“The Big O” is your body shouting, “Alrighhty lady, I’m super-fertile.” If you assumed the day you get your period is the most significant bit of your cycle, think again. Ovulation is actually the big chief – when that juicy, ripe egg is released from the ovary.
What happens when we ovulate?
The entire ovulation process is controlled by our hormones (yup, of course they get the credit here), and starts with the follicular phase, when the pituitary gland in the brain starts producing the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) which triggers the growth of follicles in your ovaries. These keep your eggs cosy.
As the follicles grow they secrete oestrogen, which increases every day until the egg in the largest, ‘dominant follicle’ ruptures free from the ovary and makes its merry way to the fallopian tubes – hoping to meet a sperm. Typically you’ll only release one egg during ovulation (usually from alternating ovaries each month), although it is possible in rare instances to release multiple eggs in one cycle, within a 24-hour period. Crazy huh? If fertilised, these eggs could result in fraternal twins.
If you’re taking the combined pill, you won’t ovulate at all. This form of contraception works to prevent pregnancy by providing a stream synthetic hormones to the body that stop the ovaries from releasing an egg. With the mini-pill contraceptive, some women will still ovulate but not get pregnant. The hormones work slightly differently to prevent pregnancy by thinning the lining of the uterus and thickening cervical mucus.
Ok, get ready to go ninja on your calendar to work this out. If you count the first day of your period as day one, ovulation happens in the middle of a 28-day cycle – so you’ll release an egg on day 14. If your cycles are shorter or longer however, you will also ovulate slightly later or earlier. There is generally 14 days between when you ovulate and getting your period – the part of your cycle called the luteal phase.
You can use an ovulation app to track your ovulation day, or if you’re super serious about knowing when *exactly* in your cycle you release an egg (knowledge is power, right?), you can use ovulation predictor kits (OPKs). This pee-on-a-stick method will test your wee for a surge in luteinising hormone (LH), which then triggers the release of an egg. When the LH levels in your body peak, you’ll usually ovulate between 10-12 hours later – your egg then has a ‘fertilisation’ lifespan of no more that 24 hours after which it slowly disintegrates, is absorbed by your body and shed with the uterus’ lining, y’know…your period.
So here comes the sensible sex advice: It’s always worth remembering that because sperm can live for up to 5 days in the body (those little opportunists hang around waiting for the egg) there are six days in your cycle when unprotected sex could result in pregnancy. It sooo makes sense to learn when these days are.
What are the tell-tale signs of ovulation?
Some months you’ll ovulate and not even notice, but once you really tune into your body and the changes that happen during your cycle, you may start clocking the moment when you’re releasing an egg.
Ovulation pain, officially known as mittelschmerz is totally a thing – you might notice a twinge or period pain like cramp on one side, corresponding to the ovary from which you’re ovulating.
Spotting around the time of ovulation is also totally normal and it might be accompanied by a bit of cramping. However, there won’t be as much blood as a period and you won’t bleed for long. If you’re concerned about any abnormal bleeding in between your periods though, it’s always smart to get check out by your doctor.
When your vaginal discharge becomes clear and stretchy, like egg white, it’s likely that you’re about to ovulate. Your body produces more oestrogen as you near ovulation, causing your cervical mucus to change consistency to help any potential sperm on their journey.
Ah, our bodies are clever things, the surge in hormones can make us feel way hornier around the time of ovulation – all for the purpose of getting that egg fertilised. So if you find yourself wanting much more sex at this time in your cycle, but you’re really not wanting or trying to get pregnant, make sure you’re using contraception. Simple.
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