The female body is incredible — but it's also complicated. And your menstrual cycle is at the center of that confusion. Even though it's a process your body repeats on average every 28 days, most women don't fully understand the four different phases that take place — so we're here to explain it to you.
First, there's the menstruation phase (a.k.a. your period), then there's the follicular phase when your body is getting into pregnancy-mode. The ovulation phase comes next and is when an egg is released from the ovaries with the goal of being fertilized by sperm and the final luteal phase is when you'll either become pregnant or your uterus will shed, resulting in your period.
While you might feel like a pro now, let's rewind to ovulation — because that process can get a little confusing.
What is ovulation?
Now you know that ovulation is when the egg is released from the ovaries, but there's a lot more to it than that. According to the , that egg is your body's grand attempt at making a baby — and you only have so many of them. While you're born with one million immature eggs, you'll only have 300,000 or so left once you hit puberty and they'll continue to decline from then on as you age.
Every month, your body gets one of those precious eggs ready during ovulation. When your body builds up enough estrogen and increases the amount of luteinizing hormone in your body, an egg is released and is carried into the fallopian tubes. Once it's there, it only lives 12 to 24 hours and patiently waits for a man's sperm to fertilize it. If it gets fertilized, it heads to the uterus and hooks onto the lining, later developing into a baby. If not, the uterus sheds its lining and you get your period.
When does ovulation happen?
If you're trying to get pregnant, ovulation is go time. In a typical 28-day cycle, women ovulate around day 14 and it usually lasts from 12 to 48 hours, depending on the person. No matter the length of your cycle, though, you can figure out when you're ovulating simply by subtracting 14 from your cycle length.
"If you have a cycle that's 23 days, you're probably ovulating around day nine, and if your cycle is 33 days, you're probably ovulating on day 19," says , clinical professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Sciences at Yale School of Medicine.
What are the symptoms of ovulation?
You might not realize it, but your body lets you know when you're ovulating. According to the , the symptoms differ from person to person, but one of the most common indications include an increase in cervical fluid, which often thickens and resembles egg whites — a consistency that helps keep the sperm healthy and better able to fertilize the egg.
There's also typically a change in your temperature, which increases when ovulation occurs, and you might notice your cervix becoming softer, more open, and wetter — which, you guessed it, makes it easier (and more comfortable!) to have sex. Some of the other signs women experience is an increased sex drive, tender breasts, and bloating.
When are you most likely to get pregnant?
If you're trying to figure out when you're ovulating with the intention of attempting to conceive, you should factor in the days before and after you ovulate too. "There's a fertile window before and after that egg actually comes out," says Dr. Minkin.
You see, even though your egg can only be fertilized within that small 12 to 24 hour ovulation phase, sperm can survive around four or five days in your body, explains Dr. Minkin: "You might have ovulated the day before, but the egg is still there and could be waiting to see some happy sperm."
If you're not trying to conceive, this information is equally important so you can avoid having sex or make sure you use protection during this fertile window. Keeping track of symptoms of ovulation, using an app like the , or using a kit like the will also help you determine if you're ovulating.