Ovulation-put simply means the release of an egg from the ovary (the female reproductive organ).
There are four phases in a menstrual cycle:
- Pre-ovulatory phase: In this phase, the eggs in the ovary are maturing and one of them becomes bigger than the rest and prepares itself to get released
- Ovulatory phase: When the hormone levels reach a peak, the egg is released. Chances of getting pregnant are maximum when intercourse happens on the day of ovulation or the preceding 24 hours
- Post-ovulatory phase: If fertilization does not occur, the egg forms corpus luteum which releases the hormone progesterone. This hormones produces changes in the lining of the womb
- Menstruation: Finally the hormone levels go down and the lining is shed in menstrual blood.
After this a new cycle starts.
So in a normal menstrual cycle, ovulation usually happens in the middle of the cycle, around 14 days before the next expected period. Thus if you are having regular menstrual cycles (26-32 days), it’s an indirect indicator that you are ovulating normally. Also, ovulatory cycles can be associated with symptoms such as breast heaviness or pain, water retention and mild pain in the tummy (at the time of ovulation). These are called ‘Moliminal symptoms’ and although not specific, they are indicative of ovulation.
There are also changes in the cervical secretions at the time of ovulation. In the initial part of the menstrual cycle, the secretions are thick and sticky. As the estrogen (hormone) levels rise in the pre-ovulatory phase these secretions become more copious, clear and slippery (like the raw egg white). This is the time closest to ovulation and these secretions allow easy sperm penetration. After ovulation, the secretions again start becoming thick and dry (blocking sperm entry) and then may disappear altogether until menstruation starts.
Another change that happens around the time of ovulation is a rise in the body temperature. This happens due to the effect of hormone progesterone that is released in the post-ovulatory phase. So by tracking your body temperature before getting out of the bed at the same time every day, and noting a temperature rise of 0.5 degrees F on at least 3 days, you can know in retrospect that ovulation occurred. The temperature rise persists until the hormone level drops and menstrual bleeding starts.
Apart from these changes in the body that one can track for ovulation, there are various tests that are more specific and reliable. Your doctor may check progesterone levels in blood around 7 days before the next expected period to confirm ovulation. Home urinary LH detection kits are also available as ovulation occurs around 36 hours after LH peak in blood and the same hormone LH appears in urine around 12 hours after reaching peak blood levels. Lastly, the most direct and surest way to document ovulation is by ultrasound. One can start ultrasound monitoring around cycle day 8-9, and do every 2-3 days until ovulation happens.
But why is it important to know about ovulation? Having this knowledge makes you more empowered to control your reproductive health. You can put this to use and know when to have sex if you are planning a baby. Also equally important, use this knowledge and know when to avoid unprotected sex so you don’t land with an unwanted pregnancy. Know about ovulation and have control over birth and birth control. When in doubt, always meet your gynaecologist.