What is ovulation

Ovulation is that moment in which the egg is released from the woman’s ovaries and begins its journey along the fallopian tubes, where, if it encounters a sperm, it can be fertilized and pregnancy begin. Let’s find out how often it happens and how to recognize it to understand which days are fertile.

What is ovulation and how to recognize it?

Ovulation is the instant in which the mature follicle in one of the two ovaries releases the oocyte which is captured by the fallopian tube. If in the tubes she finds sperm ready to wait for her, conception could take place, i.e. the union of the egg cell with the “chosen” sperm to form the zygote , the starting point of a new individual who will see the light of day 9 months later.

Ovulation is preceded by a series of hormonal events (preovulatory phase) which are reflected in very specific symptoms and which we can easily experience:

  • change in basal temperature
  • cervical mucus changes
  • change in the position of the cervix
  • vulvar tenderness
  • lymph node sign (in the groin on the same side as you are ovulating, you should see an enlarged lymph node)

Learn to recognize it

Learning to recognize ovulation can be very useful, both for trying to get pregnant and for postponing it using natural methods. It’s also a good exercise to get to know your body and how it changes during the menstrual cycle.

You can try to recognize some ovulation symptoms by yourself : it just takes a little practice and patience.

The fertile days calculator is instead a statistical method to try to identify the days in which you are more likely to ovulate.

How it works: Ovulation hormones

The balance of hormones that trigger this event is a bit complicated.

Ovulation is regulated in the brain by the hypothalamic-pituitary axis . It is from there that the messengers ( FSH and LH hormones ) that act at the level of the ovaries leave.

The ovaries in turn also produce hormones that regulate the production of hormones by the anterior pituitary, the production of mucus and the maturation of the endometrium. In fact, estrogens stimulate the cells of the endometrium to reproduce until the structure that had fallen apart with menstruation is restored, but it will then be progesterone that will make the uterus hospitable for a pregnancy.

In the neck of the uterus, the increased estrogen causes the crypts of the cervix to produce thin (water-rich) mucus . This mucus allows the passage of sperm. It is precisely these days preceding ovulation and in which estrogen is high, which represent the most fertile days of the cycle.

These days the mucus is also visible at the vulvar level. A wet/lubricated sensation should be felt at the same time.

From your own mucus you can tell when you are fertile and when you are not.

The stages of ovulation

Menstruation occurs due to a drop in estrogen and progesterone. This drop is then received at the pituitary level and causes an increase in the production of FSH ( follicle stimulating hormone ) which stimulates the follicles of the ovary.

About ten follicles each month begin to mature, the follicle cells multiply and produce estrogen. As a result, the level of estrogen will gradually increase in the woman’s bloodstream. An increase in estrogen in the blood causes the pituitary to reduce the production of FSH.

It is in this way, by reducing the circulating FSH, that the dominant follicle is selected  (the one which will then release the egg cell) which will grow further and produce more estrogen. All the other follicles that had begun to mature degenerate. We are more or less on the 5th-6th day of the menstrual cycle (in 28-day cycles).

The dominant follicle continues to grow and produce estrogen. Around the 12th -13th day of the menstrual cycle: the level of estrogen in the blood is very high and this is picked up by the pituitary gland which begins to send a new messenger: the LH hormone (the one detected by the ovulation sticks ) .

LH (luteinizing hormone) is the hormone that determines the rupture of the follicle and therefore the release of the egg cell ready to be fertilized.

This is the time of ovulation.

The egg cell remains fecundable for a maximum of 24 hours and then degenerates.

LH further acts on the burst follicle to transform it into a corpus luteum which in turn produces estrogen and progesterone (the progesterone produced is responsible for the rise in basal temperature which is recorded the day after ovulation) which prepares the uterus for pregnancy.

Ovulation cannot be predicted too far in advance

So why computers? Because in regular cycles you can have a first reference on when you should ovulate but then ovulation must be verified by the signals and symptoms that our body sends, the primary source of information for reliable information on when our ovulation occurs.

Is it possible to ovulate several days apart in the same menstrual cycle?

I am often asked if it is possible to ovulate again after days or weeks in the same menstrual cycle (by menstrual cycle we mean the days that pass between one period and another). The answer is NO . More egg cells can be produced (responsible for the conception of different/heterozygous twins) but in the same ovulatory process, not days apart.

If you notice mucous discharge at different times in the menstrual cycle, the discharge may not be related to ovulation (perhaps due to an infection) or it may be the first time you notice a failed ovulation attempt for some reason ( stress, flu, drugs, …) and the second and last time instead losses related to ovulation of that menstrual cycle.

Can sperm from intercourse several days ago be present at the time of ovulation?

Yes, sperm can survive for up to 3-5 days after intercourse .

In the post-ovulatory period and about a week before ovulation, the neck of the uterus is impenetrable to sperm due to a mucous plug that obstructs the passage and the sperm derived from intercourse during this period die due to a vaginal environment unfavorable to them.

Going towards ovulation the mucous plug dissolves due to the work of estrogen and the neck of the uterus begins to be patent. In these conditions, the spermatozoa can “linger” at the level of the cervical crypts and then be released at a slow pace into the uterus and fallopian tubes.

Therefore, conception could also be possible with intercourse that took place, for example, 5 days before ovulation.

Kathryn Barlow is an OB/GYN doctor, which is the medical specialty that deals with the care of women's reproductive health, including pregnancy and childbirth.

Obstetricians provide care to women during pregnancy, labor, and delivery, while gynecologists focus on the health of the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, uterus, vagina, and breasts. OB/GYN doctors are trained to provide medical and surgical care for a wide range of conditions related to women's reproductive health.

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