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
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 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. 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.

Even though several oocytes will start developing at the beginning of the cycle, usually only one egg will be released. (If two eggs are released, you may conceive non-identical twins!) 

While the ovaries are preparing to release an egg, the uterine lining (endometrium) is getting ready to receive a fertilized egg, or embryo. Hormones lead to the thickening and changing of the endometrium.

You might assume that the eggs in the ovary develop from the first stage to ovulation in a month's time, but that's untrue. Oocytes develop over several months. They go through various stages until they are either ready to ovulate or stop growing and remain dormant.

Most of the eggs in a woman's ovaries never mature to 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.

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.

When Will I Ovulate?

Ovulation usually occurs between day 11 and day 21. Each woman ovulates on her own schedule. You've probably heard that ovulation occurs on Day 14 of your cycle, but that's not necessarily true. 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.

Usually, when a woman says she is ovulating, she's referring to the especially fertile period of two to three days that precede ovulation. If we assume ovulation occurs somewhere between day 11 and day 21, this extra fertile period can occur as early as day 9 of the menstrual cycle and as late as Day 22. That's a wide range!

This is why most women who want to conceive will track ovulation and fertile signs.

How Will I Know?

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, a 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).

Another option is to use ovulation test kits.

These tests work a lot like pregnancy tests, in that you use your urine to determine whether a particular hormone is present. When you get a positive result on an ovulation test, you're approaching ovulation, and you should have sex.

Ovulating and Pregnancy

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 sperm 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 Are You Considered Pregnant?

When a sperm cell fertilizes the egg, conception takes place. But you are not technically pregnant in this moment.

To be considered pregnant, the fertilized egg must implant itself into the endometrium. This happens 7 to 10 days after fertilization.

This is why a woman who is going through IVF isn't considered to be pregnant after embryo transfer. Even though the embryo has been transferred to the uterus, she's not "pregnant" unless the embryo implants itself into the endometrium.

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 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 ovulation 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.

A Word From Verywell

If you want to get pregnant, you need to have sex on the days leading up to ovulation. There are a variety of ways to detect and track ovulation, but you don't need to stress over it. If you have sex three to four times a week, you're bound to have intercourse on one of your fertile days.

If you're not having regular periods, you may not be ovulating. This can be a possible sign of infertility.

While usually couples are told to try on their own to conceive for at least six months to a year, if you have symptoms of a problem, that timeline doesn't apply. Talk to your doctor sooner than later. Earlier diagnosis can improve your odds of successful treatment.

Source:

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

Continue Reading