It's time to learn all those things they never taught us in health class - periods, pregnancy and pelvic floor!
I'm a women's health educator, a nerd when it comes to learning "all of the things", and my obsession is teaching women how to take control of their health and create a life they love!
In this episode, Part 3 of the Menstrual Cycle Masterclass, we have arrived at the main event – ovulation. I’ll be sharing what happens in our bodies in the lead up to, during and after ovulation, the signs of ovulation you can look out for and how to support your body during this important window of time with nutrition, exercise and self care.
Hello, and welcome to episode 14 of The Mana Women’s Wellness Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel and today we are talking all things ovulation. I really hope you’ve been enjoying the Menstrual Cycle masterclass series. I know we have been diving in deep and the last episode in particular all about the follicular phase was a teeny bit confusing. I hope I haven’t overwhelmed you and if you’ve tuned back in, well done because we are covering the main event in our menstrual cycles today – ovulation.
Now if you’re just tuning in for the first time and you haven’t gone back and listened to episodes number 12 and 13 of the podcast, then I would encourage you to hit pause on this episode and rewind by 2 weeks. While this episode will make sense on its own, if you really want to get a good understanding of the menstrual cycle as a whole, then I would go back and listen to the episodes all about the menstrual phase, then the follicular phase, to really make sense of what comes next during the ovulatory phase.
Now as always, all of the information I’ll be talking about in our Menstrual Cycle Masterclass series and of course a whole lot more is included in The Mana Guide to Understanding and Loving Your Menstrual Cycle. This is an ebook that dives deep into how to support your body during each phase of the menstrual cycle, plus how it all ties together plus all about hormones plus so much more. And, you can get a free chapter of the guide at www.fertilityco.com.au/freebook
You might want to grab a notebook and pen to take notes during this episode too, but of course all of the information including a transcript of the episode is available at www.fertilityco.com.au/podcast
Now when we dive in to each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle, I’m going to be focusing on what actually goes on inside our body during each phase, and how this all ties in to our ultimate reproductive goal of ovulation and pregnancy. I’m also going to talk about how to support your body during this phase, regulating your hormones and supporting what your reproductive system is actually doing through the nutrition and the foods you eat, self-care and the way you look after your body, how each phase affects your sleeping patterns, your moods and I’ll even show you how you can change up how you exercise to support all of this too.
And I want to just say that it’s a complete coincidence that I’m recording all about ovulation on episode 14, but I kind of love it because it reminded me to really emphasise before we dive in here that ovulation does not always happen on day 14.It’s the absolute biggest myth that we are taught in our high school health class, really because I think it just makes it easier to draw a diagram of a normal menstrual cycle – and I use the air quotes here when I saw normal cycle because there are so so many variations of normal that it’s really impossible to draw a diagram in a textbook that is accurate for all women. And so, really from the time when we start learning about periods and our fertility, we are taught that we all have a 28 day cycle and that we ovulate on day 14. And when our cycles are 25 or even 35 days long, we panic and think we’re not normal. And when we try to get pregnant and we have sex every month on day 14 because that’s when we’re fertile, and that’s when our period tracking apps on our phone tell us we’re fertile – we struggle to get pregnant and yep, we panic once again and think we’re not normal – or that something is wrong with our fertility.
Let me be clear here – only 10% of women will ovulate on day 14. And of that 10%, I am betting that way way less actually ovulate on day 14 month after month.
Another statistic for you – 50% of couples referred on for infertility treatment have just got the timing wrong. And by that, I’m betting they’re having sex on day 14 with very little knowledge around the clear signs of fertility the female body gives us every cycle. And that’s not their fault at all! It’s just that nobody ever taught us any differently. Which is why I am sitting here recording this Menstrual Cycle Masterclass right now. Because every woman has the right to know exactly how her body and her fertility works so that she can have sex when she’s fertile and significantly increase her chances of achieving pregnancy – faster and naturally – and all that’s changed is the timing of when she actually has sex. Because she knows that window of time in her menstrual cycle when she’s fertile, and that other window of time when achieving pregnancy is basically zero.
So if this is all sounding brand new and exciting and mind blowing – welcome to the club! Knowing what’s happening in your body – especially when you’re fertile is everything! It’s freedom from hormonal contraceptives if you’re not ready for pregnancy and it’s an absolute source of confidence and hope if you’re trying to get pregnant and nothing is happening. Timing is everything here and I can’t wait to lay it all out for you right now.
Ok – And so we have arrived at the main event – ovulation. And when I say it’s the main event, I don’t necessarily mean that we can disregard the other phases of the menstrual cycle, but ultimately what happens in the other three phases is all working up to this window of 24-48 hours where the egg is released from the ovary, ready and waiting to be fertilised by sperm, so that pregnancy can occur and the human race can continue to survive and thrive.
