What is Ovulation? The Four Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle

By Last Updated: 03/16/2023

Getting pregnant can be difficult, especially if you don’t have an in-depth understanding of your body’s natural cycles. If want to learn more about your menstrual cycle, you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we will go through a lot of things that you might be feeling throughout your menstrual cycle and explain how to identify when you are ovulating. It’s important to understand the processes of your menstrual cycle and ovulation so that you can take the appropriate steps to facilitate pregnancy when the time is right.

What is a Menstrual Cycle?

The menstrual cycle is the process of ovulation and menstruation. Your cycle begins on the first day of your period. For that reason, the first step to gaining a deeper understanding of your menstrual cycle is learning about menstruation. Menstruation refers to the shedding of your uterine lining. This will occur every 28 days on average. In other words, your period will occur once a month if no fertilization occurs. In order to begin your next cycle, your body will need to shed the tissue to make way for the new egg that your body will soon release.


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Menstruation usually lasts between three to seven days, though it can vary depending on how often you have periods. Most women will have their first period sometime between the ages of 11 and 14 years old. However, some people report getting their first period as early as 8 or 9 years old, while others may not get their first period until they’re 16 or 17 years old. A woman will go through her menstruation cycle every month until she becomes pregnant or reaches menopause. Once you become pregnant, your menstrual cycle will pause until after you deliver your child.

What are the Phases of Your Menstrual Cycle?

The menstrual cycle begins when you first get your period and concludes with ovulation. It’s divided into four main phases: the follicular phase, ovulatory phase, luteal phase, and menstruation.

Each phase of your menstrual cycle can lead to varying levels of hormones being released. For that reason, you may experience a range of symptoms throughout your menstrual cycle, depending on where you are at in your cycle. These symptoms can be anything from headaches and fatigue to excessive cramping and irritability. If you experience debilitating symptoms associated with your menstrual cycle, there may be some treatment options that can help you manage side effects. These options include adjusting your diet and exercise or taking some over-the-counter pain medications such as ibuprofen or Tylenol. If you are particularly concerned about the side effects of your menstrual cycle, you should discuss your options with your doctor or gynecologist.

The Follicular Phase of the Menstrual Cycle

Your follicular phase occurs during the first half of your menstrual cycle and lasts about 10-14 days. In other words, your body will enter a follicular phase on the first day of your period. This phase of the menstrual cycle will not end until you begin ovulation.

The main thing that happens during this period is that one or more follicles mature and grow in your ovaries. During this process, your pituitary gland will release a follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH. Follicle-stimulating hormones, as the name suggests, will stimulate the ovary which will prompt it to produce about five to twenty follicles. The follicles resemble tiny nodules or miniature cysts which will bead up on the surface of your ovaries. Each of the follicles that develop during this phase will contain an egg cell that has not yet matured. These immature eggs are otherwise known as an oocyte. Typically, only one of these follicles will go on to mature into an egg. Meanwhile, the others will die. Throughout this part of the cycle, your body will release estrogen and progesterone to prepare the egg for fertilization. These hormones will also thicken the lining of your uterus to prepare your body to become pregnant.

As your body is preparing to facilitate the fertilization of an egg, the developing follicle will cause a rise in your oestrogen levels. Oestrogen is one of the most important hormones that your body will release during this time. It is preparing you for your upcoming fertile window, otherwise known as ovulation. Although your body is working diligently to prepare for a possible pregnancy during this phase of your cycle, it is unlikely that you will become pregnant until the next phase, ovulation.

What is Ovulation?

Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from the surface of one of your ovaries. This happens every month in anticipation of pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized during ovulation, this tissue will exit your body as a period.

Ovulation will usually occur in the middle of your menstrual cycle, or about two weeks before you are expecting your period. During the follicular phase of your cycle, the hormones that your body is releasing will rise consistently. Eventually, they will cause the egg to mature and it will be released in anticipation of fertilization. This is when the mature egg begins its journey towards fertilization.

First, the egg will be funneled from the surface of your ovaries towards the uterus. Tiny, hair-like projections will assist the egg on its journey. After ovulation begins, it will only remain active for about 24 hours on average. If it does not become fertilized during this time, it will die and you will need to try again the next cycle. This period between when the egg is released and when it dies is called your fertility window. Most women will experience one fertile window per menstrual cycle, which means that they can become pregnant one day per month, on average.

Understanding when you are ovulating can help you improve your chances of becoming pregnant. That’s why it’s important to be able to recognize the signs or signals that your body sends you while you are ovulating, which we will discuss in the next section.

What are the Signs of Ovulation?

It is important to know about ovulation to help you understand your own fertility and ability to get pregnant. Thankfully, some clear symptoms are usually associated with ovulation. Although these can vary depending on your body and your own cycle, keeping note of the timeline of your menstrual cycle and the signs of ovulation can help you become pregnant. The most common symptoms associated with ovulation are cramping, increased cervical mucus, breast tenderness, bloating, and changes in appetite or mood. If you are experiencing any or all of these symptoms, you might be in the midst of your fertile window.

There are plenty of ways for you to identify when your body is approaching its fertile window. Here are a few of the most effective methods for keeping track of when you are ovulating:

  1. Slight decrease in basal body temperature

The average basal body temperature at the beginning of your menstrual cycle is between 97.2 and 97.6 degrees Fahrenheit. However, when you approach ovulation, you will experience a slight decrease in your basal body temperature as the mature egg is released. Immediately after your fertile window has concluded, your body temperature will increase, sending you a signal that the egg has expired. For these reasons, one helpful way to track ovulation is to keep a record of your basal body temperature every day when you wake up. Over a series of months, this will help you recognize when you are ovulating.

  1. Charting your menstrual cycle

One of the most straightforward ways of tracking your fertile window is keeping a detailed record of your menstrual cycle. Although forming an accurate picture of your menstrual cycle is simple and inexpensive, it will take a few months of consistent monitoring to produce accurate results. After you can determine the course of your regular menstrual cycles, you will be able to identify which days you are most likely ovulating on. Typically, women ovulate about 14 days before their expected period. Keep in mind that everyone’s cycle is different. For that reason, it can be helpful to keep track of which days you are experiencing ovulation symptoms.

  1. Measure your hormones with an ovulation predictor kit

If you believe that you might be ovulating, it might be a good idea to test your theory with an ovulation predictor kit. You can purchase these kits over the counter at your local drug store or pharmacy. These operate similar to pregnancy tests, except they measure the levels of luteinizing hormone, a hormone that is released during ovulation. During your fertile window, your hormone levels will remain high in order to allow for the mature egg to become fertilized. For that reason, these tests are incredibly accurate and can help you recognize when you are experiencing ovulation.

What is the Luteal Phase of the Menstrual Cycle?

The luteal phase occurs throughout the second half of your menstrual cycle. It begins with ovulation. After the egg is released from your ovaries, the luteal phase continues until your next period starts.

If the egg becomes fertilized during ovulation, the luteal phase may come with several symptoms including:

  • morning sickness (nausea and vomiting)
  • breast tenderness
  • increased libido (sex drive)
  • lower back pain

The luteal phase occurs after an egg has been released from an ovary during ovulation and before you have a period. This usually lasts 12-16 days in healthy women who do not use contraceptives or hormone replacement therapy (HRT).

Ovulation is an important part of the menstrual cycle, and it’s helpful to know when you are ovulating. Knowing your ovulation signs can help you efficiently plan for growing your family. This article walks you through some of the most important aspects of your menstrual cycle, as well as how you can tell when you are ovulating.

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