Why You Need to Ovulate and How it HappensFeb 17, 2020
Ovulation is where all the magic happens!
It’s the main event of your menstrual cycle and for the average woman, it takes place around 400 times during her life so I think it’s a pretty important thing for us to all understand!
As you’re reading this article, you’ll see that ovulation rests on a delicate dance between your hormones, and if anything goes wrong along the way, it can be delayed or sometimes stopped completely.
You’ll also discover why ovulation is really important for your health.
How ovulation works
Eggs develop in the ovaries in little sacs called follicles. Multiple follicles develop and mature at the same time, but at different stages.
It’s normal for your ovaries to have up to 12 developing follicles at any given time.
Interesting fact : It takes about 100 days for an egg to fully mature and reach the ovulation finish line.
That’s right, 100 days!
This is exactly why healthy hormones are an everyday choice, not just something you can think about a week before your period starts!
Most of the semi-developed follicles will never make it all the way to ovulation. Instead, around midway through your follicular phase (the phase between your period and ovulation), one of the follicles is selected to become “the dominant follicle” and then the focus is put onto getting that single follicle ready for ovulation.
As the follicle is developing, it releases estrogen into the bloodstream and once estrogen hits its upper level in the body, a cascade of events occur that result in the egg being released from the dominant follicle into the fallopian tube.
This is called ovulation.
After ovulation occurs, the egg will only survive for about 12 to 24 hours. If it’s not fertilised by a sperm cell in the fallopian tube, it will start to degrade and then quickly die off.
If the egg does meet with a sperm cell and gets fertilised, it starts rapidly dividing and doubling in size as it travels to the uterus over the next 6-12 days. If it successfully implants into the lining of the uterine wall then pregnancy occurs.
All of these steps are controlled by your hormones! The development and selection of a dominant follicle, the release of the egg into the fallopian tube and the thickening of the uterine lining so the egg can implant are all governed by hormones.
How your hormones control ovulation
Your brain and ovaries need to communicate throughout all stages of the menstrual cycle and they do this via hormones.
FYI – hormones are chemical messengers that tell a target cell to do something.
When your Estrogen and Progesterone levels drop right down at the start of your period, this signals to the brain to produce a hormone called Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH).
This hormone does what it sounds like it does! It stimulates the ovaries to grow follicles.
As the follicles grow, they produce estrogen which (among other things) signals to your uterine lining to start thickening in preparation for a fertilised egg.
As the follicles are growing and especially once a dominant follicle is selected, estrogen continues to rise.
Once it hits a certain threshold, this tells your brain to secrete Luteinizing hormone (LH) which then tells your ovaries that it’s time for ovulation!
Ovulation occurs about 10-12 hours after the peak of LH. The dominant follicle uses enzymes to break down its own walls so that the egg can pop out of a small opening and make its way into the fallopian tube.
In case you didn't know, only one ovary will ovulate each cycle.
The follicle that the egg was released from then has a very important job to do. It becomes a temporary endocrine gland called the Corpus Luteum.
Before ovulation occurs, the dominant follicle is responsible for estrogen being the dominant sex hormone, but once ovulation occurs it also starts producing a large amount of the hormone Progesterone.
Looking at the graph below, you’ll see that estrogen levels drop with ovulation and then both estrogen and progesterone levels rise, with progesterone taking over as the most dominant hormone in the second half of the cycle.
The second half of the cycle is called the Luteal Phase and it occurs between ovulation and your next period starting.
If for some reason ovulation doesn’t’ occur, there won’t be that all important surge in Progesterone.
You are not a clock or a calendar!
There are a lot of different factors that can affect the communication between your brain and ovaries such as exercise, diet, sleep and stress.
Changes in any of these lifestyle factors or something major in your personal environment can change the timing of ovulation. And it’s the timing of ovulation that determines the length of your cycle!
Let me explain how this works…
The menstrual cycle can be broken down into 4 phases: menstruation, the follicular phase, ovulation and the luteal phase. Read more about the phases in this post.
The length of the luteal phase is between 10-16 days1 but the length of the follicular phase varies for each woman, depending on when she ovulates.
Once ovulation occurs, a woman who doesn’t become pregnant will get her period within 16 days.
Changes in the length of your menstrual cycle are more typically pinpointed to a change in the length of the follicular phase – which is determined by the timing of ovulation!
Most women find that their Luteal Phase is pretty consistent in length with only a day or two variance. If the luteal phase is less than 10 days long, this is referred to as a Luteal Phase Defect and it indicates a hormone imbalance.
Does it matter if I don’t ovulate?
Yes. Very much.
Ovulation is how your body makes Progesterone and this hormone is very important for mood, bone health, metabolism, thyroid health and protecting your uterus & breasts from cancer.
Having an anovulatory cycle once in a while is nothing to worry about. However it if happens regularly or you are not ovulating at all, then this can lead to some long term health concerns and is something you should seek help to resolve.
3 quick tips to optimise ovulation:
TIP – reduce or manage your stress.
Ovulation is a stress-sensitive event! If you are feeling the effects of stress on a daily basis, your body is listening closely to this and it will determine that it’s not safe for pregnancy to occur, which means it’s not safe to ovulate. Here are my best anti-stress tips.
TIP – don’t under-eat carbs.
Undereating, especially undereating carbs can stop ovulation. This is an adaptive decision made by the brain to put baby-making on the back burner when there isn’t enough food (which it considers as a famine). This is called hypothalamic amenorrhea.
TIP – manage your blood sugar levels
A diet that is high in refined sugars or refined carbs will lead to insulin resistance and that directly interferes with ovulation.
How do you know if you’re ovulating?
A regular, ‘normal’ menstrual cycle is a very good sign that you are!
As a guide, this means your cycle is between 24 and 38 days long, with menstruation lasting between 2-7 days. Click here for more information about what is and isn’t normal.
However, if you want to be sure that you are ovulating, you’ll need to track your basal body temperature and/or cervical fluids. My course ‘Chart Your Cycle 2.0’ teaches you exactly how to do this.
Or, you can, of course, get your progesterone levels tested to confirm ovulation, but this needs to be timed correctly and that means that a test on day 21 of the cycle won’t be correct for everyone.
If you’d like to chat about your personal circumstance or get help determining if you are ovulating, you can make an appointment with me here. I’d love to help.
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