As a young girl I think I had so much fear around getting pregnant when I wasn’t ready. I thought if you had sex once I would easily get pregnant. As I’ve gotten older and tried to have children and watched a lot of my friends do the same I now understand it is a little bit more complex than that. In reality if both individuals are healthy and timing is right you have a 38% chance of getting pregnant in the first month of trying. Understanding how a normal ovulation cycle works is key in increasing your odds of conception.
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What Happens to Your Body When You Ovulate?
The Ovulation cycle is part of the menstrual cycle. It typically occurs in the middle of the cycle around day 12-18 in a typical 25- 30 day cycle. Ovulation is when an egg matures and is released from the ovary. This egg will live for about 24 hours. Sperm can live for up to 7 days after sex in the fallopian tubes. In order for a pregnancy to occur the mature egg has to meet the man’s sperm and be fertilized. Therefore there is a very small window when pregnancy can actually occur. You can become pregnant up to 2 days after ovulation. Leaving about 3 days every cycle in which pregnancy can occur.
Follicular Phase (Days 1-14)
During this time your ovaries are preparing to ovulate. A hormone called FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) is increasing which causes the ovary to start to develop a mature egg. This recruits several follicles to begin to mature. One follicle will become dominate and the others will become suppressed. If more than one follicle matures then there is a chance of having twins as two eggs will mature. As the follicle matures estrogen increases and peaks 24-48 hours prior to ovulation. The increasing estrogen also lets the uterus know it is time to prepare for a fertilized egg by thickening the endometrium (inner lining of the uterus). The high levels of estrogen also stimulate the production of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which then stimulates the pituitary gland to release luteinizing hormone (LH) around day 12. The surge of LH and FSH will cause the egg to release and begin it’s decent down the fallopian tube. The surge in LH also causes a brief surge of testosterone, which increases a females sex drive right at her most fertile time in her cycle to increase likelihood of egg fertilization.
Ovulatory Phase (Day ~14)
This is about when that mature egg is released into the fallopian tube after the surge of LH and FSH. Here the egg will be fertilized if there is viable sperm present. If the egg is not fertilized it will be reabsorbed into the body after 24 hours. If it is fertilized it will continue into the uterus for implantation. The follicle that released the mature egg will then seal over and is called the corpus luteum.
Luteal Phase (Day 14-28)
Once the egg is released FSH and LH will begin to decrease. The corpus luteum will then begin producing progesterone. If fertilization occurred it will continue to produce progesterone which prevents the endometrial lining from shedding and menstruation to occur. If fertilization did not occur then to corpus luteum disintegrates and progesterone levels drop and the endometrial lining will begin to shed.
Identifying Ovulations Symptoms
It can be very tricky to identify when ovulation has occurred and your fertile window in a normal ovulation cycle. That is why there are so many tests and different ways to monitor your ovulation. I will identify some of the physiological symptoms that can be signs that you are ovulating.
Your cervical fluid is a good indicator of ovulation. It will change to a clear and sticky “egg white” like substance. This is because your body is starting to produce more estrogen that will help the egg mature prior to ovulation. This helps to create a more friendly environment to allow sperm to reach the egg.
Basal Body Temperature
You will see a slight decline during the first half of your menstrual cycle followed by an incline after ovulation. Progesterone causes the change in temperature as it prepares the uterus for the implantation of a fertilized egg.
These changes in temperature are slight so you will need to purchase a basal body temperature thermometer and track this over time to guide you in your planning.
Change In Cervical Position & Firmness
Our cervix is the bottom part of our uterus and the top of our vagina. It is what dilates during labor and childbirth to allow for baby to be delivered. The cervix changes throughout our menstrual cycle. When you are close to ovulating your cervix becomes higher, softer, more open, and wet. You can check your cervix at home, but it will take time and practice for you to understand what you are feeling.
Everyone is a little different and not everyone has these additional signs of ovulation. The most common that you will see are:
- Light bleeding or spotting
- Tender breasts
- Mood changes
- Appetite changes
- Heightened sense of smell, taste, or sight
- Increased sex drive
- minor pelvic or abdominal pain.
Tips for success in Conceiving
- It is best to have sperm already in your body when you ovulate, since your egg will only live for 24 hours. The highest probability that conception will occur is when intercourse takes place one to two days before ovulation and on the day of ovulation.
- Track your cycle for several months and take thorough notes of any symptoms you have during that time so you can most accurately time your ovulation.
- Ovulation kits that test for LH can be a helpful addition to tracking your symptoms to help you time your ovulation.
- Something that in theory looks like a great option that I have not yet tried myself is the Mira. This uses lab grade technology to measure your fertility hormones and gives you real time information. The best news is you can use FSA/HSA dollars for purchase. If you have tried it please let me know what you think!
Frequently Asked Questions
Understanding what a normal ovulation cycle looks like will help you to know what to look for in yourself as you are trying to conceive. Everyone is different and no body is perfectly the same. This will give you the framework to understand your body as you are on your journey to starting your family or growing your family. I pray you have success and a healthy pregnancy ahead.
Jess is a registered nurse with over 6+ years of critical care experience for patients young and old and is the mother of two small children. After having her own children she felt inspired to provide mothers with real actionable guidance and education to make informed decisions throughout their pregnancy and postpartum experience.