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Ovulation: A Complete Guide to Length & Signs

There are so many intricate details about the female body. One of those functions is ovulation. You probably know the jist, but do you know why you ovulate, when you ovulate, how long ovulation lasts, or how to tell if you are ovulating?  If you are trying to become pregnant now or in the future, it …

Written By
Expectful
Nicole Kainz
Instructor
November 23, 2021

There are so many intricate details about the female body. One of those functions is ovulation. You probably know the jist, but do you know why you ovulate, when you ovulate, how long ovulation lasts, or how to tell if you are ovulating? 

If you are trying to become pregnant now or in the future, it is a good idea to understand the ovulation process and what it means for fertility. Read on to find out everything you need to know about ovulation. 

What Happens During Ovulation?

Simply explained, ovulation occurs when a mature egg is released from the ovary and moves down the fallopian tube. The eggs live in little sacs in the ovaries called follicles. The hypothalamus in the brain releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). 

GnRH signals the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone to the ovaries causing a follicle to mature and burst—releasing the egg inside.

Once the egg is released, it moves down the fallopian tube where it can either be fertilized with sperm and implanted in the uterus, or it is not fertilized, and the egg and the uterine lining is released, which we know as our period, menstrual cycle, or time of the month.

How Long Does Ovulation Last?

The whole ovulation process—hormones released, follicles burst, and release of the egg into the fallopian tubes—lasts about 24 hours, known as your day of ovulation. If an egg is not fertilized within 12 and 24 hours, then it will die off. When this happens, your period will start about 14 days later. 

When Does Ovulation Happen?

Before we get into exactly when ovulation happens, let’s do a quick lesson about when our menstrual cycle begins and ends. The first day of your menstrual cycle is the very first day of your period, and it ends with the start of your next period. If you don’t track your periods, you may be interested in what you find out, if you do. You can track your average cycle length and have a better idea of when you ovulate. 

Going on a tropical vacation? Tracking your period will show you if you will be swimming easy or bringing your period survival pack.

As an average, ovulation occurs 14 days before your cycle starts with the average menstrual cycle being 28 days. 

Surely, there may be times where your period is a little before or after 28 days, which is usually no sign for concern. Just like your menstrual cycle can change from a 28-day cycle, so can your ovulation time. 

The normal range 12 to 14 days after your last period, but your ovulation timing can change month to month. 

How Do You Know When You Are Ovulating?

If the time of ovulation can change month to month, how do you know when you are ovulating?  Well, luckily, the female body is pretty amazing and gives us certain signs that can help you know if you are ovulating or not and when your fertile days are. 

If you are interested in finding out when you are ovulating, log your daily findings in a notebook or ovulation calendar, and you will begin to see the trends. Using multiple techniques in determining ovulation will give you a good idea of when ovulation happens for you. 

Basal Temperature

One way to determine if you are ovulating is by checking your basal body temperature or BBT—your body temperature at rest. The best time to take your basal body temperature is orally first thing in the morning, so keep your handy basal thermometer on your bedside table. 

Before ovulation, your basal body temperature will be between 97 to 98 degrees Fahrenheit. Once you ovulate, your basal body temperature will rise by .05 to one degree. By keeping a log of your basal body temperature daily, for a few months, you learn when you ovulate and when your peak fertility is. 

The key to this method is taking your temperature at the same time every day, before you get out of bed. This should be a true resting read to be the most accurate. 

Breast Tenderness

Many women experience breast aches, and are not even sure what is causing it. One of the most common causes is ovulation. During the ovulation phase of your cycle, levels of estrogen rise, progesterone goes down, and prolactin goes up. These changes in hormones can cause your breast to feel tender.. 

Ovulation

Another symptom of ovulation may be discomfort or cramps on the same side as the ovary releasing the egg during ovulation. It is thought to be brought on during the peak of luteinizing hormone when the follicle the egg is being released from has enlarged but not yet ruptured. While this can be a sign of ovulation, you may not feel it every month. It is a symptom to note in your log, but you should not solely rely on only ovulation discomfort as a predictor of ovulation.

