The most important moment in the menstrual cycle.
Whether you are trying to get pregnant or trying to avoid pregnancy, it’s very important to understand how your body works. With a bit of information and patience, you’ll be able to know precisely how long your own ovulation lasts.
The menstrual cycle
Let’s look first at the menstrual cycle.
The first day of the menstrual cycle is the first day of your menstrual period. Many women’s menstrual cycles happen every 28 days; however, some women have longer or shorter cycles and that’s okay, too, because 28 days is the average cycle length.
A ‘normal’ menstrual cycle just means a healthy cycle, where all the things that are meant to happen (which I’ll explain in a moment) do happen, despite the individual woman’s cycle length.
Each menstrual cycle is divided into two phases:
The follicular phase is from day one of the cycle until the day ovulation occurs.
The time between ovulation and the end of the menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase.
As you can see in the picture above, there are several key hormones involved in the menstrual cycle:
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)
- Luteinizing hormone (LH)
While menstrual bleeding lasts, the level of hormones that lead to ovulation remains quite low.
FSH, estrogen and LH are secreted in higher quantities toward the day of ovulation. A sharp increase and then a sudden drop in the luteinizing hormone will induce ovulation.
Once ovulation occurs, progesterone, the pregnancy hormone, will then be secreted in high quantities in case the newly released egg is fertilized and pregnancy happens.
If pregnancy doesn’t happen, then all hormone levels will drop to their lowest level for menstrual bleeding to occur.
Read more about this in Menstrual Cycle – Stages, Phases And What To Expect.
When does ovulation occur?
Of the two phases in the menstrual cycle, the more regular phase is the luteal phase, which is the period from ovulation until the next menstrual period takes place.
Research shows that the luteal phase lasts around 14 days for most women.
In a 28 day cycle, ovulation happens right in the middle of the cycle, on the 14th day.
For women with cycle lengths that are less or more than 28 days, however, the follicular phase is the one that is usually shorter or longer.
In a woman with a longer (e.g. 30 day) cycle, the day of ovulation would be the 16th day of her cycle.
A woman with a shorter cycle will have a shorter follicular phase. For example, in a cycle of 26 days, ovulation will most likely occur around day 12 of the cycle.
Knowing the difference in length of both menstrual phases will help you track ovulation and be ready for next cycle’s ovulation signs.
How long does ovulation last?
This is a very difficult question to answer. Ovulation is the release of a mature egg into the fallopian tube; it takes only a moment for the follicle to burst open and release an egg.
Although the body has taken about two weeks to prepare for ovulation, this event happens in just a moment.
During the few days leading to ovulation, many follicles are developing in both ovaries but only one of them will be released during ovulation. When ovulation occurs, the body enters the luteal phase and the rest of the follicles will stop growing. They will actually start to shrink until the next menstrual bleeding. Once the follicle-stimulating hormone starts to be secreted in higher amounts in the next follicular phase, those follicles will start growing again.
If by ‘ovulation’ you mean ‘fertile window’, here’s some more information about your fertile time and how to optimize your natural fertility.
Before the egg is released, when there’s a spike in luteinizing hormone and estrogens, your fertile window opens up; it will remain ‘open’ for several hours, even days.
Remember, this happens before ovulation occurs.
These circumstances will make it most favorable for the egg to choose which sperm fertilizes it. It also means that the whole female reproductive tract will become the most amazing sperm-welcoming environment, making sure all of this cycle’s ‘candidates’ are well looked after.
If you’re trying to conceive, it is useful to know when ovulation occurs.
These are the 5 main signs and symptoms of ovulation:
#1. Festive uterus
Ina May Gaskin, a well-known north American native midwife, author and speaker, praises the uterus highly. She says that if men had uteruses, they’d be bragging about them non-stop. Women should do that.
During ovulation, the internal uterine lining, which will nourish the fertilized egg if conception takes place, is at its best, glowing and thriving and awaiting events.
The uterus modifies lubrication, to open up the way and facilitate the encounter between the egg and the sperm.
#2. Enticing cervical mucus
The mucus around the cervix changes its consistency. This helps the sperm to reach the egg much more easily.
The vaginal discharge around ovulation is very similar to egg whites. This consistency helps the sperm find the cervical opening and navigate their way to the egg.
