If you’re trying to conceive, you’re no doubt familiar with the process of ovulation and why you really want it to happen on a regular basis.
>>Ovulation is when an egg is released from an ovary in the hopes of being fertilized.<<
If you’re not trying to conceive, you’re likely dedicated to preventing ovulation at all costs. Am I right?!
What you might find surprising is the fact that regular, monthly ovulation is actually something that needs to happen (if you’re in your childbearing years)—not just for your reproductive health, but for your overall health.
And it’s extremely important regardless of whether you’re trying to have a baby.
Usually, if your menstrual cycle is regular, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re ovulating. But if you’re having erratic cycles, super long cycles (more than 35 days), or short cycles (less than 24 days), it can be an indication that you’re not ovulating. This is called an anovulatory cycle.
There are several things that can cause an anovulatory cycle:
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
- Primary Ovarian Insufficiency (POI) also known as Premature ovarian failure (POF)
- Thyroid disorders
- Excessive stress — in the form of worrying, under-eating, nutritional deficiencies or over-exercising
- Hormonal imbalances related to the hypothalamus and pituitary, ovaries, thyroid and adrenals
- Being underweight
- Hyperprolactinemia (high levels of prolactin suppress ovulation)
- Excess melatonin (in the form of supplementation)
- Poor dental health
- Certain medications like antidepressants
And, just to clarify, if you’re on hormonal birth control of any sort, you’re not ovulating either. That’s exactly how these birth control methods work — by preventing this process.
When Does Ovulation Happen?
I go into this in-depth in my book, Fix Your Period, but ovulation is the most critical part of your menstrual cycle. I often say ovulation (rather than your period) is the star of the show!
It’s a complex process that involves several hormones, all of which need to do their jobs at exactly the right time for ovulation to occur.
Inside your ovaries, your eggs are all nestled in sacs called follicles. If you’re ovulating, each month one follicle becomes dominant, and it rises up to be the chosen one, the one follicle with the hopes of becoming fertilized.
During this ovulatory phase of your cycle, estradiol levels rise. This signals your hypothalamus to trigger the release of luteinizing hormone (LH) from the pituitary. Then estradiol levels drop, LH surges, and ovulation is initiated. Prostaglandins and proteolytic enzymes are released, which helps the egg to burst through the walls of the follicle, on to its’ journey to try to become fertilized. Once the follicle bursts, it turns into what’s known as the corpus luteum and starts producing progesterone and estrogen.
This process takes only a day or two at most. Once the egg is released, it moves along the fallopian tube towards the uterus. If it gets fertilized while in the fallopian tube, you’re pregnant. If it doesn’t get fertilized, it simply disintegrates.
Why Is Ovulation So Important?
So, you can obviously see why ovulation is important if you’re trying to conceive. But why would it be important if you’re not? Especially if you have been told for years on end that it’s perfectly okay to stop ovulation with hormonal birth control.
Well, it really is a vital bodily function that all women of childbearing age need to experience regularly, pregnancy aspirations or not.
The thing is, this beautiful symphony of hormones that results in ovulation is actually crucial to your overall health. Studies show that ovulation is indeed an indicator of health, and ovulatory disruption is an early sign of some serious underlying conditions like autoimmune disease.
The estrogen and progesterone that are generated as a result of the ovulatory process are tied to several other critical bodily functions including:
- Your brain health (estrogen and progesterone are your brain’s friends, which is partially why hormonal birth control is tied to major mood disorders)
- Sleep regulation (wonder why women in menopause or in low estrogen states can’t sleep?)
- Bone density (same as above – women in low estrogen states like menopause, amenorrhea after being on the pill or premature ovarian failure are at serious risk of bone-related problems)
- Heart health (heart disease is tied to low estrogen states)
I think you’ll agree with me that these are some pretty important functions to protect at all costs — no matter your age.
And not to scare you, but anovulatory cycles have been linked to cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and even ovarian cancer.
