All about ovulation: everything you need to know about female fertility cycle

all about ovulation.jpg

What is ovulation?

Ovulation is the cycle of egg (ovum) release from the ovary. Don't forget about the maturation of the eggs in the ovary. Each undeveloped egg (oocyte) is matured inside a follicle, hence the name: folliculogenesis. Think of a follicle as an oak barrel for liquor or wine: It keeps the good stuff in until it's ready.

 

Why does ovulation happen? Oh, and what about folliculogenesis?

Ovulation happens so you can become pregnant. If you don’t have an egg ready to be fertilized, you can’t get pregnant through traditional means. If you never add eggs, you can't make a custard, or—in this case—a baby.

All women are born with all the eggs they will release throughout their lifetime, but they are immature and cannot be fertilized. In order for the eggs to be ready for fertilization by a sperm cell, they have to mature. Folliculogenesis solves that problem. As it selects one out of several developing ova to be released, it also serves as a selection process.

 

How does ovulation work?

Like your period (menstruation), ovulation works on a cycle that lasts 21-35 days (21-45 for teens).  It normally happens about two weeks before your period, but might change each cycle. Your hormones will fluctuate widely during ovulation.

There are three steps or phases to ovulation:

1. Follicular (days 1-13): The hormone FSH (follicle stimulating hormone) does what it says: stimulates the movement of the follicles in the ovaries. This causes the one follicle that will be released (primary ovum) to speed up to full maturity.

2. Ovulatory (days 14-16): The skin of the ovary (corpus lutem) softens, and the one fully mature egg releases into the fallopian tubes from its follicle. It travels down the fallopian tube waiting to be fertilized. After about 24 hours the egg will dissolve.

3. Luteal (days 17-28): The skin of the ovary re-hardens thanks to the hormone progesterone. Eventually, progesterone production will wane and cause the entire menstrual/ovulatory cycle to start all over again.

 

How does folliculogenesis work?

Folliculogenesis is in it for the long haul. This process takes 13 complete menstruation cycles (anywhere from 273 to 455 days, usually about 375). It has a bunch of different stages. The undeveloped follicles and eggs do as well, but here’s what you need to know:

Initiation - The cycle begins with a resting phase that lasts more than 120 days on average. During this time, a group of undeveloped follicles (primordial follicles) just sit around growing incredibly slowly, if at all.

Basal growth – Next, the follicle—and ovum inside—begin to mature a little bit faster as they start the maturation and selection process. This phase (antral) usually lasts about 65 days. When the follicle starts this phase, it’s usually about 0.2 millimeters, but by the end it can be up to 2 mm.

Recruitable – Once the follicle has matured to this point, it can be selected as the dominant follicle that will be released. If it isn’t, it will die off (atresia) and get absorbed back into the body. This phase lasts for 5 days.

Selected – Once the mature follicle has been selected, it will continue to grow until it is 18-28 mm. When ovulation is set to happen, the dominant follicle will burst and the fully developed ovum will be pushed from the ovary into the fallopian tubes.

 

What should I expect when I’m ovulating?

You should expect that, due to the hormone changes, there will be subtle temporary changes in your body: breasts swell, higher pitched voice, bodily smell might change. Other than that, you probably won’t notice any changes.

What can go wrong with ovulation and folliculogenesis?

The most common thing that can go wrong is folliculogenesis or ovulation don’t happen. This is most commonly caused by polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) but can have a ton of factors. It’s unlikely you’ll notice a problem if you’re not trying to get pregnant, but you should see a doctor if you have irregular menstrual cycles, excess facial hair growth or painful periods.

 

Anything else I should know?

Not really. There’s always more to learn, but unless you’re a medical pro you probably won’t need to know any more. If you have a specific question, send it our way!

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