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Understanding Ovulation in the Menstrual Cycle: A Comprehensive Guide to Fertility

Tulips, pregnancy test, and pacifier laying on a pink calendar with a date circled

Unlocking the secrets of fertility begins with understanding ovulation, a key aspect of your menstrual health. This guide provides an in-depth look at the menstrual cycle, emphasizing the crucial role of ovulation in fertility.

The Menstrual Cycle: More Than Just Your Period

Often overshadowed by the period, the menstrual cycle comprises four distinct phases, each playing a vital role in women's health and fertility. (1)

  • Menstruation (Your Period): The most recognized phase, marking the beginning of the cycle.

  • Follicular Phase (Pre-Ovulation): Prepares the body for releasing an egg.

  • Ovulation (Egg Release): The critical moment for potential fertilization.

  • Luteal Phase (Post-Ovulation): The body either prepares for pregnancy or the next cycle.

Understanding that the menstrual cycle is a comprehensive process, lasting typically between 23 to 35 days, helps in recognizing the importance of each phase.

During each cycle, the uterus walls build and thicken in preparation for pregnancy. If pregnancy does not occur, the uterine lining sheds and you begin your period. If you become pregnant, you will not get your period that month.

Did you know that you CAN’T get pregnant at any time of the month? Yes, that’s right! Middle school me did not know this, thanks sex ed! You can only get pregnant if ovulation occurs and your egg is fertilized by a sperm (and there is only a 5 day window for this to occur!!!). This short window of time in the menstrual cycle is known as ovulation.


Ovulation: The Key to Conception (2)

Ovulation isn't just about releasing an egg; it's a period of heightened fertility. It's a pivotal time when the chances of pregnancy are highest if the egg meets sperm. However, this fertile window is limited to just a few days around ovulation. Contrary to popular belief, pregnancy isn't possible at any time of the month.

Hormones Controlling the Cycle (3)

Two main hormones, estrogen and progesterone, regulate the menstrual cycle.

In the first half of your cycle, estrogen levels rise causing a surge of luteinizing hormone (LH) which causes ovulation to happen. 

Ovulation usually occurs halfway through your cycle. Ovulation lasts for 12-24 hours. Since sperm can live up to five days inside the vagina, a woman can get pregnant as early as 5 days before ovulation. This time frame is your fertile window. 

In the second half of your cycle, estrogen levels drop and progesterone levels rise. Progesterone will drop when you get your next period or stay elevated if you become pregnant.

Woman's hands holding a positive pregnancy test

Why You Might Not Be Ovulating

Not all menstrual cycles include ovulation. Anovulatory cycles can occur due to various reasons impacting overall health. Ovulating regularly is not just crucial for conception but also for maintaining bone density, brain function, and heart health. (4)

You can not get pregnant without ovulating.  Some reasons you might not be ovulating are (5):

  • PCOS

  • Stress

  • Thyroid issues

  • Obesity

  • Under-eating

  • Over-exercising 

If you are on hormonal birth control, it suppresses ovulation, so you will not get pregnant. It “turns off”  ovulation through man made hormones.


Tracking Ovulation: Tools and Techniques

  1. Basal Body Temperature (BBT): Measure your temperature each morning before getting out of bed. A sustained rise in BBT indicates ovulation. Follow this guide to learn exactly how to do this.

  1. Cervical Mucus Analysis: Changes in cervical mucus – from creamy to egg-white consistency – signal ovulation.

Woman eating a healthy meal

How to support Ovulation 

Supporting ovulation is important for a healthy menstrual cycle. Maybe you are not ovulating at all or not regularly. 

If this sounds like you, here are some tips. 

  1. Manage stress – too much stress can cause high cortisol which can impact progesterone levels. Stress can also deplete essential minerals in your body such as potassium. (6

  1. Optimize sleep – your hormones play a huge role in mood and circadian rhythm so try and get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep. (7)

  1. Exercise- Exercise can help with mood, heart, and metabolic health. Support your cycle with a mix of strength training (3-4 days a week) and gentle restorative movement like walking and yoga (1-2 times a week).  Find what works for you! (7)

  1. Vitamins/minerals- Certain vitamins and minerals support fertility like zinc. (8)

  1. Supplementation- This is optional and will depend on your hormone levels, lab values, and current diet. Talk to your healthcare provider before starting any supplements.

  1. Healthy Fats- Hormones, especially fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K need fat to be absorbed. Adequate nutrients and enough calories are essential for hormone health. I would not recommend fad diets if you are trying to optimize ovulation. 

Bottom Line

Ovulation is a cornerstone of reproductive health. Understanding and tracking this phase enhances your chances of conception and provides valuable insights into your overall well-being. 

For personalized guidance on fertility and nutrition, Book your complimentary 15 minute nutrition clarity call with Alex Gardner, MPH, RDN, LDN, CLC, CHES to discuss your health and nutrition goals. 


Can you get pregnant after ovulation?

No. Once ovulation is confirmed you can not get pregnant. You have to wait until after your next period. (9)

Can the ovulation test detect pregnancy?

Ovulation tests are meant to predict ovulation by measuring luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. This tells you when your body is most fertile and the best time to conceive. Pregnancy tests detect pregnancy. 

No LH surge but having regular periods? Chances are you aren’t ovulating because the LH surge signals ovulation. (10)

After ovulation, when can I test for pregnancy?

You want to wait at least 2 weeks to test for pregnancy after ovulation. Generally, if you miss your next period, take a pregnancy test. (2)

What is the best diet to increase chances of ovulation?

The best diet to increase your chance of ovulation is one that involves eating enough calories and nutrient dense foods. Having healthy menstrual cycles (that includes ovulation) involves many factors such as diet, lifestyle, sleep, stress management, and exercise. 

Check out my fertility diet meal plan that is perfect for any couple’s fertility journey.  

Why am I not getting pregnant even though I am ovulating?

Reasons for not getting pregnant even though you are ovulating are: (11)

  • Uterine anomaly or irregular uterine shape

  • PCOS or endometriosis 

  • Male infertility

  • Stress or trauma

  • Blocked fallopian tube(s)

  • Age

  • Unexplained infertility 

Can you have a period and not ovulate?

Yes. You can have a period without ovulating. This is called an anovulatory or withdrawal bleed.

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