What is ovulation?
After the egg has been released, it is gently guided towards the uterus. Tiny hair-like projections line the surface of the fallopian tubes and they “wave” the microscopic egg down to where it needs to go. In the majority of women, fertilization occurs within the fallopian tube, rather than in the uterus. For the first 2 weeks after conception, the fertilized egg is known as the zygote. Then it is called the embryo.
A traveling zygote
At the same time as the egg is being matured by the ovary, the lining of the uterus is in preparation as well. Blood builds up each month so that the embryo can be nourished and protected. If fertilization does not occur, then this lining and the egg are shed in the next menstrual period.
- Ovulation normally occurs every month over the years of a woman’s fertility, from the age of around 12 years until menopause at approximately 50 years. That means that in the average lifetime a woman will ovulate more than 450 times.
- women have a 28-day cycle, though some will ovulate a few days either side of this.
- Between days 12 and 16 is when ovulation is most likely to occur for women who have a regular 28-day cycle.
- If you have a longer cycle, ovulation is still likely to occur midway between the first day of your last period to your next.
- Ovulation can cause pelvic discomfort and changes in cervical mucus. Mittelschmerz is the name for mid-cycle ovulation pain.
- Stress, an unhealthy lifestyle, illicit drugs, cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol and changes in normal routine can all affect ovulatory cycles.
- women only release one egg per month. In women within families where there is a genetic predisposition for multiple births, it is not uncommon to release more than one egg.
- The egg can only survive for 12 to 24 hours after it has been released. Therefore, couples who are eager to get pregnant should time sex to coincide with ovulation.
- It can take almost a week for the fertilized egg to make its way down the fallopian tube and to embed in the uterine lining.
- A baby girl is born with all the eggs she will ever need. Over the years, her eggs will deplete to the point where at menopause, ovulation can no longer occur.
- It is not necessary for a woman to have ovulated to have a period.
- Women who have not yet had a period, e.g. when breastfeeding, after childbirth, or during adolescence, can still ovulate.
The follicular phase
What happens during the follicular phase and luteal phase:
- Estrogen is low in the early part of the cycle and this impacts on the amount of Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) levels. The FSH works on stimulating the ovarian follicles to mature and release the next egg.
- A feedback system works between the ovaries, the hypothalamus, and pituitary gland to signal when the egg is mature, is ready for release, and what is needed to support a potential pregnancy.
- There are a number of follicles which compete to release a mature egg, but one becomes the dominant follicle.
- A surge of luteinizing hormone causes the egg to be ruptured from the ovary. The follicle it came from is called the corpus luteum. It releases progesterone which then helps the uterine lining to thicken even more.
- Progesterone helps to support the embryo until the placenta is formed and takes over this role.
How to get pregnant during ovulation
Keep track of your fertility by:
- Using ovulation predictor kits. These are available from pharmacies and vary in price from $35 and $65.
- Watching cervical mucus changes. The fertile mucus is stretchy, clear and there is more of it. During the less fertile phases, e.g., just after a period, there is little cervical mucus.
- Taking your basal body temperature. There is a slight elevation in temperature when ovulation is about to occur.
- Keeping a calendar or chart of previous month’s ovulation and menstrual periods.
- Using an ovulation calculator.
When to try
- Have sex every second or third day from day seven right through until day 20 of your cycle.
- Regular sex helps to boost the chances of conceiving. But remember many women have conceived because of sporadic or one-time sex.
- Don’t forget that sperm can survive for up to 5 days after it has left the man’s body. It can just lie in wait until the egg is released and is ready to be fertilized. You don’t need to wait until you’ve ovulated to conceive.
- There is still some dispute whether the 24-hour timing of sex influences the likelihood of conception. Some people believe that sex in the mornings increases the chances of getting pregnant during ovulation and others say it doesn’t matter.
Tips to help with conception
- Have a thorough medical check-up if you’re planning to conceive. A healthy weight range and healthy dietary intake are all important. Guidance on lifestyle choices is sometimes necessary to boost the chances of conceiving.
- Folic acid is a mineral which influences healthy fetal spinal cord development within the first trimester. Although taking supplements won’t help you to conceive, they will reduce the likelihood of having a baby with spina bifida or another neural tube defect.
- Reduce your intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs. Ensure any medication you are taking is not contraindicated in early pregnancy. Some drugs are what are known as teratogenic, which means they can interrupt the normal physical development of the fetus in early life.
- Avoid thinking it’s only the woman who needs to adopt a healthy lifestyle to boost the chances of conception. Men benefit from giving up alcohol, eating healthy foods and keeping within a healthy Basal Metabolic Index (BMI) as well.
- Avoid using any form of contraception. When hormonal-based contraceptives such as the pill, Nexplanon or Depo Provera have been used for a while, there can be a period of anovulation (no ovulation) for a time until hormone levels stabilize and return to normal after stopping them.
- Keep exercise under control. Some form of regular exercise is ideal for everybody, but going overboard can inhibit regular ovulation. Likewise, dieting excessively and not eating sufficient calories can suppress regular ovulation.
Things to remember
Delaying this can impact the overall likelihood of conceiving. As women age, their fertility declines, and the chances of getting pregnant drop dramatically.
Don’t assume fertility issues only relate to women. Men can have problems with sperm numbers and motility and contribute just as much to conception issues. Comprehensive fertility investigations need to include both the man and the woman who want to conceive.
The information of this article has been reviewed by nursing experts of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric, & Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN). The content should not substitute medical advice from your personal healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for recommendations/diagnosis or treatment. For more advice from AWHONN nurses, visit Healthy Mom&Baby at health4mom.org.