The podcast where you'll get answers to those questions you’ve been secretly Googling and all those things you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor, because… well – We’re women! Shouldn’t we just know this stuff??
I'm obsessed with all things periods, pregnancy, pelvic floor and helping women just like YOU to navigate all of life's major milestones!
We all know that ovulation occurs about halfway through your menstrual cycle. Definitely not always on day 14 as we have been led to believe, but somewhere around the middle. Right?
But what if your cycle is 40 days long? Or 50 or 60?
Well, if your cycle is irregular or on the longer side, there’s a good chance your body has attempted to ovulate once or twice before it actually released an egg. And sometimes, it’s just all too hard and it gives up and decides to try again next month.
This is called anovulation, and it happens more commonly than you might think.
And that’s exactly what we’re talking about in this episode – what happens when ovulation doesn’t happen as planned.
Let’s quickly recap what will normally happen in a menstrual cycle before we start talking about anything out of the ordinary. In a typical menstrual cycle, your body prepares for the release of an egg in a fairly predictable way. After your period, oestrogen levels rise and cervical mucus transitions from mostly dry and sticky to a fertile-quality mucus that is wet and slippery. After the egg is released at ovulation, oestrogen levels drop, progesterone levels rise and our cervical mucus dries up again. If you want to learn more about that fertile window then you can also go way back to Episode 2 of the podcast, conveniently named Am I Ovulating?
Anovulation refers to a cycle where ovulation did not occur or where the body takes longer than expected to release an egg. Your body might need to attempt to ovulate multiple times before the egg is eventually released, and until oestrogen levels are high enough to trigger ovulation.
During the window of time where your body is attempting to ovulate, you might see patches of days with wet cervical fluid, followed by dry days, followed by wet days again, and you’re not seeing an obvious transition from one type to the other like you would expect to. This can lead to an absent or delayed period.
If bleeding still occurs during the cycle, even if you didn’t ovulate, this is called anovulatory bleeding but it’s not considered to be a “true” period. Because you can’t menstruate if you don’t ovulate, right?
Anovulation may be common in women with PCOS, thyroid conditions or approaching menopause. Young women will also experience anovulation during their first years of menstruation, but cycles should regulate over time as the body figures out what it’s doing.
If you have ever taken the oral contraceptive pill, you would have noticed that your periods were quite different compared to when you were not taking the pill. This is because you do not ovulate while taking the pill. This means your body is not going through a menstrual cycle. Your period while taking the pill is called a “withdrawal” bleed due to sudden withdrawal of the hormone pills when you switch to taking non-hormone pills for 7 days. This is another example of anovulatory bleeding.
If you notice one month that your cycle is unusually long, or wonky, then you might have experienced delayed ovulation or an anovulatory cycle. An anovulatory cycle can happen every once in a while and might be due to stress, illness, travel or a temporary disruption to your hormone balance. This is nothing to panic about. It’s pretty normal to see a wonky cycle every now and then.
Being anovulatory, so consistently not ovulating in your menstrual cycle, happens over a longer period of time and may or may not resolve, depending on the cause. This could be due to being underweight, overweight, PCOS, thyroid issues or more temporarily due to breastfeeding.
So now that you have a better understanding of this, I want you to think for a minute how your cycle and your chart might be different if you ovulated but didn’t get your period, compared to if you got your period but didn’t ovulate. Are you still with me? While you’re thinking, let’s consider the basics.
Ovulation is an essential part of the menstrual cycle. It triggers a rise in progesterone, a fall in oestrogen and initiation of the second half of the cycle towards menstruation or pregnancy. Ovulation and menstruation are essential to regulate hormone levels and maintain balance. If ovulation does not occur, progesterone levels do not rise, meaning oestrogen levels remain high and the sex hormones are unbalanced. Excessive oestrogen, or “oestrogen dominance” can then trigger other health and fertility concerns.
So, in a typical chart, we can see that ovulation has occurred due to the upward shift in BBT, usually the day after ovulation, and the change in our mucus patterns from slippery and wet to dry and sticky coinciding with this temperature shift.