I know that when you’re experiencing period problems and you’re not looking to get pregnant, it may seem tempting to forego the whole experience and just take the pill, use the patch, or get an IUD or implant and forget about this ovulating business…but you really, really don’t want to skip out on this crucial part of your physiology.
I mean, do you think men would skip out on making their natural testosterone? Hell no!
How Do You Know If You’re Not Ovulating?
There are several ways to tell if you’re not ovulating, most of which are completely non-invasive and simple.
If you’re having erratic or irregular periods, that’s a good indication that your ovulation game may not be so strong.
But it can be confusing. We know for sure that we’re bleeding when we’re getting a regular period. But ovulation is a little more elusive because we can’t see it happening.
Here are some of the ways you can know for sure if an egg’s getting released:
Track Your Basal Body Temperature
Another easy option that will help you get in touch with your ovulatory cycle is to track your basal body temperature. Since progesterone is a heat-inducing hormone, it actually raises your body temperature. This means that if you’ve ovulated, and you’ve received the progesterone boost from the corpus luteum, you’ll be able to see the slight rise in your temp if you take it regularly.
Take Note Of Your Cervical Fluid
Cervical fluid can also signal ovulation. After your period ends your cervical fluid is pretty nonexistent.
Then, as estrogen builds and stimulates the cervix, your cervical fluid begins to take on a wetter consistency, often looking pasty, creamy or like lotion.
Then, in the days before ovulation it transforms into fertile-quality cervical fluid that has an egg white consistency that will stretch between your fingers, thanks to high estrogen. If you’re experiencing this kind of discharge, it’s a good indication that you’re ovulating. Once ovulation is complete, your cervical fluid begins to dry up and becomes sticky or tacky thanks to the rise in progesterone. This is a sign that ovulation has occurred.
Test Your Progesterone
Once the egg has been released, the follicle turns into the corpus luteum, which starts pumping out progesterone. Testing your progesterone 5-7 days after ovulation can also help you determine if you’ve ovulated. I explain when to test progesterone and the numbers you should look for in this post.
Again, if you’re on hormonal birth control, you’re not ovulating. These synthetic hormones prevent pregnancy by preventing ovulation, so there is no point in testing progesterone.
A Special Note on Ovulation Predictor Testing Kits
Women often say to me they are using OPKs to determine if they are ovulating. But there’s a problem with this method – it doesn’t actually tell you if you are ovulating.
OPKs can be purchased at pretty much any pharmacy and test your urine for levels of LH. This is the hormone that tells the ovary to release an egg, and it peaks just before ovulation. If levels of this hormone are high in your body, the test kit can detect them, but it doesn’t mean ovulation has happened. This is why I always recommend taking your basal body temperature in addition to using OPKs.
Let’s Figure This Out Together
Wondering if what you’re experiencing is normal?
Can’t tell if you’re ovulating or not?
Do the symptoms you have with your menstrual cycle each month have you all kinds of miserable?
I got you, girl! Just answer a few simple questions about your period HERE, and I’ll send you a free evaluation of what your symptoms could mean, and how you can get your cycle back on track.
If you’re not ovulating, we need to get you started (even if you’re not trying to conceive), and this quiz can help you discover what your hormonal imbalance may be, and what to do to get you back on the right track.
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“Ovulation Prevalence in Women with Spontaneous … – NCBI.” 20 Aug. 2015, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4546331/.
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3 thoughts on “How Ovulation Works And Why It’s So Important”
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About 7-8 months ago I started spotting at the time of ovulation every month. I have never had a spotting issue before. I have been off of hormonal birth control for over 2 years. Sometimes the spotting lasts a few days before I get my period. What could this be!?
Hi Paige, I can’t tell you because I don’t have your medical history. However, spotting at ovulation is often a sign ovulation is happening. If it’s happening only at ovulation then it’s probably nothing to worry about, but always speak with your healthcare provider if you are concerned.