Ovulation is the process of an egg leaving an ovary and moving into the Fallopian tubes. It is part of the preparation for reproduction and occurs around day 14 of an average 28-day menstrual cycle. Knowing how ovulation works can help you with your fertility.
7 How Ovulation Occurs
Ovulation is part of your reproductive system and relies on hormonal signals to start the process. The first thing that happens is the hormone estrogen in your body drops. Next, the hypothalamus in your brain alerts the pituitary gland, which is in another portion of your brain. It sends out follicle-stimulating hormones (FSH) to make follicles mature and release ovum (eggs.) Follicles are structures of your reproductive system where immature ovum called oocytes develop.
A baby girl is born with 1 to 2 million oocytes in her ovaries. Half of those eggs will be absorbed by her ovaries when she reaches adolescence. About 300 to 500 of these become mature eggs. Each follicle contains only one oocyte. Between 15 and 20 eggs mature each month, but only one becomes ripe enough to be released into the Fallopian tubes.
There is not any order to which a follicle releases a ripe egg from the 15 to 20 that mature. The mature follicles and eggs create estrogen causing estrogen levels in your body to rise. The estrogen signals the body to make luteinizing hormones (LH.) This hormone opens the mature follicle and allows it to drop the ovum into either one of the Fallopian tubes. The empty follicle then makes progesterone that will thicken the lining of your uterus.
If pregnancy does not occur, the follicle stops making the hormone progesterone and the lining of the uterus slough off in menstruation.
6 How to Tell If Ovulation Occurs
There are many signs that ovulation occurs. Some of these signs are body temperature, a twinge in your back, cervical mucus changes, and sore breasts.
One of the most common ovulation symptoms is an increase in vaginal discharge in the form of cervical mucus. Cervical mucus is a natural plug for the opening of your vagina that keeps out bacteria. It has white blood cells to attack bacteria. Normally, this would present a barrier to sperm, but when you are ovulating, the mucus quality changes.
If you are pre-ovulatory, the vaginal area will be dry with no visible mucus. If you are ovulating, your vaginal area will be moist or sticky with a white or cream-colored mucus that breaks easily when you stretch it. This indicates that you may be fertile.
Cervical mucus, as you become more fertile, will increase the amount and become watery and thin. This is the point where it is easiest for sperm to move into your vagina and fertilize an egg. The vaginal area becomes dryer when you have stopped ovulating.
Some women may experience other physical signs of ovulation. Night sweats and hot flashes, as the symptoms women have in menopause, may occur. These symptoms are due to high levels of progesterone when the follicles support the creation of a uterine lining.
Another side effect of high progesterone levels is sore and sensitive breasts. Night sweats and sore breasts are also early signs of pregnancy, so use caution when considering these symptoms as signs of ovulation.
A few women will feel what is called mittelschmerz or middle pain when they ovulate. Mittelschmerz is usually a mild cramping sensation in the lower abdomen. The pain is inconsistent and does not occur on the same side of the abdomen each month.
The condition occurs when an egg is released from a follicle and travels down a Fallopian tube, about two weeks before your period is scheduled to begin. The pain is caused by the egg stretching over the membrane that covers the ovary before it breaks out into the Fallopian tube. The fluid and blood created when the egg is released from the ovary may irritate the tissues lining the abdominal cavity and will be responsible for the mid-cycle pain.
There may be light spotting or bleeding with mittelschmerz. Not all women experience mittelschmerz when they ovulate; only about 20 percent. For these women, it’s an annoyance, and for others, it’s very painful. Most women do not have any discomfort. However, some women experience intense pain that can last for days.
4 When It's Not Mittelschmerz
Women who have pain during ovulation rarely have to go to an emergency room. The problem can be managed with pain medication or by using birth control. You should, however, be aware of conditions such as appendicitis or an ectopic pregnancy that can mimic the first symptoms of mittelschmerz.
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. The appendix is a 3 ½ inch-long tube extending from the large intestine. It is a mystery why humans have appendixes but scientists know we can live without them if the organs become inflamed.
Classic symptoms of appendicitis are dull pains near the navel or the upper abdomen. This pain becomes sharper as it moves to the lower right abdomen. There's a loss of appetite, nausea, and/or vomiting after the abdominal pain starts. There can also be swelling in the abdomen, fever, and inability to pass gas. Other symptoms include sharp pain in the: back, rectum, upper or lower abdomen, pain when urinating, vomiting before the abdominal pain, severe cramping, and constipation or diarrhea with gas.