If you were charting and ovulation has not occurred, meaning this is an anovulatory cycle, there is no upward shift of temperature, meaning progesterone levels have not risen. What produces progesterone after ovulation? The corpus luteum, which is the remains of the follicle once the egg has been released. So, without ovulation, menstruation or a true period can’t happen. But this woman may still observe bleeding and assume it’s her period. This can happen when oestrogen production continues to thicken the endometrium in preparation for implantation, but oestrogen levels don’t rise high enough to actually trigger ovulation.
One of two things can then happen:
Oestrogen levels build up slowly, and then drop, just like in a typical menstrual cycle, but oestrogen levels are too low to actually trigger release of the other hormones that lead to ovulation. When oestrogen levels drop, you might experience a withdrawal bleed, just like you do on the pill when you stop taking the hormone pills.
What else could happen? Well, it’s more common for the endometrium to continue to thicken and build up and up to the point where it can no longer sustain itself. Without ovulation, progesterone levels are too low to maintain the thickened lining, so it breaks down and is released just like in a typical period, which is called oestrogen breakthrough bleeding.
If you weren’t charting, you would just assume it was another period, although the bleeding might be a little different than you are used to. But if you were charting and looking out for signs of ovulation, you would more easily be able to spot that it hadn’t actually happened. So this seriously shows how important understanding your cycle and charting in particular is, for seeing whether you are ovulating, especially if you’re trying to conceive and especially if you have concerns that you may not be ovulating for whatever reason.
Like I said, there are temporary reasons for anovulatory bleeding or an anovulatory and irregular cycle – illness, travel, stress, excessive exercise or changes in your weight. Medical causes of anovulation, which will usually continue unless addressed, include underactive thyroid, PCOS, endometriosis, excessive prolactin (the breastfeeding hormone) or primary ovarian insufficiency, also known as premature menopause.
As you can see, there are quite a few reasons why women may not ovulate with every cycle or why they may experience abnormal bleeding. We’re not robots, and we are affected by our environment, which can influence our delicate hormone balance. Some causes are due to the season of life we’re in, like puberty, breastfeeding or menopause; others are temporary and caused by our environment, like stress, illness, or changes in body weight, but others are caused by more serious medical conditions. Sometimes they are considered normal, but sometimes they’re not. And these are the circumstances where charting can help you to decide what is normal for you and what needs investigating.
When you’re charting, it’s so important to chart every day of your cycle and be accurate in your recordings. So write clear notes about days that you observe fertile mucus, and any day where you are dry or see minimal mucus that isn’t that wet, slippery fertile quality, you mark differently. This is why it’s so important not to chart what you think you’re supposed to see, but rather what you actually see. So if on your chart you don’t see a transition to that slippery, lubricative Peak Day fertile mucus representing ovulation, there’s a big sign that ovulation hasn’t occurred because there was no temperature spike afterwards, and you can see the temperature is all over the place throughout the cycle.
So, when we’ve confirmed ovulation and our Peak Day, that last day of slippery fertile mucus, we mark that on our chart to indicate that ovulation has occurred. And so we can mark what we believe to be ovulation as it happens because it’s our last day of fertile mucus, but if menstruation doesn’t occur 10-17 days later, and we’re not pregnant, it’s likely it’s not ovulation. And we’ll then realise that before our period is due we’ll likely see the return of our fertile mucus if the body tries to ovulate for a second or third time. And so if we’re getting technical here, you really can’t confirm ovulation until you see menstruation, and then you count backwards. If your cycle is pretty consistent and predictable, then you can more often than not pinpoint ovulation sooner, but if your cycle is unpredictable and you’re not sure about ovulation, the only real way to confirm is when we see true menstruation after the fact. In most cases, we can mark our chart as ovulation day when we see our Peak Day, but if you notice that change in mucus patterns and a return of fertile mucus again before your period arrives, it wasn’t your Peak Day, it wasn’t ovulation. When we have confirmed ovulation, we can move into the non-fertile phase after ovulation (the luteal phase) and we start to expect our next period.
Many women are reluctant to seek advice and support from a healthcare professional when it comes to their menstrual cycle. They seem to either assume it’s nothing and will disappear on its own, or they suspect something could be going on under the surface, but they don’t want to know about it because they fear the worst.
