If you are facing issues with conception, your gynaecologist may ask you to track your ovulation period or your fertile window. But these words mean nothing to you if you've never encountered them before. Fret not because this article will discuss all about ovulation and teach you how to know when your fertile window is.
What is Ovulation?
The ovulation period is the time when the egg releases from your ovary and may or may not become fertilised by a sperm.
If the egg does get fertilised, it will travel to the uterus and implant itself to develop into a pregnancy. On the other hand, if the egg is unfertilised, then it will disintegrate and the uterine lining will shed during your period.
Understanding how your ovulation period and the cycle work is crucial, as it helps to better plan a pregnancy. It can also be a key to understanding if you are suffering from any underlying medical conditions.
When Does Ovulation Occur?
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Most girls begin to menstruate between the age of 10 and 15 years. This is the time when they begin to ovulate and can also conceive.
On average, a woman's menses last anywhere between 28 and 32 days. This is referred to as the ovulation cycle, and the start of each cycle is considered to be the first day of menses. The egg is released generally 12 to 16 days before the next period is due, which is known as the ovulation period.
Meanwhile, your fertile window or the period where it is most likely for you to conceive is the five days leading to the start of your ovulation period, plus the day of ovulation and the day after ovulation. For those who are planning to have a baby, these are the days to plan sexual intercourse with your partner.
Women reach the menopause stage between the age of 50 and 51 years, which is when ovulation typically stops. But even in the perimenopausal or menopausal transition period, ovulation can take place.
Ovulation Symptoms: How to Detect When You are Ovulating
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Here are some signs of ovulation that you can look out for:
- Ovulation discharge: the cervical mucus increases in volume and becomes thicker due to increased estrogen levels.
- You may also see a slight increase in body temperature during your ovulation period. According to medical experts, women are generally most fertile for 2 to 3 days before the temperature reaches its maximum.
- You can use a basal thermometer to track the subtle temperature increase.
- Another prominent sign is that some women may feel a mild ache in the lower abdomen. This pain may last between a few minutes and a few hours.
How Does An Ovulation Calendar Help
The ovulation calendar will help you to understand your most fertile period. This is an important tool to keep track of your cycle and also is key to understanding any irregularities.
There are several websites and apps that feature an ovulation calculator and actually help you keep track of your cycle easily. All you have to do is feed in the correct information such as the first and last day of your period, and some symptoms you may be experiencing the past days.
Moreover, you can also download one of these apps on your partner's phone to help them know about your ovulation period if you're trying. However, best to track your ovulation for the first couple of months to get a more accurate prediction of your fertile window.
You can also buy ovulation predictor kits that are now easily available at drug stores. Ovulation test kits work by detecting the luteinizing hormone (LH). A high level of LH indicates that you are ovulating or will be ovulating in a couple of days.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, when taken correctly, ovulation tests are approximately 99 per cent accurate in detecting ovulation.
Ovulation Period: The Phases To Track
The ovulation period is generally divided into three phases:
- Periovulatory: In this stage, the layer of cells around the ovum begins to become more like mucus and expand. The uterus lining also starts to thicken.
- Ovulatory phase: This is the phase when the egg releases from the dominant follicle within an ovary into the fallopian tube. The sperm can fertilise the egg at this stage.
Do note that the life span of a typical egg is only about 24 hours. Unless it meets a sperm during this time, it will die. This is the only time during a woman's menstruation cycle that a woman can become pregnant. So if you are planning to have a baby, you can improve your chances of getting pregnant if you know your fertile window.
- Luteal phase: A fertilised egg gets implanted into the womb, while the unfertilised egg will slowly stop producing hormones and dissolve within 24 hours. The lining of the uterus starts to break down and prepares to exit the body during menses.
How Frequently Do You Need to Have Sex During the Ovulation Period
In many cases, a couple can have sex once during the fertile window and is able to conceive. However, if you are actively trying to conceive, then you can better your chances by having sex every other day during the fertile window.
Note that the best time to get pregnant is in the two days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself.
4 Common Types Of Ovulation Disorders
Often issues with ovulation can lead to infertility or difficulty in conceiving. So watch out for some of these common ovulation disorders.
1. Polycystic ovarian syndrome
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) is the most common endocrine (hormonal) disorder affecting young women. It is estimated that up to 10 per cent of women in Singapore may have PCOS.
Women with PCOS may often but not always have multiple cysts in their ovaries or have hormonal imbalances such as excess androgens (male hormones) and insulin resistance.
It can manifest with a wide variety of symptoms, and many may not be aware of their condition and go undiagnosed. Some of them include obesity, acne and abnormal hair growth. It is also one of the leading causes of infertility in women.
2. Premature ovarian insufficiency
Egg production stops prematurely in this condition. It will lead to a drop in estrogen levels and mostly affects women before the age of 40 years.
There can be several reasons behind it such as genetic abnormalities, environmental toxins or an autoimmune disease.
In some scenarios, due to the use of certain medications or abnormality in the pituitary gland (which produces hormones), women can produce excessive amounts of prolactin. It can also cause a reduction in estrogen. This is a less common cause of ovulatory dysfunction.
4. Hypothalamic dysfunction
This is a condition where the production of the follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing hormone (LH) gets disrupted. These are the two prominent hormones that stimulate ovulation and can affect the menstrual cycle.
Some causes of hypothalamic dysfunction include emotional and physical stress, and excessively high or low body weight. Sometimes, excessive exercise, low body weight and tumours can also lead to hypothalamic dysfunction.
How To Induce Ovulation?
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If there is an abnormality in your ovulation, doctors may prescribe fertility drugs to treat the problem. Some common drugs which most doctors prescribe for ovulation include:
- Metformin: It's typically used by women with PCOS. It is to treat insulin resistance and increase the chances of ovulation.
- Bromocriptine: Doctors can recommend this medicine in case of hyperprolactinemia.
- Letrozole: It works temporarily by lowering a woman’s level of the hormone progesterone to stimulate ovum production.
- Clomid: This oral medication increases the pituitary secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), thus stimulating ovarian follicles.
But note that these fertility drugs can have side effects such as the following, and must only be taken upon the advice of your gynaecologist:
- Hot flushes
- Mood swings
- Abdominal pain
- Vaginal dryness
- Increased urination
If you have any doubts about your menstrual cycle, always consult a health practitioner. They can help track it better and advise on tests and medications if needed.
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