Why you need to get to know your ovulation cycle

It’s a key part of the menstrual cycle, but how much do you know about ovulation and the role it plays in conception? We ask the experts to break it down.

Turns out, there’s more to ovulation than our sex ed teachers let on in school.

Aside from being a part of the menstrual cycle, it plays a crucial role in family planning and reproductive health.

From how the ovulation cycle works to the symptoms of ovulation, here’s what you need to know about this fundamental part of being a woman.

What is ovulation?

The basics? Ovulation is the phase in the menstrual cycle when one of your ovaries releases an egg.

The egg then travels down the fallopian tube in anticipation of being fertilised by sperm.

But there’s more to the ovulation cycle than that.

Head of the Reproductive Services Unit at The Royal Women’s Hospital Associate Professor Kate Stern explains there is a lot going on behind the scenes in ovulation.

“Women are born with lots of very immature eggs in the ovary,” Assoc Prof Stern says.

“During the ovulatory cycle, a little follicle with an egg inside grows in response to hormone stimulation, then the egg is released from the follicle.

“It’s extraordinary, because it bursts out at a stage of development when it’s ready to meet with sperm to make an embryo,” she says.

“Once the egg is released, the follicle then undergoes some changes, makes some other hormones just in case that egg is going to fertilise into an embryo, so it can help support the pregnancy.”

When does ovulation take place?

According to Assoc Prof Stern, ovulation is initiated through a “conversation” of signals between the brain and ovary.

“It’s a concerted effort of the whole body, not just the ovary,” she says.

When this actually happens is determined by lots of factors that influence the length of your cycle, she says.

Gynaecologist and fertility expert Dr Natasha Andreadis says while each person is different, on average women ovulate around the midpoint of their cycle.

When ovulation happens she says there’s a rise in the Luteinizing (LH) hormone that causes the final maturation and release of an egg.

“Some women feel this as a twinge of pain in the pelvis, often referred to as ovulation pain,” Dr Andreadis says.

How many days after your period do you ovulate?

According to Dr Andreadis, women with a 28-day cycle typically ovulate around day 14, with day one being the first day of their menstrual period.

If you’re unsure, Assoc Prof Stern says an ovulation test kit can be a handy ovulation predictor.

Women can also use ovulation tracking tools such as an app, smartwatch, or a simple ovulation chart.

Or, if you prefer a more relaxed approach, Assoc Prof Stern explains there are signs you can look out for.

“You might get a bit bloated, there can be an increase in mucus, or you might feel a bit different,” she says.

When are you most fertile?

According to Dr Andreadis women are most fertile the day before and the day of ovulation, which is the best time to conceive.

“Ovulation lasts around 24 to 36 hours,” Dr Andreadis says.

Assoc Prof Stern says when couples are trying to get pregnant, it’s easy to obsess over when you’re ovulating.

“It’s helpful to understand you have what’s called an ovulation window of about three to four days,” she says.

“Sperm can last at least two to four days, and eggs last a couple of days, so you don’t have to (have sex) at the hour.”

Can you get pregnant during your period?

According to Dr Andreadis it’s not possible to get pregnant during your period.

However, she points out some women can experience mid-cycle bleeding, which could be misinterpreted as the start of your period.

More on fertility and menstruation:

  • Trying to get pregnant? Here’s how to track your fertility
  • Ready to start a family? This is what you should know about fertility
  • Why mindful menstruation is the new self-care
  • Is my period pain normal? Here’s how to tell
  • Written by Sarah Vercoe.