Increased Sex Drive

Have you noticed that there are certain times during the month you have more sex drive than normal? Another reason our bodies are so incredible—it may be biological. 

Before ovulation, when luteinizing hormone goes up, many women feel an increase in sex drive. Some even call this phase the “sexual phase.” By increasing women’s sexual driving during ovulation—high fertility phase—biologically, it may help with procreation.

Cervical Mucus

During our cycles we can experience different levels of vaginal discharge or cervical fluid. One of these—cervical mucus—is released just before ovulation. About two to three days before ovulation, estrogen levels rise, creating more cervical mucus and changing the texture to almost resemble raw egg whites. 

This cervical mucus is also more sticky. If you put some between your fingers, it will stretch between your two fingers. When it is at this phase, you are most likely ovulating and your chances of conception are high. Inspecting cervical mucus has been shown to be a good, low-cost option to determine if you are ovulating 

Cervix Changes

Checking your own cervix can be difficult in the beginning, but if you learn what you are feeling for and how to find it, it will get a little easier. The cervix is the narrow, bottom part of the uterus. During ovulation, it is high, open, and soft. 

After ovulation, it is lower, closed, and more firm. By checking your cervix for changes, you can feel if you are ovulating or not. This is another great note to write down in your log. 

Saliva Ferning Patterns

One method of detecting ovulation that is not used quite as often is saliva ferning partners. During ovulation, there is an increase in salivary electrolytes. When the saliva of an ovulating woman is taken and dried on glass, under a microscope you can see fern patterns. A fern pattern would mimic the pattern of fern leaves. Although this is an easy, inexpensive way to detect ovulation, not many women have a microscope at home. 

Ovulation Test

Finally, there are ovulation test kits or ovulation predictor kits that you can buy to determine if you are ovulating. These are very similar to pregnancy tests. Before you buy an ovulation test, make sure to do your research. These tests have different levels of accuracy, some are easier to read, and some are more expensive. 

When Is the Best Time to Conceive?

The best time to get pregnant is during ovulation, but with a 12 to 14 hour window, that may seem impossible. Do not be discouraged, if you are trying to find the right time to conceive. Sperm are able to live in your body for up to five days. 

For women with average cycles, your fertility window is between days 8 and 15 of your menstrual cycle. Not to mention, it can also take a lot of the stress of knowing that you have a few days of trying to conceive. 

What May Prevent Ovulation?

If you have been tracking your ovulation, and are not noticing any signs of ovulation, there may be a reason for that. Many women experience anovulation—lack of ovulation—at some point in their life. 

Some reasons may be lifestyle-induced, and some may be a medical condition. We have listed some common potential reasons for anovulation. 

Age

When women are born, they are born with a fixed number of eggs—over one million—in their ovaries. By the time puberty hits, only 300,000 eggs remain. From those eggs, only about 400 will be released through ovulation. 

Once a woman hits perimenopause—the stage before menopause, lasting two to 10 years—they may see longer cycles and reduced ovulation. 

Once they hit menopause, they will no longer ovulate or have menstrual cycles. On average, menopause happens around the age of 51.  

Stress

Stress can do a number on your body. It can affect your sleep, mental health, and suppress your immune system. Stress can also affect your ovulation. Researchers have shown that women who are stressed are 28% less likely to ovulate. This may be due to the reduction of two hormones that are responsible for ovulation—estrone-1-glucuronide and pregnanediol-3-glucuronide.

We live in a very high-stress world. We get it, you have many responsibilities on your plate, and it is not easy to just—poof!—stop being stressed. 

On top of normal responsibilities, the stress of trying to conceive can cause even more stress. You become stuck on a stress merry-go-round. There are ways to hop off the stress carnival ride. 

