Ovulation is a monthly occurrence for women of childbearing age. It usually takes place around day 14 of a 28-day menstrual cycle. During this process, an egg is released from one of your ovaries and travels from your fallopian tube to your uterus.
The release of an egg isn’t a spontaneous occurrence. Rather, different factors take place prior to ovulation. Follicles in one of your ovaries start to mature between days 6 and 14 of your menstrual cycle.
Around days 10 and 14, an egg develops from one of these follicles. This egg is then released from the ovary on day 14.
Some women don't give much thought to their menstrual cycle or track ovulation. But ovulation plays a big role in conception. So if you’re planning a family, it helps to know how long ovulation lasts.
What happens during ovulation each month?
Each month during ovulation, one egg is usually released. But some women may release more than one egg within 24 hours of each other. After ovulation, the mature egg is ready to be fertilized by sperm, which results in conception and a pregnancy.
If you don’t fully understand ovulation and its role in becoming pregnant, you may believe you can get pregnant any time during the month. But the reality is: You’re only fertile a few days out of any given month, around the time of ovulation.
How long does ovulation last each month?
A normal ovulation cycle lasts for about 24 hours each month. Once an egg is released from an ovary, it will die or dissolve within 12 to 24 hours if it’s not fertilized. If fertilization doesn’t occur, the egg and your uterine lining will shed. This results in menstrual bleeding about two weeks later.
Although ovulation is a one-day occurrence each month, don’t think you can only get pregnant one day out of the month. Conception can occur within a six-day window, the five days leading up to ovulation and the day of ovulation.
This is because sperm can live in the female body for up to five days. If you have intercourse a few days prior to ovulation or during ovulation, there may be sperm remaining in your body to greet an egg as it travels down your fallopian tube.
Conception takes place in the fallopian tube, not your uterus. An unfertilized egg dissolves after a day, but a fertilized egg continues its journey down the fallopian tube into the uterus. A fertilized egg implants or attaches to the uterus six to 10 days after conception.
Signs of ovulation
Some women ovulate without noticing any changes to their body, but others can recognize signs of ovulation. It’s important to plan intercourse during your fertile days if you’re intending to have a baby. The good news is that there are ways to know when you're ovulating.
- Look for changes in your cervical fluid. If you notice cervical discharge or fluid, this is a sign that you’re ovulating, or that ovulation will occur within the next few days. Cervical fluid can appear clear, wet, stretchy, or stringy. It may look similar to egg whites.
- Check for a change in basal body temperature. This refers to your temperature while you're at rest. Your body temperature may slightly increase during ovulation. The only problem with this method is that some women don’t experience a higher body temperature until two or three days after their fertile time. So by the time you notice an increase in basal body temperature, ovulation may have already occurred.
Still, a basal thermometer is a useful tool for monitoring your body temperature and pinpointing ovulation. You can purchase an ovulation predictor kit from a pharmacy.
Along with changes to your cervical fluid and a higher body temperature, other signs of ovulation may include:
- sore breasts
- higher sex drive
Factors that prevent ovulation
Some women of childbearing age don’t ovulate. Different factors can affect your ability to release an egg. One example is a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). In PCOS, a woman’s levels of the sex hormones estrogen and progesterone are out of balance. This leads to the growth of ovarian cysts (benign masses on the ovaries). PCOS can cause problems with a women’s menstrual cycle, fertility, cardiac function, and appearance.
An overactive or underactive thyroid can also stop ovulation, as well as cause premature menopause. Likewise, some women don’t ovulate when under stress. If you’re having difficulty conceiving, or if you think you're not ovulating, consult your doctor for fertility testing.
Keep in mind that you may still get a period each month, even though you don’t ovulate. This is because your uterine lining will thicken and prepare for the possible arrival of an egg regardless of whether ovulation occurs.
If you don’t ovulate, you’ll still shed the uterine lining and have menstrual bleeding. But your cycle may be lighter and shorter than normal. A short, or long, cycle may be a sign that you are not ovulating. Most women who have normal cycle lengths of 28 to 35 days are ovulating.
Understanding your menstrual cycle and how ovulation works is key to family planning.
Ovulation occurs once a month and lasts for about 24 hours. The egg will die if it's not fertilized within 12 to 24 hours. With this information, you can start tracking your fertile days and improve your chances of conceiving.