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Fertility and understanding ovulation

Learning to understand and chart ovulation might be one of the most underutilized and inexpensive tools we have. Very few of us can know with confidence when we are ovulating, and if we don’t know when we’re ovulating, becoming pregnant turns into a game of luck. Ovulation occurs when a follicle in the ovary releases an egg. The egg travels down the fallopian tube, where it can either be fertilized by sperm or eventually disintegrates and the uterine lining is then shed during menstruation. I’m sure that you’ve heard somewhere that ovulation occurs at day 14 (or mid-cycle), but unfortunately that is just not the case for everyone. You’ve also likely been told that a typical cycle is 28 days, so why have you had a 24 day cycle? Or 32 day cycle? It’s because we’re all different (weird!). A menstrual cycle can range from 21-35 days in length. So how do you know when you’re ovulating? There are 3 major signs of ovulation:

1. Basal body temperature (BBT)

The body temperature rises a day or two after ovulation occurs. This is due to a surge in progesterone levels. During the first half of your cycle, which is called the follicular phase, your body temperature is slightly lower. Once ovulation hits, the temperature rises and will remain higher for the second half of your cycle (the luteal phase). If fertilization does not occur, menstruation will commence and temperatures will drop again. If pregnancy occurs, the temperature will remain elevated for most of the pregnancy. BBT is taken immediately upon waking in the morning. BBT is a very useful tool, but only AFTER ovulation. The next two signs help to put it all together.

2. Cervical fluid

Cervical fluid is a completely normal part of being a woman, and is oh so useful. This is the fluid you may feel vaginally or see on your underwear. It is constantly changing throughout a woman’s cycle as her hormones change. After your period, you will notice that there is no cervical fluid present in your vaginal canal or underwear. You may even feel “dry”. However, this will start to change a few days later when estrogen starts increasing. Estrogen is necessary for ovulation, and continues to increase in the follicular phase until it sparks a surge of luteinizing hormone and ovulation occurs. As estrogen levels increase, cervical fluid goes through a change in feel and consistency (sticky, creamy, pasty etc.). Eventually around ovulation, cervical fluid progresses to an “egg white” appearance. This is the most fertile fluid, and it functions to protect, nourish, and help sperm get where they need to go. It has a slippery, wet, or lubricative texture. A sudden drying of the fluid suggests ovulation has passed.

3. Cervical position

The position of your cervix changes during your cycle. You know that round structure at the end of your vaginal canal that feels like the tip of a nose with a small divot in the centre? That’s your cervix. If you’ve never felt it, it’s worth exploring. Normally the cervix feels firm, the divot (the external os) feels closed, the position feels lower in the vaginal canal, and it doesn’t feel wet. During ovulation the cervix softens, the external os feels more open, the position in the vaginal canal is higher up (or more out of reach), and there’s a wetter sensation due to the cervical fluid.

So how do you put all of this information together? Charting! Basal body temperature charts are available online to print off or you can download an app to your phone. Charting not only allows you to track BBT, cervical fluid and position, but can make you more aware of other signs of ovulation like mittelschmerz or mid-pain, spotting, breast tenderness, and bloating. Knowing when you ovulate can help you time intercourse and improve the likelihood of getting pregnant (or not getting pregnant!). You may also pick up signs that are abnormal for you like bleeding, pain, abnormal discharge or lesions, and can take the steps necessary to determine the cause of them (talk to your doctor!).

Dr. Michelle Hislop ND

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