Meditation can help balance your stress, ease your mind, and help balance out your hormones, 

Hormonal Birth Control

Hormonal birth control has long been used to prevent ovulation. In fact, over ten million women use oral contraceptives. There are other options out there—a patch, shot, IUD, or ring. Hormonal birth control affects the hypothalamus—an area of the brain that releases hormones to begin ovulation. 

As long as you take your birth control as directed, your chances of ovulation and getting pregnant are low. If you are hoping to become pregnant in the near future, you may want to stop taking your birth control a few months before you start trying. 

Hormonal contraceptives can take months to leave the body—with no known lasting side effects.

Body Weight

Bodyweight is a very personal topic. You know your body and the healthiest weight for you. 

There have been studies that show that people with very low body weight and very high body weight can experience anovulation. If you feel they may be what is preventing you from ovulating, you can talk to your doctor about ways to bring you to a healthier weight for ovulation.  

Sleep

Healthy sleep cycles are incredibly important to your overall health. While you sleep, your body has time and energy to engage in recovery. Sleep also helps your body regulate hormones. 

Lack of sleep may alter the hypothalamus causing it not to release the hormones needed to begin ovulation. 

Are you finding it hard to catch the ZZZs you need? One way to help is to have a sleep-inducing routine at night. Thirty minutes before sleep, turn off those screens. We know it is hard. You are probably used to using your phone to tire your eyes. 

Reading is a great alternative to your phone, and you may just pick up a new hobby. Drinking a relaxing tea like chamomile, a warm bath, and meditation are all ways to relax your body and promote sleep. 

Gynecological Disorders

Some women experience gynecological disorders in their lifetime. These may be to blame for ovulation issues as well. While you may have been diagnosed with one, there are many ways to help you through them, with the help of holistic and allopathic options. 

Talk to your health care provider to learn what steps you can do to increase your chances for ovulation.

Thyroid Health

Your thyroid is a small organ at the base of your neck, shaped like a butterfly. It is tiny, but mighty. The thyroid has a hand in releasing hormones that control metabolism—the way your body uses energy. Thyroid hormones also affect GnRH released from the hypothalamus. 

Have you ever wondered why your doctor touches your neck during a physical? They are checking for any abnormalities in your thyroid. Usually, your thyroid is checked during normal blood labs, as well. Supporting your thyroid through a well-balanced diet is key. 

Iodine is key for thyroid health. You can find iodine in seaweed, fish, dairy products, and eggs. 

Smoking

One thing you can do today to help ovulation is to quit smoking. Besides all the many, many negative health effects it has on you, it can also lower your chances of ovulation. We know it is incredibly hard to quit, but there are so many resources out there to help you begin your journey to being smoke-free. You can do it! 

Smoking disrupts the balance of pro-oxidants and antioxidants in the body. Pro-oxidants can cause harm—antioxidants protect against that harm. When this balance is shifted to the “bad” guys, you are at risk for more health issues. 

One place these issues occur is in the ovary and the follicle cells. If the follicle cells are not healthy, they may not be able to release the egg. 

Conclusion

The ovulation process of releasing an egg for fertilization is triggered by an intricate process of hormones released from the brain, thyroid, and ovaries. While ovulation only takes 12 to 24 hours, sperm can live in the female body for up to five days, giving you a fertilization window of about six days during your menstruation cycle. 

You do not have to guess when you are ovulating, or use the average of 14 days before your next cycle. Our bodies give us signs to tell us we are ovulating. 

Creating an ovulation log to note any changes in basal body temperature, breast tenderness, ovulation discomfort, cervical changes, and increase sex drive can help you determine when your normal ovulation period is. 

There are some things that can cause you not to ovulate, like age, stress, body weight, and smoking. Making certain lifestyle changes can help your body ovulate. You can always talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your ovulation.

Fertility can look different for everyone, and that is why Expectful is here for you. We aim to bring you the best in holistic maternal health for every step of your motherhood journey.

Expectful
Nicole Kainz
Instructor