Thinking about getting pregnant?
Then it’s time to get acquainted with the big O: ovulation. Just as menstrual cycles are different for every woman, so is ovulation. By learning to recognize the signs of ovulation, you’ll be able to time sex with your partner accordingly to boost the odds of getting pregnant. But even if you’re not trying to conceive right at this moment, having a better understanding of ovulation signs can give you a clearer picture of your menstrual cycle and help you spot any abnormal ovulation symptoms down the line. Read on for all the need-to-know info about ovulation, from how to chart your menstrual cycle to how to spot the signs of impending ovulation.
When do you ovulate?
How to predict ovulation
What are the symptoms and signs of ovulation?
You probably learned way back in health class that ovulation is the phase in your menstrual cycle when a mature egg is released from the ovary, setting the stage for fertilization. Each woman is born with millions of immature eggs that wait to be released, normally one at a time, every month. During ovulation the egg travels down the fallopian tube, where it may meet up with a sperm and become fertilized. For most healthy women, ovulation generally happens once a month, a few weeks after menstruation begins.
When do you ovulate?
You may have heard that ovulation typically happens on day 15 of your menstrual cycle, but it’s not the same for everyone. If you’re like most women of childbearing age, your menstrual cycle lasts between 28 and 32 days, and ovulation usually hits between days 10 and 19 of that cycle—about 12 to 16 days before your next period. “In healthy women, ovulation occurs 14 days before the onset of your period,” says Donnica L. Moore, MD, president of Sapphire Women’s Health Group in Chester, New Jersey. So if your cycle is 35 days, ovulation will happen on day 21 of that cycle. If your cycle is 21 days, ovulation will happen on day seven. The timing of ovulation can vary from cycle to cycle and from woman to woman, adds Shannon M. Clark, MD, associate professor at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston in Galveston, Texas, which is why it’s a good idea to get familiar with your body’s menstrual calendar for at least three months or so, to help you better estimate your own ovulation cycle.
For some women ovulation doesn’t always take place or it can be irregular. In general, if you are pregnant, have gone through menopause, or you take birth control pills consistently and on time, you won’t ovulate. Certain diseases or disorders (such as polycystic ovary syndrome or premature ovarian failure, among other conditions) and certain medications (including some antidepressants, anti-nausea medications and chemotherapy) may cause a woman to stop ovulating for periods of time. Also, other lifestyle factors— stress or being significantly underweight or overweight (measured by body fat percentage)—may affect menstruation and ovulation. If you’re dealing with irregular menstrual cycles or ones that are short (fewer than 21 days) or long (more than 35 days), Clark recommends you get evaluated by a physician to rule out any medical conditions that might be causing those irregular cycles. It’s true tracking ovulation with irregular cycles can be more difficult, but keep in mind that ovulation occurs 14 days before the onset of menstruation, so even with irregular periods, you could still conceive at some point in your cycle.
If you’re planning to breastfeed exclusively (meaning baby won’t get any other source of nutrition), be aware that you likely won’t ovulate during that time. But there are always exceptions, so you can’t depend on breastfeeding as a means of birth control. And once baby is introduced to other foods or the occasional bottle, ovulation is likely to resume. Plan your birth control accordingly, unless you want to give baby a possible surprise—a new brother or sister!
When are you most fertile?
While some believe you can conceive on any day of the month, and others say the opposite—that you have to have sex on the exact day of ovulation—both are actually false, Moore says. In reality, there’s a six-day “fertile window” in your cycle—the five days leading up to ovulation, through the day of ovulation. And of those six days, the optimal time frame to conceive is during the two to three days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself, when you’re most fertile. Once your egg has been released, it’s viable for about 12 to 24 hours. After that, you typically can’t get pregnant until your next menstrual cycle (but if you’re not trying to conceive, you should still use birth control at all times as a precaution).