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What is ovulation?
Ovulation is the release of an egg from your ovary, into your fallopian tube. It typically happens about 13–15 days before the start of each period. Like your period, the timing of ovulation can vary cycle-to-cycle, and you may have the odd cycle where you don’t ovulate at all.
How Many Days After Your Period Do You Ovulate?
A woman’s monthly menstrual cycle is measured from the first day of the menstrual period until the first day of the next period. The average woman’s menstrual cycle is between 28-32 days, though shorter or longer cycles do occur in some women.
Ovulation usually occurs between day 11 and day 21 of the cycle, counting from the first day of the last period. Ovulation usually lasts one day, can happen any time during this window, and it’s not always the same each month. Women who have menstrual cycles on the shorter side tend to be more likely to ovulate closer to day 11. Women with longer menstrual cycles may ovulate closer to day 21.
A woman is most fertile in this window when she is ovulating, and women who are trying to become pregnant use ovulation prediction to determine the optimal time to have intercourse, particularly if they are having difficulty conceiving.
Many women use ovulation calendars or period tracking apps to help predict when they will ovulate and be most fertile.
Other methods, including observing cervical fluid, taking daily basal body temperature, and tracking periods can also help you identify when you ovulate.
Understanding how ovulation works can be a powerful tool for your health
It’s common that people are introduced to the topic only after they have trouble becoming pregnant. But having a grasp on the process can give you insight into more than fertility. You’ll better understand any hormonally-influenced changes to your body around that time, and learn what factors might affect the timing of your ovulation (like stress), and why.
Research has found that in the global north, we ovulate roughly 400 times throughout our lifespan . This number is influenced by the use of contraceptives (many of which block ovulation), time spent pregnant and breastfeeding, and any behaviors or health conditions that affect the reproductive hormones (e.g. eating disorders, PCOS). Prehistorically, women would have ovulated less than half as often.
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If conditions aren’t right, ovulation won’t happen
The development and release of an egg each cycle occurs in response to the intricate ups and downs of your reproductive hormones. Ovulation (and the menstrual cycle as a whole) is impacted by energetic, nutritional, emotional, and socioeconomic factors.
Short-term factors like jet lag, seasonal changes, stress, and smoking can have an effect, as well as longer-term factors like PCOS and thyroid disorders.
Your ovulation is not a clock
Any factors that influence the hormonal pulsing in your brain can influence your ovulation. Environmental and internal factors like stress, diet, and exercise changes can lead your ovulation to happen slightly earlier, or later, or not at all. Your period may then come earlier or later as well, and be lighter or heavier.
Your follicular phase is considered “plastic,” compared to your luteal phase
That means it can commonly change in length, from cycle to cycle. If you know the length of your typical luteal phase (most often 13–15 days) you can count backward to get an idea of when you ovulated. Changes in the length of your cycle are usually pinpointed in the follicular phase—the time it takes a follicle to reach the point of ovulation.
It’s common not to ovulate on a regular basis when you first start menstruating. It’s also common to have irregular ovulation just after pregnancy and breastfeeding, and during the years approaching menopause.
Why does ovulation matter?
Not ovulating every once in a while may not be a concern, but if it becomes common, or if you stop ovulating altogether (and aren’t getting hormones in another way), serious health concerns can arise as a result.
The process of ovulation provides your body with much-needed levels of estrogen and progesterone—hormones that play a role well beyond fertility. They impact your bone density, heart health, metabolism, sleep quality, mental health, and beyond. Getting enough of them is important.
Anovulation during the fertile years is associated with osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers later in life (22–25). Athletes with menstrual dysfunctions, for example, are significantly more likely to suffer from stress fractures (26).
How do I know if I’m ovulating?
As an adult, you are probably ovulating most of the time if your cycle is generally within range (that’s 24–38 days for adults, with fewer than 7–9 variance cycle-to-cycle, and a menstrual period of 2–7 days) (27). Cycles that are consistently outside of those ranges (they are long, short, or very irregular) can be an indication of anovulation, and a reason to talk to your healthcare provider.
To know if you’re ovulating (and when in your cycle it happens), you might try:
Tracking your cycle length and regularity in Clue
Using ovulation urine tests, bought at your pharmacy
Tracking your physical signs of fertility for a few cycles, including your basal body temperature and cervical fluid
Have your healthcare provider check your hormonal profile (by testing a sample of your blood, taken during your mid-luteal phase)
How Do You Tell If You Are Ovulating?
It may be possible to know when you are ovulating by certain signs and symptoms, such as:
- Basal body temperature increase that is sustained
- Breast tenderness
- Pain or a dull ache felt on one side of the abdomen when ovulation occurs
- Change in cervical fluid
- Change in cervical position and firmness
- Light spotting
- Increased sex drive
- Abdominal bloating
- A heightened sense of vision, smell, or taste
- Elevated levels of luteinizing hormone, which can be detected on an ovulation test
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