#3. Oxytocin release
The uterus is not waiting with ‘crossed arms’ until the sperm fertilizes the egg; instead, it is getting its oxytocin receptors ready. Oxytocin is the love hormone. Its release is very much related to times when we experience love. During every ovulation, the female body expects lots of love to happen. This is the reason why women are more sexually aroused during their fertile days. Oxytocin calls for more oxytocin.
#4. Sexual arousal
When your body is high on feel-good hormones it works to keep on feeling like that. When oxytocin levels are high, your blood flow increases and your sexual organs are more open and receptive. Your whole body is ready and willing to have intercourse in a very natural way, from the days leading to ovulation until the hormonal changes tell the brain either that fecundation has happened or that it can no longer occur in this cycle.
#5. Basal body temperature raise
When ovulation occurs, our bodies work much more. The metabolism is greatly increased and our basal temperature rises around half a degree Celsius just as ovulation happens. This follows a temperature drop that occurs 48 hours prior to ovulation. Measuring basal body temperature is not only a very good birth control method but also a great way to understand your body and monitor your menstrual cycle.
Signs that ovulation is over
Once ovulation is over, your cervical mucus goes back to its ‘non-fertile’ state; the egg white consistency stops and it becomes thicker and whiter.
Your basal body temperature goes back down to its non-fertile level. The temperature will be different for each woman.
As a result of hormonal changes, your sex drive will stay on the back seat for a while. That doesn’t mean you won’t feel like sex; it’s just that your body is not physically looking for it. It’s very healthy to feel sexually aroused when you’re not ovulating.
However, research shows it’s very likely that women have learned to suppress their ovulation cues as a sexual advantage.
How long does ovulation pain last?
Some women suffer discomfort or even pain during ovulation. Ovulation pain can vary in intensity and length, depending on the cause.
Read more about this in Ovulation Pain – 7 Causes Of Pain During Ovulation.
What does hyper-ovulation mean?
Hyper-ovulation is a condition where several follicles release a mature egg during the same cycle.
Hyper-ovulation is believed to have a genetical component to it, which means that if you have this condition, you have the hyper-ovulation gene.
Although not the only cause, the hyper-ovulation gene is one of the reasons why multiple pregnancies run in families.
When you have hyper-ovulation the chance of experiencing multiple pregnancies is high.
Read more about this in Fraternal Twins | What Are Dizygotic Twins?
How long do sperm wait for the egg?
The life span of sperm depends on different conditions. The best conditions for a sperm to survive are those inside the woman’s reproductive tract from the days leading to ovulation until a couple of days after.
A sperm can last up to 5 days inside a woman’s body, waiting to be ‘chosen’ by the egg.
Inside the woman’s body, the chances of sperm surviving for as long as 5 days are really high but sperm die really quickly in any other medium. It would be really difficult to get pregnant naturally with sperm that haven’t been directly ejaculated into the woman’s vagina.
Read more about sperm in Can You Get Pregnant From Precum?
How many days after ovulation can you get pregnant?
Once ovulation takes place, the mature egg lives for a maximum of 24 hours. However, as we’ve just seen, sperm can live inside the woman’s body for up to five days.
Whether you want a pregnancy or are trying to avoid getting pregnant in a natural way, you should know that you can get pregnant when you have sex several days prior to ovulation.
How to track ovulation
Tracking your menstrual cycle, your ovulation and your fertile days is the best way to learn about your body’s physiology.
That way you can track ovulation and learn about your fertile window.
Start by taking your own basal body temperature every morning before you get up and write it down.
Keep adding specific observations, feelings and changes in cervical mucus.
You can use an ovulation predictor kit for the first few cycles to add a bit more information to your learning.
Menstrual diaries are a ‘thing’ now; you can find some beautiful ones.
You can also use an ordinary diary. Just check your temperature, write it down in a chart like the one in the image below and add what you feel is relevant for the time of the cycle you’re in. It will get easier with time. Just start tracking your menstrual cycle and see how much you can do for yourself.
Can you ovulate and not release an egg?
You can have anovulatory cycles. This means that you experience menstrual cycles but, in some of them, the egg isn’t released when it should be.
Sometimes, the egg inside the follicle that bursts open during ovulation might not be mature enough or sufficiently well developed and, although it is released, it’s not viable.
This is a possibility. If you’re trying to get pregnant and a reason can’t be found as to why pregnancy isn’t happening, this could be the explanation.
Make sure you mention this to your healthcare provider if you’re seeking help regarding your fertility.
You can also look at this natural fertility program to optimize your chances of conception.