Now before I dive in to what happens during the ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle, let’s go back to the basics.
At birth, your ovaries contain 1-2 million tiny eggs. Pregnancy occurs when an egg joins with a male sperm cell to form an embryo. Females are born with all the eggs they will ever have, while males will continue to make sperm from puberty and onwards. As we get older, many eggs will die while others will be released during ovulation.
From your very first period, your body is preparing for pregnancy – even if you’re not yet sexually active or ready to have a baby. Every month or so, an egg is released from a follicle within one of the ovaries, and this release is called ovulation. This occurs once during each menstrual cycle.
The egg travels into the fallopian tube, where it must be fertilised by a viable sperm (through sexual intercourse) in the next 24-48 hours. The egg is then transported down into the uterus and, if fertilised, it will implant into the inner layer of the uterus called the endometrium. From here the egg will develop into a foetus.
If the egg is not fertilised, it will die and break down within the fallopian tubes and it will be shed with the endometrium during menstruation.
Ovulation is absolutely necessary for pregnancy to occur, or for menstruation to occur too. In some cases, say if your body is under stress, ovulation may not occur at all.
Now, it’s the ovulatory phase when the egg is released from one of the ovaries ready to be fertilised. The length of the ovulatory phase is only about 1-3 days and decreases as we get older. Fertilisation of the egg, meaning pregnancy, can occur on any of the days where you have fertile quality cervical fluid present, plus the three days following because it takes around three days for your mucus plug to completely re-form that physical barrier to stop sperm entering the cervix.
So, what actually causes the egg to be released from the ovary?
Well, if you’ve been following along with this Menstrual Cycle Masterclass series, then you would know by now that the entire cycle and everything that occurs within it is driven by our hormones. So, that’s our main reproductive hormones oestrogen and progesterone and in the last episode where we talked about the follicular phase, I added two more hormones into the mix too – luteinising hormone and FSH – follicle stimulating hormone.
Now the follicle that’s being stimulated by that second hormone FSH lives inside the ovaries and contains the eggs. FSH triggers maturation of the eggs ready to be released by the follicle and luteinising hormone triggers the release of the egg from the ovary and into the fallopian tube. Now, once the egg is hanging out in the fallopian tube, tiny hairs called cilia that line the inner surface of the tube move the egg along the tube and towards the uterus and any sperm cells that are madly swimming towards it. So it’s a little like one of those slow-motion running scenes in the movies where the egg is being moved along towards the sperm and the sperm is swimming towards the egg, also being helped along by that fertile cervical mucus. And then, if the timing is right, they will meet, the egg will be fertilised and an embryo will form.
Oestrogen levels and also testosterone peak around ovulation and this gives us a boost of energy at this time. High oestrogen levels also dissolve the mucus plug at the cervix, allowing it to open. The cervix also produces mucus (cervical fluid) that becomes clearer, wetter and looks similar to egg-whites. And as I’ve talked about before, this mucus helps sperm to swim towards the egg and also nourishes the sperm and keeps t alive inside the vagina. The last day that you experience this wet and lubricative fluid is known as your Peak Day. Ovulation usually occurs on Peak Day, or one day after.
Let me repeat that, because if you’re going to learn anything from this masterclass series or anything about fertility awareness in general – this is it! All days where you observe thin and lubricative cervical fluid you are fertile. The last day of this mucus (which obviously you can only determine looking back on your chart) is known as your. Peak day. Ovulation usually occurs on your peak day or one day after. So if you want to get pregnant – have sex on your peak day or one day after. If you don’t want to get pregnant, avoid sex or use contraception on all days where you notice fertile mucus. Got it? Good.
Now, the peak day can causes a lot of confusion because people think this is their most fertile day. So just to clarify, you are not more or less fertile on any day in your ovulatory phase. Your peak day doesn’t mean peak fertility, it just means that ovulation is occurring on this day or sometime very soon. So yes, the closer you can time sex for ovulation the higher your chances of conceiving because the egg only survives for 24-48 hours, but you are still fertile as long as mucus is present.
So, if you’re using this knowledge as a natural method of birth control, you need to avoid unprotected sex for all days where mucus is present and 3 days after your peak day until you know that your mucus plug has re-formed.
If you’re trying to conceive, have sex from the day you notice cervical mucus until 3 days after your identified peak day – every day in that fertile window if you like and you’ve got the stamina – otherwise get as close to that peak day and ovulation as you can.
Now, if you’ve been tracking your cycle and your fertile signs and you’re thinking that you have mucus for say 5 or 6 days then yes, that’s a lot longer than the 1-3 days I said that the ovulatory phase lasts. You will likely start to see the start of your fertile mucus as your follicular phase ends and ovulatory phase begins. Remember, this is a cycle and everything blends together as one phase enters another so try not to be too bogged down by the days and numbers. The most important thing is to compare today’s fertile signs to what you observed yesterday and write them down so you can look back and keep track. Remember, the only way to confirm ovulation has occurred is after it has happened. We can never know with certainty that it will occur today or tomorrow or 4 days from now…this is why we need to track our mucus every single day. And then when we notice those changes in our fertile signs – that temperature shift, that sudden drying up of our fertile mucus, then we can look back and confirm when it happened.
