Most people who have gone through any type of sex education class in high school know that it takes an egg and sperm to make a baby. It’s pretty basic stuff there, but the details of how exactly that egg gets there in the first place may not be such common knowledge.
It’s called ovulation when the ovaries release a mature egg that is ready to be fertilized. Knowing when women ovulate is helpful in family planning whether you are trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid it. Unfortunately, when exactly a women ovulates is person-specific so the answer to the question “when do women ovulate” is – it depends.
Ovulation: The Basics
All little girls are born with a set number of eggs in their ovaries, although none of them are truly eggs – these immature eggs are more technically referred to as follicles. Every month, at the onset of the menstrual period, low estrogen levels trigger the hypothalamus to send a message to the pituitary gland to release the follicle stimulating hormone. This hormone will cause a few follicles to mature with one becoming the dominant. The others will disintegrate and be reabsorbed by the body while the dominant follicle will be released as the mature egg.
As the dominant follicle matures it releases estrogen which tells the pituitary gland a mature egg is ready. At this point the gland will release a luteinizing hormone, or LH, that will enable the egg to be released from the ovary and begin its descent through the fallopian tubes. This LH surge is what most home fertility tests monitor for to predict optimal fertility. Once the egg has left the follicle, the empty follicle will release progesterone that signals the uterus lining to thicken and make preparations for pregnancy. If an egg is not fertilized, this lining is shed and is the product of the monthly menses.
A mature egg will live for only 24 hours after it is released from the ovary. If a woman has an inaccurate idea of when ovulation occurs, it may be very difficult to become pregnant. Most women ovulate between the 11th and 21st day of their cycle, with day 1 being the first day of the period. However, most textbooks and doctors will cite the median days of 14-16 as the prime time to try for pregnancy.
Since not all women ovulate during this time period, well meant advice that is inaccurate could lead many to believe they are infertile. Still other women will ovulate outside of the broader time frame, so it is important to watch your body for signals that you are ovulating if you are trying to get pregnant.
You may use one of the many ovulation and fertility monitors available for the purpose of determining when ovulation occurs, learn how to chart symptoms, or both. Symptoms are subtle so it may take some practice to get used to recognizing them. Usually the Basal Body Temperature will be higher approaching ovulation and peak when ovulation occurs. Also, the consistency of the cervical mucus will change and a few women may experience a slight pain or light spotting when the egg is released.
There are many very well written books that teach women how to recognize the signs of ovulation and chart them so they can gain a greater understanding of their unique bodies and stand the greatest chance of becoming, or not becoming, pregnant. Taking Charge of Your Fertility is one of the best and highly recommended if you are trying to conceive and confused about ovulation.