Listen to your body: If you’re like 20 percent of women, your body will send you a memo when it’s ovulating, in the form of a twinge of pain or a series of cramps in your lower abdominal area (usually localized to one side — the side you’re ovulating from). Called mittelschmerz — German for “middle pain” — this monthly reminder of fertility is thought to be the result of the maturation or release of an egg from an ovary. Pay close attention, and you may be more likely to get the message.

3. Chart your temperature: That is, your basal body temperature, or BBT. Taken with a special thermometer (yes, you guessed it, a basal body thermometer), your BBT is the baseline reading you get first thing in the morning, after at least three to five hours of sleep and before you get out of bed, talk, or even sit up. Your BBT changes throughout your cycle as fluctuations in hormone levels occur. During the first half of your cycle, estrogen dominates. During the second half of your cycle (once ovulation has occurred), there is a surge in progesterone. Progesterone increases your body temperature as it gets your uterus ready for a fertilized, implantable egg. Which means that in the first half of the month, your temperature will be lower than it is in the second half of the month, after ovulation. Confused? Here’s the bottom line: Your BBT will reach its lowest point at ovulation and then rise immediately and dramatically (about a half a degree) as soon as ovulation occurs. Keep in mind that charting your BBT for one month will not enable you to predict the day you ovulate but rather give you evidence of ovulation after it has occurred. Charting your BBT over a few months, however, will help you to see a pattern to your cycles, enabling you to predict when ovulation will occur in future months — and when to hop into bed accordingly.

4. Get to know your cervix: Ovulation isn’t an entirely hidden process. As your body senses the hormone shifts that indicate an egg is about to be released from the ovary, it begins to ready itself for the incoming hordes of sperm and give the egg its best chance of getting fertilized. One detectable sign of oncoming ovulation is the position of the cervix itself. During the beginning of a cycle, your cervix — that neck-like passage between your vagina and uterus that has to stretch during birth to accommodate your baby’s head — is low, hard, and closed. But as ovulation approaches, it pulls back up, softens a bit, and opens just a little, to let the sperm through on their way to their target. Some women can easily feel these changes, while others have a tougher time. Check your cervix daily, using one or two fingers, and keep a chart of your observations. The other cervical sign you can watch for is the appearance, increase in quantity, and change in consistency of cervical mucus (the stuff that gets your underwear all sticky). Its more noble purpose is to carry the sperm to the ovum deep inside you.

After your period ends, you’ll have a dry spell, literally; you shouldn’t expect much, if any, cervical mucus. As the cycle proceeds, you’ll notice an increase in the amount of mucus with an often white or cloudy appearance — and if you try to stretch it between your fingers, it’ll break apart. As you get closer to ovulation, this mucus becomes even more copious, but now it’s thinner, clearer, and has a slippery consistency similar to an egg white. If you try to stretch it between your fingers, you’ll be able to pull it into a string a few inches long before it breaks. (How’s that for fun in the bathroom?) This is yet another sign of impending ovulation — as well as a sign that it’s time to get out of the bathroom and get busy in the bedroom. Once ovulation occurs, you may either become dry again or develop a thicker discharge. Put together with cervical position and BBT on a single chart, cervical mucus can be an extremely useful (if slightly messy) tool in pinpointing the day on which you are most likely to ovulate — and it does so in plenty of time for you to do something about it.

5. Buy an ovulation predictor kit: Don’t want to mess around with mucus? You don’t have to these days. Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) are able to pinpoint your date of ovulation 12 to 24 hours in advance by looking at levels of luteinizing hormone, or LH, which is the last of the hormones to hit its peak before ovulation actually occurs. All you have to do is pee on a stick and wait for the indicator to tell you whether you’re about to ovulate.

Another option is a saliva test, which takes a peek at levels of estrogen in your saliva as ovulation nears. When you’re ovulating, a look at your saliva under the test’s eyepiece will reveal a microscopic pattern that resembles the leaves of a fern plant or frost on a windowpane. Not all women get a good “fern,” but this test, which is reusable, can be cheaper than those sticks you have to pee on. There are also devices that detect the numerous salts (chloride, sodium, potassium) in a woman’s sweat, which change during different times of the month. Called the chloride ion surge, this shift happens even before the estrogen and the LH surge, so these tests give a woman a four-day warning of when she may be ovulating, versus the 12-to-24-hour one that the standard pee-on-a-stick OPKs provide. The key to success in using this latest technology is to make sure to get an accurate baseline of your ion levels (currently, there’s a device on the market that needs to be worn on the wrist for at least six continuous hours to get a proper baseline). No OPK can guarantee that you will get pregnant or that you’re actually ovulating; they can only indicate when ovulation may be occurring. So no matter which device or method you choose, patience and persistence are key! Just don’t forget to put together a candlelit dinner, draw a warm bubble bath, or plan a romantic weekend getaway — whatever it is that puts you and your partner in a baby-making mood.

Changes in cervical mucus.

Cervical mucus is the discharge that you see in your knickers or on toilet tissue when you go for a wee.

Changes in your cervical mucus can signal when you are fertile. After your period has finished, your cervical mucus gradually increases in amount and changes in texture.

This change reflects the rising levels of the hormone oestrogen in your body. It also shows you are close to ovulating.

You are most fertile when your mucus becomes clear, slippery and stretchy. It’s a bit like raw egg white. This fertile mucus speeds the sperm on its way up through your uterus. It nourishes and protects the sperm as it travels towards your fallopian tubes to meet your egg.

See our photo gallery to check what cervical mucus looks like.

An ache in your belly.

About a fifth of women can actually feel something happening in their ovaries around ovulation. This can range from mild achiness to twinges of pain. Some women feel ovulation as one-sided backache or a tender area. The condition, called mittelschmerz, may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days.

If you notice these sensations at roughly the same time each month, check your cervical mucus. Ovulatory pain can be a useful guide to when you’re fertile.

Feeling sexy.

Feeling sexy, flirty and more sociable may all be signs that you’re at your most fertile.

You may notice a peak in sexual desire at this time. You may find your partner becomes a little more possessive and attentive as a result. There’s medical evidence for this!

You may not be aware of it, but you may be showing other signs that you are at your most fertile. Think back over your cycle and you may remember the following happening:

  • Scent of a woman: you smell good at this time. Your body odour is more pleasant and sexy to men around the time you’re fertile. You may think that nobody knows you’re ovulating, but those natural scents may give the game away.
  • Looking and feeling great: you’re likely to feel more physically attractive as you near ovulation. You may be more attractive to others, too. Without realising it, you may choose clothes that flatter you.

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.

Making love 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.

Find out which are the best sexual positions for baby-making.

Good luck — and have fun!


 

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