It’s hard enough to keep track of when your period is going to show each month—let alone all the other details of your menstrual cycle.
But if there’s one thing worth keeping track of, it’s when you ovulate.
Sure, ovulation lasts for one day out of your 28-day cycle, but it’s arguably the most important day.
That’s because it represents the small window of time when you could potentially conceive a baby (either an exciting or terrifying concept, depending).
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What is ovulation?
Ovulation is the point in the menstrual cycle when one egg from your ovary (where it lives with thousands of other eggs) moves into the body’s fallopian tubes, according to the National Institutes of Health.
The egg knows it’s time to start this journey thanks to signals from your hormones—usually around day 14 of your menstrual cycle. And those hormones also activate the uterus to prepare for a potential baby by thickening its lining, the NIH says.
The egg will then hang out in the fallopian tubes for 12 to 24 hours, waiting to join forces with passing sperm, according to the American Pregnancy Association. (FWIW: Sperm can hang around in the female reproductive tract for up to five days, so it’s not like you only have a one-day window to do the deed if you’re trying to get pregnant.)
If the egg is not fertilized, the uterus sheds its lining (and the egg)—and you get your period.
“Technically speaking, a period is the release of blood and uterine tissue that occurs two weeks after ovulation — the body’s way of repairing the uterus after not conceiving from that month’s ovulation,” says Jennifer Conti, MD, a clinical assistant professor at Stanford University in California, says Women’s Health.
Signs of ovulation
Unless you’re tracking your cycle, you probably won’t know when you’re ovulating—although some people report feeling Mittelschmerz (German for “middle pain”), abdominal pain that coincides with ovulation.
For most people, vaginal discharge is a clearer indicator: when you ovulate or are close to ovulation, the discharge becomes thick and white.
Those who use fertility awareness-based family planning methods (tldr; not a good idea if you don’t want to get pregnant; good if you do) may also be familiar with tracking their basal body temperature, or the body’s temperature when it is completely on rest Basal body temperature is best measured first thing after waking up, and drops slightly as ovulation approaches. When you ovulate, that number will suddenly rise.
You may also notice that your sex drive peaks around ovulation, depending on your baseline libido levels.
Ovulation tests are also available at most drug stores, but Conti warns that if you have polycystic ovary syndrome, you may get false positive results.
Do you ovulate regularly?
Hard to say.
“Ovulation is not as simple as it seems,” says Conti. “A lot of people think just because they’re bleeding they’re ovulating regularly, and that’s not necessarily true. Bleeding doesn’t always equal ovulation, and blood doesn’t always equal a period, or period.”
Bleeding between periods or at unpredictable intervals, Conti says, could be a sign that you’re not ovulating regularly.
Irregular vaginal bleeding can also indicate a number of more serious problems, so if you’re concerned, it’s best to make an appointment with a gynecologist or visit a reproductive healthcare clinic.
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