What is Ovulation?

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7:00 am October 4, 2011

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You have been hearing about it over and over again, but what is ovulation exactly? You all probably know by now that ovulation refers to the release of a mature egg cell by the ovaries. This egg cell, also known as the ovum, is then fertilized by a sperm cell and is implanted into the lining of the uterus and grows into a fetus.

Here’s more to help you understand the answer to the question, “What is ovulation?”

The Ovulation Cycle

One cycle usually lasts somewhere between 28 to 32 days. Your cycle starts on the first day of your last menstrual period and is divided into two parts: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.

1.    Follicular Phase. At the start of your cycle, the pituitary gland sends out a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) to cause some of the follicles into the ovaries to develop. Only one of these follicles will become a fully mature egg and the others will die away. The ovaries then send out estrogen to signal the pituitary gland and hypothalamus to produce luteinizing hormone (LH), which causes the egg to breach the ovary walls and travel down the fallopian tube in the hopes of meeting a sperm.

2.    Luteal Phase. Twenty-four to 36 hours after the release of LH, also known as an LH surge, the egg begins its journey to fertilization. The follicle from which the egg is released is known as the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone for up to 12 to 16 days to prepare the lining of the uterus for implantation. The mature egg, however, withers after 24 hours without being fertilized. By around days 12 to 16, your hormone levels ebb and the uterine lining is shed with blood during menstruation.

What is Ovulation in Visible Terms?

Understanding the follicular and luteal phases of ovulation certainly gives us a clue as to what happens inside the body during the ovulation cycle, but how do you know all of this is taking place? There are different observable signs that tell you that you are ovulating. Look for these signs around the middle of your cycle, or somewhere between days 11 and 21.

  • Increased cervical mucus. During ovulation, you will secrete more vaginal fluid that takes the clear and sticky consistency of fresh egg whites. This fluid is a natural lubricant and helps make sex easier and more pleasurable for you and your partner.
  • Increased basal body temperature. If you chart your basal body temperature everyday, you should be able to tell that ovulation has taken place if you see a sudden spike of at least half a degree on the thermometer.
  • Softer cervical opening. Insert a finger or two into your vagina and reach for your cervix. When you’re not ovulating, it should feel hard and closed, but during this time of the month, your cervix should feel like your earlobe and is open to make way for a host of travelling sperm cells looking for an egg to fertilize.

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