The female body is amazing – but it’s also complicated. And your menstrual cycle is at the center of that confusion. Although this is a process that your body repeats on average every 28 days, most women don’t fully understand the four different phases that take place – so we’re here to explain it to you.
First, there is the menstrual phase (also known as your period), then there is the follicular phase when your body goes into pregnancy mode. The ovulation phase comes next and is when an egg is released from the ovaries with the goal of being fertilized by sperm, and the final luteal phase is when you will either get pregnant or lose your uterus, resulting in your period.
While you may be feeling like a pro right now, let’s rewind to ovulation—because that process can be a few confusing.
What is ovulation?
Now you know that ovulation is when the egg is released from the ovaries, but there is much more to it than that. According to the Cleveland Clinic, that egg is your body’s big effort to make a baby—and you only have so many of them. While you are born with one million immature eggs, you will only have 300,000 or so left once you hit puberty and they will continue to decline from then on as you age.
Each month, your body gets one of those precious eggs ready during ovulation. When your body builds up enough estrogen and increases the amount of luteinizing hormone in your body, an egg is released and carried to the fallopian tubes. Once there, it only lives 12 to 24 hours, waiting patiently for a man’s sperm to fertilize it. If fertilized, it goes to the uterus and attaches to the lining and later develops into a baby. If not, the uterus loses its lining and you get your period.
When does ovulation occur?
If you are trying to conceive, ovulation is time to go. In a typical 28-day cycle, women ovulate around day 14 and it usually lasts from 12 to 48 hours, depending on the person. However, regardless of the length of your cycle, you can find out when you ovulate by simply subtracting 14 from your cycle length.
“If you have a 23-day cycle, you probably ovulate around day nine, and if your cycle is 33 days, you probably ovulate on day 19,” says Mary Jane Minkin, MD, clinical professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine.
What are the symptoms of ovulation?
You may not realize it, but your body lets you know when you are ovulating. According to the American Pregnancy Association, symptoms vary from person to person, but one of the most common indications includes an increase in cervical fluid, which often thickens and resembles egg whites – a consistency that helps keep the sperm healthy and better at be able to fertilize the egg.
There’s also typically a change in your temperature, which increases when ovulation occurs, and you may notice that your cervix becomes softer, more open and wetter – which, you guessed it, makes it easier (and more comfortable!) to have sex Some of the other signs women experience are an increased sex drive, tender breasts and bloating.
When are you most likely to get pregnant?
If you are trying to figure out when you ovulate with the intention of getting pregnant, you should also consider the days before and after you ovulate. “There is a fertile window before and after the egg actually hatches,” says Dr. Minkin.
You see, even though your egg can only be fertilized within that short ovulation phase of 12 to 24 hours, sperm can survive in your body for about four or five days, explains Dr. Minkin: “You may have ovulated the day before, but the egg is still there waiting to meet some lucky sperm.”
If you are not trying to conceive, this information is equally important so you can avoid sex or make sure you use protection during this fertile window. Keeping track of ovulation symptoms, using an app like the Period Tracker Calendar, or using a kit like the First Response Ovulation Test will also help you determine if you’re ovulating.