What is ovulation
Ovulation is part of a woman’s menstrual cycle when her body ovulates, meaning the ovaries release an egg (or more than one egg) that’s ready to be let out, into the fallopian tubes.
Let’s start at the start. When females are born, they have about one to two million eggs in their bodies. After they attain puberty -- that usually happens between the ages of 10 and 15 years – the monthly menstrual cycles begin and continue until menopause around the age of 45-50 years.
The first day of the menstrual cycle is the first day of the period, and the last day of the menstrual cycle is the day before the next period begins. This span of a menstrual cycle is usually 28 days (but cycles that are regular but shorter or longer than 28 days, say 21 days or 40 days, are also normal). Ovulation occurs each month around the mid-point of this menstrual cycle.
What causes ovulation
Now, it’s all a play of hormones in the body. The level of hormone oestrogen rises in the body, causing one of the two ovaries to prepare the month’s egg and to kick it outside to live its destiny – just walk out as part of the monthly period flow or get fertilized and turn into a pregnancy.
The ovaries usually take turns to release the egg – their way of equally dividing work like good partners. This release of egg or ovulation happens each month, 10-20 days before the period in each menstrual cycle, i.e., at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle. Sometimes, the ovaries push out two or even more than two eggs. (if both get fertilized, that’s when you get twins! Or triplets or whatever the case. More on fertilization later).
Why do I need to know about ovulation?
Knowing your menstrual and ovulation cycle helps you know your body and spot any disorders through irregularities or absence in the ovulation cycle. For instance, ovulation cycle gets disrupted for people with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
People also plan their pregnancies by tracking their ovulation cycle and having unprotected intercourse around that time. How’s that? Read on.
How to know when I’ll ovulate
The body undergoes some changes during ovulation: cervical mucus (that’s part of the vaginal discharge and deposits on the crotch of underwear) becomes slippery and clear, body temperature goes up slightly and the level of LH or luteinizing hormone rises in the body.
Now, remember we said it is all a play of hormones? Progesterone hormone is responsible for the body warming up. It simultaneously prepares the (blood) lining of the uterus. This (blood) supply is prepared to host an embryo if the egg is fertilized by sperm and pregnancy begins. If there’s no fertilization the lining leaves the body as the period blood.
Mapping the body temperature with a basal thermometer (bought from a medical store) each morning before getting out of bed can help tell if ovulation is around. This method is not too accurate though. For the release of eggs from the ovary, LH hormone is responsible and its levels in the body surge about three days before ovulation happens. Ovulation kits available at the pharmacies check the LH levels in urine and tell the time of ovulation. This is a convenient and highly accurate method, possible by getting an ovulation kit from a medical store.
The consistency of the cervical mucus (part of the vaginal discharge) changes consistency through all phases of the menstrual cycle. Around the time of ovulation, it becomes clear, watery, stretchy, and slippery; and is often compared to the texture of raw egg whites. Tracking the texture of this discharge helps knowing when ovulation is happening, and is known as the cervical mucus method.
There are also apps and websites that track your ovulation by asking for some personal details and dates about the body and its menstrual cycles. Through this, they predict when ovulation is likely to happen for a certain person.
Through tracking of the ovulation cycle for a while, one can know around which day of the menstrual cycle their ovulation usually happens, or know their ovulation calendar.
What to do with all this knowledge about ovulation?
Keep track of the body’s menstrual health to check for underlying disorders or to plan and/ or avoid a pregnancy. If you want to avoid a pregnancy, don’t have unprotected intercourse around the time of ovulation. Ideally, don’t have unprotected intercourse ever to also protect against diseases and infections; unless you are actually trying for a pregnancy.
To plan a pregnancy, time to have unprotected intercourse around the time of ovulation. The egg(s) released into the fallopian tubes stay about 24 hours on their own after leaving the ovary. If they don’t meet the sperm and are not fertilized, the egg(s) dissolve and prepare to come out as part of the monthly period along with the uterus’ inner-lining of blood and tissue prepared for that month.
Sperm released into a female’s body that has travelled up through the vagina into the fallopian tubes could run into the egg(s) and fertilize them. Together, egg(s) and sperm could travel to plant a pregnancy in the uterus. This sperm released from unprotected intercourse can live up to seven days inside the female body, so there’s a chance of fertilization through a meeting of the egg(s) and sperm during this window, and a pregnancy starting up in the womb or uterus.