Ovulation: Everything You Need to Know to Get Pregnant

How Ovulation Works, Signs of Ovulation, and What You Need to Know to Conceive

Couple Sitting On Bed Cuddling, couples have increased sexual desire when they are ovulating
Your body is very smart -- whenever you're more fertile, which is right before ovulation, your desire for sex will increase. Cavan Images / Stone / Getty Images

What does ovulation mean? When will you be ovulating? And what does it have to do with getting pregnant? If you're new to trying to get pregnant, or you're just trying to understand the female reproductive system a little better, you may have basic questions like these.

Maybe you feel embarrassed to ask your doctor or a friend because you feel like everyone knows the details already. But the more information you have about ovulation the better prepared you'll be for the whole pregnancy process.

What Exactly Is Ovulation?

Ovulating is what happens when an egg, or ovum, is released from the ovaries. Usually, when a woman says she is ovulating, she's referring to the especially fertile period of two to three days that precede ovulation.

When a woman begins puberty, the ovaries house approximately 300,000 eggs. Despite this apparent storehouse of eggs, a woman only ovulates around 300 ova over her lifetime.

During each menstrual cycle, reproductive hormones work together to stimulate the ovaries. A few immature eggs, also known as oocytes, begin to grow and respond to those hormones.

Oocytes develop over several months. They go through various stages until they are either ready to ovulate or stop growing and remain dormant. So most of the eggs in a woman's ovaries never mature to ovulation.

There is also a misconception that each ovary takes a turn ovulating every other month. For example, one month the right ovary ovulates.

Then the next month, the left ovary ovulates. 

In fact, ovulating occurs on whichever side has the most mature ova or ovum of the month. In some women, one ovary may ovulate significantly more often than the other.

What Does Ovulating Have to Do With Getting Pregnant?

Conception requires at least one ovum and one sperm.

 Semen can live three to five days in the female reproductive tract. So if a couple has sex on Monday, there will still be live, viable semen hanging out in the woman's fallopian tubes on Thursday.

The human ovum, however, lives just 24 hours. It must be fertilized within the first 12 hours of ovulation. This is why you need to have sex before you ovulate. If you want to get pregnant, sex before ovulation will ensure there are sperm cells waiting to greet the ovulated egg.

There's no need to have sex at the very moment of ovulation.

When Will I Be Ovulating?

Each woman ovulates on her own schedule. Ovulating doesn't always occur on the same day of a woman's menstrual cycle; in fact, even women with 28-day menstrual cycles don't always ovulate on day 14. One study found that fewer than 10 percent of women with 28-day cycles were ovulating on day 14.

It's also assumed that most women ovulate 14 days before the first day of their next period. For example, if you have 32-day cycles, that would mean ovulating on day 19. This is also not always the case.

How Will I Know if I Am Ovulating?

Most women experience signs and symptoms before ovulating. Some symptoms may appear several days before ovulation, while others won't happen until the day before or day of ovulation.

Signs and symptoms that occur before ovulating include an increase in sexual desire, an increase in cervical mucus, softening and opening of the cervix, and ovulation pain (ovulating is not usually painful, but some women report feeling a cramp or sharp pain on their side).

Signs and symptoms of ovulating that occur on the day or days after include the reverse symptoms: a decrease in sexual desire, decrease in cervical mucus, a rise in body basal temperature, and breast tenderness (usually several days after ovulation, sometimes mistaken as an early pregnancy sign).

When and How Often Should You Have Sex?

While knowing when you are ovulating can help you time sex for your most fertile days, it's not really required.

 If you have sex three to four times a week, you're bound to have sex around your ovulation period.

What If I'm Not Ovulating?

If you don't experience any ovulating symptoms at any time during your cycle, or if you have irregular periods, you may not be ovulating every month.

Anovulation is when a woman does not ovulate. It is a common cause of infertility.

Other possible symptoms of anovulation are extremely short or long periods or a complete absence of menstruation.


European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology. Accurate prediction of ovulation to help women become pregnant.

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