If you have these symptoms, do not delay getting treatment and go to the emergency room immediately. Similarly, an ectopic pregnancy can cause symptoms resembling mittelschmerz until the disorder becomes life-threatening. An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that evolves outside of the uterus. Most ectopic pregnancies occur in the Fallopian tubes. These pregnancies cannot progress normally into a live birth, and are dangerous for the woman to continue.
Ectopic pregnancies can occur in the ovaries, cervix, and abdominal cavity. Signs of ectopic pregnancies can be abdominal pain similar to mittelschmerz, but this can progress into weakness, dizziness, and a sense of faintness when standing. Other signs include light vaginal bleeding, nausea and vomiting with pain, lower abdominal pain or sharp abdominal cramps, pain in your shoulder, neck, or rectum, and pain on one side of your body.
Dizziness and fainting are signs of low pressure. This occurs from internal bleeding that occurs when an ectopic pregnancy ruptures the Fallopian tubes or other reproductive organs. This situation requires immediate medical emergency attention. Other symptoms that are not normal during ovulation are nausea and dizziness These may be a sign of an ovarian cyst. If you have dizziness or nausea during ovulation, contact your health care provider immediately.
3 Unreliable Signs of Ovulation
The basal body temperature is one of the most popular ways to predict ovulation, but it’s not the most reliable. Choosing this method of ovulation tracking means keeping a record of your body temperature for a few months.
There’s a slight drop in temperature just before ovulation, and this temperature rises sharply when the egg is released. It continues to rise if fertilization occurs. Erratic sleep schedules can affect readings of body temperature and makes this method of predicting ovulation unreliable. Some women may experience a spike in libido or sexual drive due to the changes in hormone levels when ovulation takes place.
Women who suffer from frequent headaches or migraines may have an increase in headaches around the time of ovulation. Women who do not have a history of headaches or migraines should see their doctor if they experience sudden symptoms of bad headaches or migraines because it might be something more serious than a headache, like a stroke.
2 Medical Tests for Ovulation
Once you know your symptoms of ovulation such as mittelschmerz, bales body temperature, or cervical mucus, you can keep track of your ovulation with an ovulation calendar. The fertile window for pregnancy is only five days before ovulation to the day of ovulation. The probability of conceiving is two days before and on the day you ovulate. Women who do not know their ovulation cycle should have sex every two to three days to help their chances of becoming pregnant.
This method, however, is not as reliable as other methods of tracking your ovulation. There are more reliable tests for ovulation, including ovulation predictor kits. These kits measure hormonal changes in the urine, and can more accurately pinpoint ovulation than other methods.
Many experts consider ovulation predictor kits more reliable than basal body temperature changes. However, the kits can be expensive, and do not guarantee conception. Medical tests for ovulation include blood samples that check progesterone levels. Blood tests should be taken between three to ten days before your next expected period. A high progesterone level means you have ovulated and are ready to get pregnant.
1 Getting Pregnant
Your Fallopian tubes connect your ovaries to your uterus. One of your eggs and a sperm have to meet with one of your Fallopian tubes to form a baby. An egg survives for no more than 24 hours after you've ovulated. A sperm has to fertilize it during this time. However, sperm can be present in your vagina, uterus, or Fallopian tubes for seven days. This gives an egg the best chance of fertilization.
Having frequent sex, every two to three days, will help sperm and egg meet at the time of ovulation. Sex throughout your reproductive cycle will give you a better chance of becoming pregnant. Have sex at those times when your cervical mucus is wet and slippery because the cervix will not pose a barrier to sperm during this time. This will provide less of a barrier to the sperm reaching your Fallopian tubes.
Men should avoid hot tubs and saunas while trying to have children because hot tubs raise testicle temperatures and interfere with or kill sperm. The damage isn't permanent, and men can go back to using hot tubs after conception. Women, however, are advised not to use saunas or hot tubs during pregnancy as this is bad for the fetus.
Females wanting to get pregnant are advised to not douche or use other feminine hygiene cleaning products. These can increase the risk of pelvic infection, hide the symptoms of sexually transmitted diseases that can harm fertility, and throw off the natural balance of vaginal bacteria. This can lower your chances of getting pregnant.
The good news is, with fertile couples who have healthy lifestyles (good nutrition, abstaining from alcohol, drugs, and smoking,) there is a 20-25 percent chance of getting pregnant each cycle. Over 80 percent of women aged under 40 who have frequent sex without contraceptives will get pregnant within a year. Over 90 percent of couples create a pregnancy within two years.
Being aware and knowledgeable about ovulation and using this knowledge in your reproductive life can give you a better chance of becoming pregnant.