Every day, women are breaking down barriers and removing the taboo of menstruation, but some are still embarrassed and uncomfortable asking their doctor about it. Please remember that experiencing irregular periods or atypical symptoms does not mean something is seriously wrong! But not addressing the issue over time can lead to greater problems, especially when you are ready to start trying to have a baby. If you notice that your period is atypical, talk to a healthcare professional and investigate what could be causing your symptoms. It’s better to address it sooner rather than later.
If something seems unusual for a single cycle then returns to a typical pattern again, you probably don’t need to rush to see a doctor right away – unless it is interfering with your daily functioning. But, if you notice irregularities that are occurring during every cycle and creating a pattern, it’s time to investigate. Chart your symptoms so you can see patterns more clearly. You can then analyse your charts with a trained healthcare professional and determine if you are getting symptoms at the same stage of every cycle and understand the cause of the symptoms. Talk to family and friends to learn if this is something others experience too (especially other females in your family), but remember: common does not equal normal!
If you feel like you have explored all of your options but you’re not getting answers, talk to your doctor about getting your hormone levels tested. Talk through your symptoms and show your doctor patterns in your charts you that have noticed.
Keep in mind that not all doctors are trained in women’s health – some, if not most, may have no idea how to interpret your charts! If you are not happy about your experience with a particular healthcare professional, seek a second (or third) opinion. Ask around and do some research to find a doctor that specialises in women’s health. You may prefer to get a referral to see a gynaecologist, who specialises in hormone disorders, fertility issues, sexually transmitted infections and reproductive health.
It may take some time to find a healthcare professional that is a good fit for your needs, but it is worth the effort. Trust your gut and listen to your body – if something doesn’t feel right, get it investigated and stay confident until you get the answers you need!
Many women simply put up with abnormal or irregular period symptoms because they think they have no other option. They believe these symptoms are normal for them and do not think anything can be done to improve them. Just because some period symptoms are common, doesn’t mean they are normal.
It is possible to have a symptom-free menstrual cycle. It is possible to function as a regular human being during your period – no tears, no irritability, no cramps or pain! It’s time to re-evaluate what you believe is normal and acceptable.
If you regularly experience any regular symptoms, or if you suspect that something may not be right with your cycle, seek help! By working with a trained healthcare professional, you can balance your hormones and regulate your periods so you don’t have to dread them month after month.
Ok, that is all for this week’s episode and I hope I haven’t confused the pants off you! We are getting detailed now when it comes to your cycle and anovulatory cycles are definitely confusing. This is something I talk a lot about with my Fertility School students and it’s something that comes up a lot with my private clients too, because the whole point of charting really is to identify ovulation and when your body is potentially playing tricks on you, then you might need that little bit of extra support in figuring it all out, and that’s where I’m happy to help. Deciphering women’s charts and breaking down their cycles is weirdly enjoyable and a fun puzzle for me, so if you want some help please get in touch.
And of course, please get in touch if you want to have a chat or if you have any episode suggestions for the podcast. If you’re listening live I will be wrapping up the podcast soon for maternity leave so make sure you get your suggestions in before I finalise what I’m doing before then.
You can get today’s shownotes with everything I talked about in this episode, as well as links to freebies and other related episodes at fertilityco.com.au/44
I will see you in next week’s episode, where we are talking about sperm. Sperm count, sperm health, sperm survival in the female reproductive system, improving the quality of sperm. All about sperm, that’s next time.
Ok, bye for now and don’t forget that knowledge is power!
When you truly understand your body, you are empowered to make informed decisions and take control of your health!
Until next time.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
Want to improve your chances of conceiving quickly and naturally?
You need my Fertility Roadmap– My simple 3-step system to understanding your body’s natural fertile signs and pinpointing ovulation day so that you can use this knowledge to achieve (or avoid) pregnancy.
Does your pelvic floor need a little extra TLC? Take the Pelvic Floor Quiz and find out how to start strengthening your pelvic floor today!
Want to make sure you’re exercising safely during your pregnancy? Get your Free Guide: 10 Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy.
If you enjoyed this episode and the Fertility Co. Podcast generally, I have a favour. Please take two minutes to subscribe, and to write a rating and a review. You can do that on Apple Podcasts right now by clicking here. If you are an Android user, you can follow the podcast on Spotify here. Those actions will help the podcast reach more people, and I would be truly grateful. Thank you so much.
3 simple steps to find out exactly when you're ovulating (without tracking apps)
WATCH MY FREE MASTERCLASS