What is ovulation? Your questions answered

Can you keep a secret? Ok, good.  

Before trying to conceive, I had NO idea about ovulation. Like, I sort of did, but not really. (Though you can bet I clued up on it once TTC – that’s short for trying to conceive.)

Interestingly, it turns out I’m not alone. One particular study out of the US shows that about 40 per cent of women of childbearing age aren’t familiar with the ovulating cycle. 

Now, what this (and other similar studies, for that matter) conclude is that there’s a lack of education around ovulation, fertility, and conception. So let’s start to get up to speed – because with knowledge comes power (and hopefully a pregnancy). 

Here are six common ovulation questions answered. 

A quick disclaimer before we jump in: I will keep this simple for you, with only the information you need to know (because I know you might be short on time, or just not that into biology). If you want to delve deeper into all things ovulation, read here for our guide on how to track ovulation to get pregnant. Now, let’s do this.

What is ovulation?

Ovulation is a part of your menstrual cycle. It’s when an egg is released from one of your ovaries into one of your fallopian tubes, where it hangs around to be fertilized by sperm (if you’re trying to get pregnant). If it’s not fertilized, your body sheds the egg and your endometrium (the lining of your uterus), which causes bleeding – otherwise known as your period. 

How long does ovulation last?

Ovulation itself lasts for 12 to 48 hours. Which seems like a pretty small window to try and time having sex to get pregnant

Before you freak out, know that sperm can live inside your reproductive system for up to five days. Meaning as long as they’re in the area, so to speak, when you’re ovulating, you have a chance of falling pregnant. 

What’s critical is finding something called your fertile window – this is the period in your cycle when you’re likely about to or are ovulating and when you’re most likely to conceive if you have sex. We’ll chat about how to track this in a hot minute. 

When does ovulation occur?

Ovulation generally occurs about two weeks before your period starts. But, note I’ve used the word “generally” here. That’s because everyone’s menstrual cycle is different (yours might be shorter or longer than mine, and vice versa), and the time between ovulation and your period can vary. 

Before you go saying, “Babe, this feels like some needle in a haystack sh*t,” keep reading. You can actually learn to recognize and track when you’re ovulating. 

How do you know when you are ovulating

Because our bodies are clever little things, they give off signs you might be ovulating and even ovulation symptoms. 

These include: 

  • A change in cervical mucus (otherwise known as vaginal discharge)
  • A slight dip in your body temperature 
  • An increase in your hormone levels
  • Breast tenderness, bloating, and mild tummy pain.

But remember: we’re all different. So you might experience some of these, all of these, and in varying ways. 

How to track ovulation

There are two main ways you can track ovulation (and your fertile window, for that matter): by tracking your menstrual cycle itself and by tracking the signs and symptoms of ovulation. 

If tracking your menstrual cycle, you can use a period tracking app, a fertility tracking app, or a good, old-fashioned calendar (how retro!) to chart the days of your period and the length of your cycle to predict when you might ovulate and when your fertile window might be.

If tracking the symptoms and signs of ovulation, you can:

  • Check your vaginal discharge – just have a look when you take a pee; it’s usually wetter, clearer, and stretchier around ovulation. 

  • Monitor your body temperature – you take and record your temperature daily to look for dips and increases (this is called Body Basal Temperature tracking); when it dips to between 36.1°C and 36.4°C you’re usually about to ovulate.

  • Take an at-home ovulation test – they come in little kits that you can buy online or at your local pharmacy, and they monitor certain hormone levels in your pee to indicate you might be ovulating.  

  • Tune in to how you’re feeling – while breast tenderness, bloating, and mild tummy pain can be hard ovulation symptoms to track per se, check in with yourself to see what’s what in your bod’. You might be surprised by what you notice.

A final tidbit on tracking ovulation: for the most accurate results and predictions, it’s recommended you use a combination of the methods mentioned above. 

What are the chances of getting pregnant when you’re ovulating?

In theory, high. If you’re having sex around your fertile window, there’s a chance you’ll get pregnant. 

But there’s a bit more to it than this. Timing your nookie aside, fertility challenges, health problems, environmental factors, and even your age can pose a roadblock to parenthood – for example, if you’re not ovulating or you’re ovulating irregularly, you might find it hard to get pregnant. However, it’s 2022: we have fertility doctors, fertility testing, and fertility treatments, meaning if you want to start a family, you likely can.

When should you speak to a healthcare expert?

Basically, if you notice something is ‘off’ with your menstrual cycle, phone your doctor or ob-gyn. I’m talking if your period is irregular, non-existent, particularly painful – anything. They can help work out what’s going on and provide personalized advice. 

Well, there you have it, a little ovulation 101. I hope it helps you on your journey to mamahood. 

The information in this article does not replace medical advice. Always speak to your doctor or ob-gyn for personalized advice.

Read next: Everything you need to know about how to get pregnant

Lisbet S. Lundsberg, Ph.D., M.P.H., Lubna Pal, M.B.B.S., M.R.C.O.G., M.S., Aileen M. Gariepy, M.D., M.P.H., Xiao Xu, Ph.D., Micheline C. Chu, M.D., and Jessica L. Illuzzi, M.D., M.S., Knowledge, attitudes, and practices regarding conception and fertility: a population-based survey among reproductive-age United States women

Verywell Family, How Long Does Ovulation and Your Fertile Window Last? 

Mayo Clinic, Ovulation signs: When is conception most likely?

Mayo Clinic, Endometriosis – Symptoms and causes

Michigan Medicine, How Pregnancy (Conception) Occurs

Better Health Channel, Ovulation

National Health Service, How can I tell when I’m ovulating?

Mumli, How to track ovulation to get pregnant 

Michigan Medicine, Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Charting

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