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 I 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, you may have basic questions like these.

Maybe you feel embarrassed to ask your doctor or a friend because you feel like everyone knows this - admitting you don't may feel like failing health class all over again.

Fear no more!

Not only will your questions get answered below, you'll also know more than most do about ovulating. Even more importantly, you'll have the information you need about ovulating to get pregnant.

What Does Ovulation Mean?

Ovulating is what happens when an egg, or ovum, is released from the ovaries.

Usually, when a person says they are ovulating, they mean to say they are in 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.

You might think that the oocytes develop, grow, and ovulate all in one month's time. This is actually untrue!

Oocytes develop over several months. They go through various stages until they are either ready to ovulate or stop growing and remain dormant. Yes, most of the eggs in your 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 winning, 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?

Theoretically, conception requires at least one ovum and one sperm.

(Technically, unless conception is occurring in a lab, a man must ejaculate millions of sperm to have a good chance at fertilizing just one egg. But that's another story.)

Semen can live three to five days in the female reproductive tract. In other words, if you had 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.

Some people mistakenly think that sex for conception must occur after ovulating.

They assume that until an egg is present, you can't get pregnant. This is not correct!

If you want to get pregnant, sex before ovulation will ensure there are sperm cells waiting to greet the ovulated egg.

By the way, sex after ovulation can occur. It's like less likely.

When people say, "I am ovulating, so I need to have sex tonight!" what they really mean is they will soon be ovulating (not that they are ovulating that very second!)

There's no need to have sex at the very moment of ovulation. I know in the movies, they sort of imply this is how it works. A woman takes a thermometer out of her mouth and says, "I'm ovulating now! We need to have sex!"

But it's not really like that.

When Will I Be Ovulating?

Each woman ovulates on their own schedule. There's a misconception (pun intended, ha ha) that ovulating always occurs on day 14 of the menstrual cycle (with day 1 being the day you get your period.)

This is untrue. In fact, even women with 28-day menstrual cycles don't always ovulate on day 14. One study found that less than 10% 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.

So how do you know when you will be ovulating?

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:

Signs and symptoms of ovulating that occur on the day or days after include:

Wondering if you're having ovulation symptoms now? Take a Quiz: Am I Ovulating?

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.

Wondering if your periods are normal? Take a Quiz: Are My Periods Normal?

More on getting pregnant:


Allen J Wilcox, David Dunson, Donna Day Baird. "The timing of the 'fertile window' in the menstrual cycle: day specific estimates from a prospective study" BMJ 2000;321:1259.

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