What is Ovulation?

When it comes to conception, ovulation is a frequent buzzword. But what is ovulation? Check out our essential guide here.

Can you pinpoint your fertile window? Some people can improve their chances of getting pregnant by narrowing their most fertile time down to three days. And within those three days, there’s a 30% chance of getting pregnant. These three days are the ovulation period. But what is ovulation?

Understanding ovulation and fertility is important to family planning. To learn more, read on.

What Is Ovulation?

During each menstrual cycle, the female reproductive system prepares itself for pregnancy. Even if you aren't sexually active or planning on becoming pregnant, your body prepares just in case. The menstrual cycle refers to this entire process from start to finish, not just at the time of menstrual bleeding.

The ovaries contain many follicles filled with egg cells. During each cycle, the brain sends hormones that stimulate follicles to release an egg. Usually, only one follicle releases an egg, but sometimes two follicles release eggs in the same cycle, potentially leading to non-identical or fraternal twins.

Usually, these hormone signals happen during the middle of your cycle. An average cycle is considered 28 days long—although it varies in different people—so ovulation usually happens on about day 14 of the cycle.

What Happens When You Ovulate?

During ovulation, an ovarian follicle releases an egg, which travels through the fallopian tube, where fertilization may occur if the egg encounters a sperm cell. After fertilization, the cells become an embryo, which will implant in the lining of the uterus.

If an egg isn’t fertilized, it travels through the fallopian tube into the uterus and out of the vaginal canal. During this process, the uterus sheds its lining. The lining is what’s passed in menstrual bleeding.

How Long Does the Cycle Last?

Every woman is different. Therefore, every woman experiences a different cycle length.

An average cycle is 28 days long, but many women experience cycles longer or shorter than this. This means different women may have different fertile windows.

When Do You Ovulate?

Follicles develop before ovulation, in a period known as the follicular phase. The follicular phase may vary in length between people. The period of time after ovulation, called the luteal phase, remains around the same length, 14 days.

So, to figure out when you’re most likely to ovulate, you can do some simple math.

First, track your last period. It may give you some idea of when your next period will start. The number of days between the beginning of one period to the beginning of the next is the number of days your cycle runs.

The luteal phase is around 14 days in length. So, you should count 14 days before the first day of your next period. That day and the two days before it are considered the most fertile days if you're looking to conceive.

To simplify, your ovulation window will fall about two weeks (14 days) before your next period starts.

Do Ovulation Prediction Kits or Temperature Charts Help?

Some people use ovulation prediction kits or temperature charts to help with period tracking. While some women may find success with these methods, others are unnecessarily stressed out and confused by them.

Ovulation prediction kits work by testing the urine for hormones. But by the time that your predictor kit senses the surge, your window of opportunity may have passed. Temperature charts have the same flaw. Your body temperature increases by a very small amount after ovulation is complete, so by the time that you notice the temperature change you may have missed your fertility window.

If you're not trying to conceive and you just want to know more about your cycle, these methods may be effective. However, you may not be able to depend on these methods alone if you're having trouble conceiving.

What Causes Ovulation?

Your body releases hormones that trigger ovulation. The two main hormones involved are follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Your body produces FSH during the first part of your cycle, the period in which you’re bleeding.  FSH helps egg cells mature in preparation for the next cycle. It also raises your estrogen level, which in turn stimulates the release of LH. LH stimulates the follicle to release the egg.

How Long Do the Sperm and Egg Live?

An egg lives for about 12 to 24 hours after ovulation. Sperm lives for up to five to seven days. So, sperm may live in your body up to a week after you've had sex. To learn more about sperm and male fertility, catch up on our male fertility guide.

When Is the Best Time to Have Sex to Conceive?

Ideally, you want to have a lot of sperm ready to swim to the egg when your body releases it. But it just takes one sperm to fertilize an egg, and ovulation times may vary every month. So, it may be helpful to have regular sex leading up to the ovulation window.

And, because ovulation doesn't occur at the exact same time every month, you may want to make sure that you have sperm at the ready whenever it does happen.

Is There Anything I Can Do After Sex to Increase My Chances of Becoming Pregnant?

Some people worry that semen leaks out after having sex. To them, this means that all of the sperm are exiting their bodies. However, this isn't true. A single ejaculation may contain hundreds of millions of sperm cells, so the majority are staying inside of your body. And, you only need a single sperm to fertilize an egg.

Unfortunately, standing on your head or sitting upside down doesn't do anything to help the fertilization process. So, you can sit naturally or lay down.

How Can You Tell if You're Ovulating?

Every cycle is different, and there’s no precise time for ovulation in everyone. But there are a few ways that you can familiarize yourself with your individual cycle.

One way to determine whether or not you're ovulating is by looking at your vaginal discharge (cervical mucus).

After your period, you may notice that you feel dry, with less vaginal discharge for a day or two. After a few days, vaginal discharge usually becomes clear to white or light yellow. Once you start ovulating, this discharge changes. It becomes more sticky and stretchy.

Usually, this discharge is easy to spot. So, if you're trying to tell whether or not you're ovulating, this is one of the easiest methods.

After ovulation, the discharge becomes more creamy and white.

Is Ovulation Painful?

Some people experience pain during ovulation. They describe the feeling as a sharp pain in their lower abdomen. Experts call this ovulation pain Mittelschmerz. It occurs when the ovary releases the newly matured egg into the fallopian tube. Some people even experience vaginal spotting at this time, which is completely normal.

However, if you're experiencing a large amount of pain or bleeding, you should speak with your healthcare professional.