WE all know when our period arrives – after all, it’s hard to ignore. But do you know exactly when you ovulate?
More mystery surrounds the middle of our cycle, when hormone changes (a rise in estrogen, then an increase in luteinizing hormone) trigger the release of a mature egg from an ovary into a fallopian tube—ready to either be fertilized if it meets a sperm. , or to break down and leave the body during menstruation.
As we age, ovulation becomes less frequent, and it stops after menopause.
Understanding more about ovulation is important for any number of things, from trying to conceive to avoiding pregnancy.
So get ready to bust some popular ovulation myths…
MYTH 1: Ovulation occurs on Day 14
Most of us will be taught that ovulation occurs on the 14th day of the 28 day menstrual cycle, but this is just a guideline.
A recent study by app Natural Cycles and University College London, looking at 124,648 women, found that only 13 percent of them had a 28-day cycle, and that ovulation can vary widely.
Generally, this happens about 10 to 16 days before the start of your next period, which can be anywhere from 21 to 40 days after your last.
Moreover, ovulation does not alternate between the left and right ovary, as was long believed.
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A study of 80 women found the pattern was quite arbitrary.
MYTH 2: It’s impossible to tell when you’re ovulating without technology
Modern technology certainly makes it easier to know when you ovulate. Many women use digital ‘pee-on-a-stick’ style tests.
It detects luteinizing hormone, which rises between 24 and 36 hours before ovulation. You can also monitor ovulation using apps such as Natural Cycles (£6.99, naturalcycles.com), which ask you to enter your basal (resting) body temperature each day, then use algorithms to analyze the data, as we tend to get warmer by about half a degree around ovulation.
However, there are many natural signs that ovulation is underway.
“The classic sign is ‘spinnbarkeit,'” says consultant gynecologist Sara Matthews (sarajmatthews.com).
“It’s stretchy, clear cervical mucus (discharge) that kicks in about five days before ovulation.
“I had a patient the other day who called it ‘hand sanitizer’ – very topical, but I prefer ‘egg white’!
“You may also have a little bleeding around ovulation.”
You can also feel sexier, and more confident – and even taste different.
“It’s true, you just taste more ‘kissable’!” said Sarah.
This all makes sense from an evolutionary perspective, since reproduction relies on us feeling fertile (and having more sex appeal) around ovulation.
MYTH 3: If you have your period, you are definitely ovulating
Generally this is the case, but not all the time.
Some women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) will ovulate only occasionally, even if their periods remain relatively regular.
“Not everyone has the classic symptoms of PCOS, including hair growth, weight gain, irregular periods and acne, so some won’t know they have it,” says Sara.
If you are concerned about symptoms or your cycle, see your GP.
Stress, weight loss and excessive exercise can also disrupt ovulation.
When our body is under pressure, the reproductive cycle begins to shut down, saving energy for more vital organs such as the liver.
It’s worth knowing that many forms of hormonal contraception, such as the combined pill or the Mirena coil, also stop you from ovulating, even if you experience withdrawal bleeding.
MYTH 4: Ovulation is painless
Fortunately, this is true for most of us.
However, some women experience pain on the side of ovulation, which is thought to be caused by the egg breaking through the ovarian wall and releasing fluid that irritates nearby nerves.
“Not that many women experience ovulation pain, I couldn’t put a percentage on it,” says Sara.
“It’s usually a transient pain, either a period-type cramp or a sharp stab.”
If your pain is severe, it could be a sign of a condition such as endometriosis or an STI such as chlamydia, so make sure you contact your GP.
GET CRACKED: A GUIDE TO HEALTHY OVULATION
YOU don’t need to change your habits during ovulation itself, but ovulation is affected by lifestyle factors, so it’s important to eat a balanced diet and exercise regularly throughout the month.
“An egg takes three months to mature, so look at the bigger picture,” says Sara.
“Being underweight can affect ovulation, but being obese can produce estrogen in your fat cells which also disrupts the delicate hormone balance of ovulation.
“Alcohol lowers estrogen levels, so stick to NHS guidelines (14 or fewer units per week).”
It is important to know what is normal for you.
“The spacing between your periods is the most important thing,” says Sara.
“If your cycle is anything outside of 25 to 35 days, it’s worth getting checked out just to be sure.”
MYTH 5: To get pregnant, you need to have sex on ovulation day
It’s true that eggs only live up to 24 hours after ovulation, but sperm can survive in the body for up to six days – meaning we have a ‘fertile window’ of around a week.
(So yes, if you have a short cycle, you can get pregnant if you have sex on your period. Another myth busted!)
However, the legend that you can influence the gender of a baby by timing when you have sex is actually true.
“Sex before ovulation means you’re more likely to have a girl, but if it’s on or immediately after ovulation, a boy is more likely,” says Sara.
“Girls’ sperm are more resilient, so they can hang around longer, and boy’s sperm are quite delicate, but faster and lighter, so they will blaze towards the egg more quickly near ovulation.”
MYTH 6: There are no ‘external’ signs of ovulation
People have always been thought to experience ‘hidden ovulation’, meaning there are no obvious changes for the world to see.
In the animal kingdom, it’s often a different story – lady chimpanzees, for example, get a swollen pink bottom at that time.
Nevertheless, research seems to show that there are outward signs of ovulation—even if we can only pick them up subliminally.
In a study at the University of Newcastle, people were shown two otherwise identical photos of the same women, one taken during ovulation and the other after – and almost always rated the ovulation photos as more attractive.
A UCLA study also found that women unconsciously speak in a higher-pitched, more ‘feminine’ voice around ovulation.
Even more strangely, another study showed that our skin flushes around ovulation – but it’s imperceptible to the naked eye.
So who knows what other secret, subtle tweaks our body might be making?
MYTH 7: You can’t ovulate if you’re breastfeeding
Don’t get caught out by this one.
According to the NHS, “You can get pregnant three weeks after the birth of a baby, even if you are breastfeeding and your periods have not started again.” Swallow!
The science behind this idea, called the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) of contraception, does make sense.
Prolactin, the hormone that stimulates the production of breast milk, also suppresses ovulation.
However, this only works if your baby is under six months old and is exclusively breastfed.
Additionally, any factor associated with a decrease in feeding frequency, from maternal stress to giving the baby a baby, can mess with the process, so if you want to be completely safe, you’ll need an alternative form of birth control ( if the sleepless nights don’t do it for you already).
It is important to know what is normal for you.