Understanding the intricate workings of ovulation will go a long way in boosting your fertility.
What is ovulation?
Each month, during your menstrual cycle, up to 1,000 eggs ripen inside your ovary. Ovulation occurs when the largest of these eggs are released from the follicles of the ovaries and travel through the Fallopian tube.
Here, if a sperm penetrates the egg, conception occurs. When the fertilised egg implants in the womb, pregnancy occurs. If the egg isn't fertilised, it is shed with the womb lining at the beginning of the new cycle.
How will I know I'm ovulating?
Generally it is assumed that most women will have a 28-day menstrual cycle, which means they ovulate around day 14. Importantly though, every woman is different and many have shorter or longer cycles. Getting to know your own cycles will enable you to predict your own fertile periods.
Ovulation occurs 12 to 14 days before the start of your new cycle and you're at your fertile peak around 2 or 3 days before and during ovulation. It’s important to note that an egg can’t be fertilised after 12 hours of it being released.
Ways to tell if you’re ovulating include:
1. Cervical mucous
It is a good indicator of fertile periods. As your cycle progresses, the rising levels of oestrogen will reflect in volume and texture changes. You are considered most fertile when the mucous is clear, slippery and stretchy – think egg whites.
2. A change in your body temperature (check with a basal thermometer)
The release of an egg stimulates the production of the hormone progesterone – which raises your body temp. Following ovulation, your temperature can increase by up to 1.6 degrees. Experts say that women will be most fertile in the day before their temperature rises. Charting your temperature for a few months will enable you to spot a pattern to enable you to predict ovulation.
Some women will notice spotting – this is said to be caused by a drop in oestrogen right before ovulation.
4. Swollen vaginal lips & softer cervix
This also said to be another sign of ovulation. It occurs right before ovulation and usually on the side from which you ovulate. Your cervix also becomes softer and the cervix opening will widen.
Also read: Signs that you're ovulating
Can you feel ovulation?
Approximately 20 percent of all women suffer with ovulatory pain, known as “mittleschmerz”. This German word translates to “middle pain” and can usually be felt mid-cycle.
This pain can manifest as a mild achiness or twinge to a one-sided backache. The pain part of it aside,
mittelschmerz is a useful tool when it comes to a guide for ovulation which usually occurs about two weeks after the first day of your last period.
Mittelschmerz occurs during ovulation when an egg is released by the ovaries. Mittelschmerz isn’t a serious condition but if it lasts more than a few hours, you must go to the doctor.
When should I stop taking the pill to concieve?
There are many conflicting opinions on this process. Some experts advise that you stop taking the pill two or three months in advance while others say that when you want to start trying to conceive, and you are on the pill, you should complete the current pack you are taking.
The good news is that hormones from the pill are eliminated from your system when you have your very next period so you can go ahead and try and conceive thereafter.
Some women are also lucky enough to be immediately fertile and it happens straight away, while for others, it usually takes a few months to start ovulating. The rule of thumb is that if you are not pregnant within six months of trying, you should seek medical help.
Your hormones in action
Your hormones are involved in the preparation for ovulation, fertilisation and implantation. Oestrogen is produced in large quantities prior to your ovulation process. This helps the uterus to rebuild its lining (or endometrium) after menstruation.
When ovulation occurs, progesterone thickens the nutrient-rich endometrium in preparation to receive a fertilised egg. In addition, oestrogen and progesterone, which are produced in the ovaries from cholesterol, also act as feedback controls on the brain hormones, LH and FSH.
That is, these sex hormones then travel to the brain to increase or decrease LH and FSH production.
Help at hand
Forget all the traditional methods of finding out when you are ovulating. With technology, you can now leave the guesswork up to the experts:
- Store-bought ovulation kits can predict ovulation up to 36 hours in advance but they’re not 100% accurate. The tests detect the surge in luteinising hormone (LH) but be warned that LH can surge with or without the release of an egg.
- Fertility monitors will test for both LH and oestrogen in the urine, with a 6-day window fertility opportunity.
- Saliva tests will allow you to monitor the levels of oestrogen in your system. Oestrogen surges right before ovulation and again before the LH surge so an oestrogen rise would be more accurate.
On the shelf
Have a look around at pharmacies and specialist stores to find ovulation kits. Here are a few of these products that you will fi nd on shelves or they can be ordered online.
Fertile Focus Personal Ovulation Microscope: Costs about R295 and works by a saliva test and pinpoints your ovulation days in advance. www. getpregnant.co.za.
Ovulation Strips: These are relatively inexpensive (approx R50 for a pack of five) and they are simple to use. It works by detecting your monthly LH surge just before ovulation, telling you when you are at your most fertile.
Midstream Ovulation Tests: Will set you back about R175 for a pack of five. It detects LH surge with a 99 percent accuracy rate. Order online from www.getpregnant.co.za
- TFC Digital Ovulation Thermometer: Use the thermometer to pinpoint peak ovulation according to a temperature. R99; www.getpregnant.co.za
Most doctors advise that when using these kits, it’s best to test until you get your positive result i.e. detecting your LH surge. This can vary from four days to 10 days depending on your cycle. The shorter your cycle the less tests you will need.
Reproductive specialist Vitalab: Dr Merwyn Jacobson
- During ovulation, the maturation and release of the egg is under the complex control of hormones (the body’s chemical messengers carried in the blood stream).
- A woman has a fixed number of eggs with which she is born. They are used progressively and cannot be replaced. Once a female reaches puberty, ovulation may begin.
- Ovulation is regulated by special brain hormones that are released by specific parts of your body. Your brain contains hormones that stimulate the growth and development of your eggs. Your ovaries contain female sex hormones like oestrogen and progesterone. It is the interplay between these hormones that triggers ovulation and menstruation.
- Ovulation usually occurs sooner if you happen to have a shorter cycle.