We’re used to writing about what toys to own, or guides to improve your sex life, but whats more important is sexual health and birth control. We’re going to talk about ovulation, as it’s a huge aspect of the menstrual cycle and not something that should be overlooked.
Understanding ovulation and knowing when you’re fertile is perfect for when you’re looking to expand your family, but also just as crucial for those who are not ready for a family. Hopefully, with the help of us at MLP, we can make you aware of the signs and symptoms of ovulation, when you should be expecting it, and how it all works down there.
Table of Contents
What makes up the female reproductive system?
Ovaries – Known as the reproductive glands, are the most primary aspect to the female sex organs. It has two main objectives, to mature oocytes (oogenesis) until they’re ready to be released during ovulation and the secretion of oestrogen and progesterone. The ovaries are located on either side of the womb in the lower abdomen.
Fallopian Tubes – These are tubes that connect the ovaries to the womb. Fallopian tubes are covered in a hair-like structure called cilia; this means that once a woman’s egg has been released, it can hold it in place ready for fertilisation, then allow it to travel down to the womb for expulsion if unsuccessful.
If successful it can keep the fertilised egg (pre-embryo) in places during the early stages of pregnancy until its ready to be passed down into the womb.
Uterus – Also known as the womb, is the homing area where a developing fetus can be looked after. The walls of the uterus are thick; this is because part of the uterus walls become the placenta during pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the lining of the uterus walls is shed along with blood flow and unused eggs, as part of a woman’s menstrual flow. At the bottom of the uterus is the cervix, this serves as a way out for menstrual flow, but also a way to hold amniotic fluid and a fetus within the womb during pregnancy. Outside of pregnancy, the cervix is open slightly to allow sperm to travel inside ready for the fertilisation period.
Vagina – This is the area that allows access of the penis for intercourse, made up of vaginal walls that connect the cervix, its purpose is to create an environment that can withhold childbirth (it needs to be able to stretch and bare weight). The vagina also creates lubricants for intercourse; this is to avoid damage and host an environment for sperm to be able to travel up to the womb.
Vulva – These are the outside parts of the female reproductive system. Their purpose is to protect the vagina opening.
The menstrual cycle and how it works
Because this is a rather complex process our amazing bodies undergo, its easy to not understand just how long this all takes and the different stages your body goes through to ready its self for pregnancy. Lets recap over the menstrual cycle in a little more detail. Although the menstrual cycles are made up of the ovarian cycle and the uterine cycles, we will just be focusing on the ovarian cycle.
The ovarian cycle is a 28-day cycle that is composed of 3 phases. Phase 1 is the maturing of the egg within one of your ovaries; this happens between the first 13 days of your cycle. On the 14th day once the egg has matured fully it is released (ovulation). Days 15 – 28 is when the lining of the womb and the unfertilised eggs are expelled, though you will not bleed for the entire time, the body takes a while to recognise that pregnancy has been unsuccessful and that it needs to begin the shedding of the lining of the womb. If fertility has been successful the body will produce progesterone (the hormone that tells the body to shed the womb lining) that stops the womb from shedding its lining and will prepare the next stages of pregnancy.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is one of the stages of the menstrual cycle, which typically happens around 10-16 days before the first day of your period. Ovulation is when one or more of your eggs (Also knowns as oocyte) are released from your ovaries, known as the fertile period of your menstrual cycle. This happens because of a surge in oestrogen just before your ovulation period (the end of your follicular phase), stimulating your anterior pituitary gland to secrete luteinising and follicle-stimulating hormones (known as LH and FSH). Once these hormones have been triggered, the ovarian follicles will be ready to release a matured oocyte. Your egg won’t be released until they are mature enough for fertilisation, generally speaking, up to thirty eggs will mature during a month ready to be fertilised, but only a few will be released from your ovaries and sent down your fallopian tubes ready for the next stage of your cycle.
Once the matured egg has reached the fallopian tube it will only last between 12- 24 hours, meaning that the fertilisation window is pretty small, but sperm can survive in the fallopian tubes up to 5 days, so if you’ve had unprotected sex before your ovulation there’s still a high chance you can become pregnant. So keeping track of your ovulation dates and knowing the symptoms is useful. If the oocyte is unsuccessful with fertilisation, the egg is expelled through the next stage of the cycle.
What is the difference between fertile days and ovulation days?
As mentioned above, the matured oocyte can only last between 12-24 hours this meaning that the oocyte itself is only accessible to sperm during that window, even though the full ovulation process takes around six days. But the male sperm can last up to 5 days (although typically sperm lasts between 1-2 days) if in the correct environment such as being in the fertile cervical fluid. Considering this though, an egg only survives up to 24 hours, the actual fertile period is up to 5 days.
What are the signs and symptoms of ovulation?
A change in temperature – There is a slight rise in temperature when you’re ovulating, so knowing your normal temperature and being able to identify what is high for is a good sign of ovulation
Having hormones in your urine – Because of the increase of hormones during ovulation, naturally, these hormones will be identifiable in your urine using a basic ovulation test.
A Change in cervical mucus – Due to the higher levels of oestrogen during the ovulation period, your cervical mucus resembles egg whites, its stretchier and clear, this is to ease the travel of sperm to your fallopian tubes.
Breast tenderness – Again, due to hormonal change, breasts can become sensitive and tender to touch. This is because of the hormone dump our bodies go through during this period.
A heightened sense of smell – This isn’t the case for all women, but some experience a heightened sense of smell, researches believe that this is because we are more attracted to the male pheromone androstenone during ovulation.
Increased sexual drive – This is natures way of ensuring we’re in the mood to reproduce, with a little push along the way. You’ll probably find that anything and everything will put you in the mood, so if you want to avoid pregnancy and you’re not on any birth control its probably best to stay clear of your partner.
Pelvic pain – This will be on one side (the side of the ovary releasing the egg), and not all women will experience this. It can last a few minutes to a few hours and should be mild and able to be controlled by some anti-inflammatory medications. If the pain is severe or persistent, then it shouldn’t be ignored and should be checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible.
Spotting/bleeding – This can be accompanied by pelvic pain, or not. Typically red or brown and not in high quantity, this is a side effect of the release of a matured egg. Again, this isn’t something that is common in all women so don’t worry if you don’t get any spotting or bleeding during the ovulation period.
There are many reasons why some women have problems with ovulation.
Some of the issues with ovulation are caused by:
- Problems with the hypothalamus (the main control centre) not secreting gonadotropin to kick-start the anterior pituitary gland.
- The anterior pituitary gland is not releasing high enough doses of LH and FSH.
- Polycystic ovary syndrome
- Obesity or weight loss
- Some drugs
Fortunately, some of these can be overcome with lifestyle changes, but some need specialist treatment. Luckily some medications can help with ovulation such as:
Clomiphene – This medication is mostly used when a woman hasn’t ovulated in a long time or has been diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome. This particular drug is roughly 70% effective when treating the correct condition and all other factors are in favour of ovulation, with a 40% of women becoming pregnant when using this.
Letrozole – This drug works by blocking the level of oestrogen being released, which triggers the pituitary gland to produce more FSH. This is another drug option for women suffering from Polycystic ovary syndrome.
There is plenty of alternative ways to boost ovulation, just make sure you get the correct help by seeing a medical professional.