Updated: Mar 5, 2021
Ovulation is the term used to describe the process in the menstrual cycle in which a mature egg is released from the ovaries into the fallopian tube, where it may be fertilised by sperm and implanted into the womb, or remain unfertilised and slowly stop producing hormones. If this occurs the lining of the uterus begins to break down and exit the body (menses).
Whilst ovulating is the time when a woman is most fertile, and it is this time in which the sperm must fertilise the mature egg to become pregnant. A mature egg only survives for approximately 24 hours after you have ovulated, but sperm can survive for up to 7 days in your vagina, uterus, or fallopian tubes. This means that you have an average fertile window of about 6 days, up to and including the day of ovulation, in which to copulate and get pregnant.
During menstruation, the beginning of your ‘cycle’ is the first day of the menstrual period. The ovulation period is usually considered to occur between day 10 and 19 of your 24-35 (on average) day cycle, or roughly 10-18 days before the next period is due. The easiest way to tell if you are ovulating is to keep track of your periods and look out for the physical and hormonal changes in your body.
The physical signs of ovulation are an increase in cervical mucus, aching in the belly, side or back, a change in temperature, and increased libido. Cervical mucus is the discharge that occurs from the vagina. It can range in colour from clear to a milky-white and is quite slippery and elastic to the touch. The mild aches or pain that some women experience is known as ‘mittelschmerz’ and, while not uncommon, is not necessarily a guaranteed symptom of ovulation.
Measuring and recording your temperature, (or more accurately), Basal Body Temperature (BBT) is another way of discovering if you are ovulating. You can buy BBT thermometer kits readily, and they are generally inexpensive and simple to use. Your BBT needs to be measured at the same time daily before you eat or drink anything. Your BBT is a lot more sensitive than your regular temperature, and the change may seem almost non-existent, with the difference you are looking out for being only 0.2 degrees Celsius. When you notice a difference of this magnitude for at least three days in a row, you will know that you are in your ovulation cycle.
There are also ovulation calculators available online which will allow you to enter information about your menstrual cycle (first day, average days in cycle) and tell you on average when you are likely to be most fertile.
During the menstrual cycle, the female body produces hormones that cause eggs stored in the follicles of the ovaries to grown and mature. This maturation of eggs stimulates the lining of the uterus to become thick in preparation for receiving a fertilised egg and the resulting pregnancy. However, if the egg that is released is not fertilised, the estrogen and progesterone levels with drop within the body and the uterine lining will begin to break down and exit the body. This is also known as a ‘period’.
The regular occurrence of a ‘menstrual cycle’ usually begins from between 8 and 16 years of age. Most averagely the onset of menstruation occurs in girls around 12 years of age and signifies a major stage of puberty. The beginnings of menstruation are often signified by the presence of a clear vaginal discharge, which may be present for even months leading up to the first ‘cycle’. Menstruation usually lasts for 3-5 days and occurs on a regular cycle averaging from around 24 to 35 days from the first period through to menopause, around age 45-55, excepting the time when a woman is pregnant, and sometimes when she is breastfeeding.
The physical signs of menstruation being about to occur can be an aching in the belly, side or back, a headache, bloating, irritability and increased emotions, breast swelling or tenderness and fluctuation in weight. While all of these are known symptoms of menstruation, not all women experience all, or any of them on a regular basis. These symptoms are also sometimes referred to as PMS (premenstrual syndrome) or PMT (premenstrual tension).
While some women experience a regular period, it is not abnormal for a woman to have an irregular cycle. Similarly, each woman’s period will last for an individual amount of days and be its own average amount – be it heavy or light. Some women use the oral contraceptive colloquially known as ‘the pill’ to manage their periods, as many different varieties can help with certain symptoms as a ‘side effect’.