What is Ovulation?

Ovulation is a part of a woman's reproductive cycle in which an egg is released by a mature ovarian follicle in order to travel down the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. Understanding the process of ovulation and your particular reproductive cycle can help you plan your pregnancy more effectively.

The first part of ovulation is the follicular phase, which takes place from the first day of a woman's period to her next ovulation. The process by which an ovarian follicle matures actually takes a little over a year — your body is constantly preparing eggs for ovulation. During this process, the brain's hypothalamus produces two hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and the follicle stimulating hormone. These hormones prepare the follicle and stimulate it to release the egg when it is mature. Once ovulation has occurred, the process shifts to the luteal phase, which continues until the next menstruation.

A woman is most fertile for the few days leading up to and day of ovulation, so it is crucial that she knows when she is ovulating to plan intercourse. Or, if she's using natural family planning, it is important to know when ovulation occurs to avoid intercourse. It is different for every woman, but this typically occurs on day 14 of the average menstrual cycle, which is 28 days. Most women will ovulate somewhere from the 10th to the 19th day of their menstrual cycle. Ovulation is typically earlier for women with shorter cycles, and later for women with longer cycles.

Your body will give you several clues that you are getting closer to ovulation. The cervix secretes more mucus — which results in increased discharge — you'll have a rise in basal body temperature (BBT), and some women experience what is called mittelschmerz, which is a slight tinge of pain when ovulation occurs. Most women will release only one egg, although age, hereditary and pure luck may contribute to the release of more than one egg. Since an egg only lives about 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, your timing has to be perfect.

If you're trying to get pregnant, there are several tools at your disposal to help you track your ovulation. Some, such as the BBT method or ovulation calendar may require daily tracking on your part. Others, such as an ovulation predictor kit which you can get from your doctor, online or at the drugstore simply require testing of your urine at specific times of the month. Stress, illness, maternal age, hereditary factors, STDs, or infection may interfere with your normal ovulation, so if you feel like your cycle is off or difficult to track, be sure to consult with your doctor. Women who aren't ovulating, ovulate erratically or ovulate without a period may need medical assistance to get pregnant.

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