What is ovulation?
During each menstrual cycle, your ovaries release a mature egg or ovum into the fallopian tube so that it can be fertilized by an incoming spermatozoon.
Women are born with about two million immature eggs and they mature one by one post puberty. Interplay of certain hormones like the Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH), Luteinizing Hormone (LH), Gonadrotropin Releasing Hormone (GnRH) and Estrogen leads to maturation and release of the egg. Usually, either of the ovaries randomly releases an egg on each cycle, but rarely both the ovaries can participate simultaneously.
When will you be ovulating?
One menstrual cycle should ideally consist of 28 days, but that’s seldom the scenario. Few women have such duration. For those who have, their ovulation will be taking place exactly at mid-cycle, i.e. on the 14th day from the first day of her period.
For the rest, ovulation cannot be exactly predicted on the first day of your periods. Duration of menstrual cycle varies from woman to woman and also between two cycles of a single woman. Retrospective evaluation from the first day of your next period will reveal that you have ovulated 14 days before that. In other words, the next cycle starts 14 days after ovulation has occurred.
What is the relation between ovulation and getting pregnant?
A mature egg is fertilized by an incoming sperm and the conceptus thus formed gets implanted in the uterus gradually. So ovulation is the key stone for pregnancy.
The egg in the female reproductive tract remains viable for up to 12-24 hours following its release before getting absorbed by the surrounding tissue. Also, the sperm can retain its fertilizing capacity till almost 5 days inside the female body. So a successful conception can occur only if the viability periods of both the gametes coincide.
Knowledge of ovulation thus becomes necessary for the person who is planning a pregnancy, either in natural way or by Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART). Three days, before and after ovulation are thus considered the most fertile period.
How can you be sure whether you are ovulating or not?
It is necessary to know when you are ovulating, especially when you are planning a pregnancy. It can be estimated on the basis of previous cycles but it’s always better to be sure.
Monitoring your body temperature or more precisely basal body temperature (BBT) gives a clue about when you are ovulating. Basal body temperature is the lowest temperature one attains during rest, which is usually while the person is asleep. If one notes down her temperature as soon she gets up in the morning and makes a precise chart of it, then a pattern can be made out from it.
In the first half of the cycle, estrogen is the governing hormone and influences the body temperature to remain low. As soon as an egg is released from one of the ovaries, ovarian tissue undergoes some changes to secrete the other major hormone in a female body, the progesterone. Progesterone causes body temperature to rise and so a spike in BBT graph is seen as soon as ovulation occurs. A careful monitoring thus helps in understanding.
Sometimes a woman may feel mild pain in the lower abdomen during the time of her ovulation. This pain is medically popular as ‘mittelschmerz’, the German for ‘middle pain’ as the ovulation occurs in the middle of the cycle. Often the pain is localized on one side, giving a hint about which ovary is producing the ovum.
Observation of cervix plays a significant role. Cervix is the part between uterus and vagina and can be felt through a per vaginal examination. It softens and dilates a bit with ovulation so that sperm can penetrate easily.
Following periods, the cervical mucus is almost nil but as the cycle proceeds it increases in amount. Just before ovulation, it increases in amount and become clean and thin resembling the egg albumin. When placed between two slides and pulled apart, the mucus forms a string. This test is medically known as Spinnbarkeit test. Loss of this spinnability signifies that ovulation has taken place. Progesterone makes the cervical mucus whitish and scanty. Such observations are useful for easy estimation of ovulation at home.
But if you are not at ease to try all these home experiments, you can always opt for an Ovulation Predictor Kit or OPK. This test relies on your LH surge. LH surge is the sudden rise of Luteinizing hormone in a fertile female just before an egg is released. LH peaks at around 24-48 hours before ovulation and prompts the ovarian follicle to rupture. The test is carried out on a urine sample consecutively on 2-3 days in the middle of the cycle. This test, unlike the previous ones, doesn’t require regular monitoring and is the most reliable of all.