I know this seems a little confusing, and I know that it can also be a bit frustrating to think well how can I plan to have sex at ovulation if I don’t know ovulation has happened until after it’s happened? I get it! But the more charting you do, the more familiar you are with your patterns, the easier it will get. For example, I know that I generally have about 6 days of fertile mucus. I know that my temperature shift happens the day after I ovulate and I know that my fertile mucus dries up quite suddenly. And the only way I’ve learnt this is by writing it down and looking back month after month after month.
If you’re feeling a little lost about how to track your body’s fertile signs, never fear! Go back and have a listen to Episode 2 of the podcast where I talk about the body’s main fertile signs in detail. I’ll include a link to it in the shownotes.
Ok, now we’ve got the science covered, let’s talk about how you’ll be feeling during the ovulatory phase. Hint – you’ll be feeling good!
As I said earlier, oestrogen and testosterone levels are at their highest and so you will have high energy and likely an improved mood. In this phase you will feel like super-woman! You can do anything, you will say yes to everything, you’ll be feeling social and ready to be out and about but keep in mind that if you’re making grand plans now you may not be keen to stick to them when your luteal phase rolls around next week.
This is the ideal time for socialising, connecting with others – especially if you’re an introvert like me and you’re always ready to bail on social plans when the time rolls around to get dressed and leave the house! Have those important conversations, schedule in interviews, meetings and public speaking events wen you’re feeling a little more confident and outgoing.
In the ovulatory phase, your concentration and brain functioning is also at its peak, so this is the time for study, getting your work done and making time for all those things on your to-do list that need a little extra brain power.
Use the extra brain power and concentration during this phase to take note of your body’s fertile signs. Write them down, chart them and compare them to last month’s signs of ovulation. Look for patterns and write them down too! Some women experience pain, almost like period pain, at ovulation, some notice some spot bleeding or nausea or something super specific that is a sign for them that ovulation is happening.
This is a time to take your workouts up a notch too and if you’re an athlete, you’ll likely notice your performance peaks at ovulation too. Do some cardio, interval training but focus on your form and correct technique to avoid any injuries that might occur from your over-enthusiasm. Your body is actually more efficient at burning calories and using fats for energy during ovulation too, so work on building lean muscle in your workouts.
With all this extra energy, be mindful of still getting enough sleep. The sudden drop in oestrogen and rise in progesterone after ovulation may leave you feeling tired. So, schedule in an afternoon nap.
My top essential oils for supporting ovulation are thyme and ylang ylang and nutrition is huge during this phase too!
You’ll likely have very few food cravings in this phase, which is perfect because the healthier you eat around ovulation – especially if you’re trying to conceive – the healthier that teeny tiny embryo will be at fertilisation. So if you’re not fighting cravings for sugar and junk food, steer clear of it! Then you can go a little easier on yourself when you reach for that comfort food during your period.
Focus on protein, healthy fats and fibre. Balance hormone levels and eliminate any excess oestrogen with cruciferous vegetables (cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli). Drink lots of water as well as raw juices and vegetable smoothies to again help to break down excess oestrogen, and boost magnesium and balance your hormones with dark chocolate and spinach.
Progesterone levels are rising after ovulation, so naturally boost progesterone levels with sesame seeds and sunflower seeds. This is seed cycling which I talked about in last episode too. Finally, you might like to talk to a healthcare professional about using collagen or fish oil supplements, as well as green powders to support dropping oestrogen and rising progesterone after this phase too.
Phew, we made it! I hope you’re excited as I am right now about making some really simple tweaks to your lifestyle to really support your body through this incredible phase of the menstrual cycle.
Let’s recap the main takeaways that I really want you to walk away with:
So, you can help this hormonal imbalance by eating the right foods, getting enough sleep and really looking after your body to support it through ovulation.
If you learnt something new or found value in today’s episode, I’d love to hear from you! Send me an Instagram DM, post it on your stories and let me know what you learnt! Also, let me know what you want me to talk about next. This podcast is for you and so I want to talk about the things that are most important to you!
Don’t forget you can grab your free chapter of my menstrual cycle guide at www.fertilityco.com.au/freebook or have a look at today’s shownotes where I’ll include all of the links to the blog, your freebies and of course the other episodes that tie in with this masterclass episode.
I will see you in next week’s episode, where we are talking about the final phase of the menstrual cycle – the longest phase and why this phase is so important for maintaining a pregnancy or preparing for your next period. I will see you there!
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.
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