Let’s continue with our exploration of the four phases of the menstrual cycle. We’ve come through our inner winter and spring and are now into the heady days of our inner summer, otherwise known as our ovulatory phase. If there was a time that we would feel at the peak of our powers, this would be it. If you’re paying attention to how you feel during your menstrual cycle, you’ll notice that this time is when you feel your most confident, most articulate self. You’re the flower and the bees are flocking to you.
So what’s going on during this time? One of your ovaries has released a mature egg (it takes around 270 days for a follicle to grow into the ovum that is released when we ovulate). You may have seen that meme going around social media that says we’re born with all the eggs we’ll ever have. That’s not strictly true. We’re actually born with all the ovarian follicles we’ll ever have and it’s these follicles that turn into the mature egg that gets released during ovulation. But that doesn’t sound quite as sexy does it?
Dr. Lara Briden has argued that we should actually be thinking of our cycle as an ovarian cycle, rather that a menstrual cycle, because ovulation is the true main event of our cycle, not our periods. This is because when we ovulate, we release progesterone, our amazing anti-inflammatory calming hormone. We also release a second, smaller peak of estrogen, which is why I like to think of ovulation as a phase, rather that just one day because we can ride the wave of these beautiful hormones and feel their effect on our mood, energy, motivation, social and cognitive skills, skin, hair and more.
If you’re using a menstrual cycle tracking app, it’s important not to rely on this to tell you that you’re ovulating. Just as our menstrual cycles aren’t always 28 days, we don’t always ovulate on day 14. How do you actually know when you’re ovulating? There are a few things you can look for and do.
- Cervical fluid
I mentioned our changing cervical fluid when we were learning about our follicular phase / inner spring. You may notice something called peak cervical fluid: it looks a bit like clear egg whites and if you were to pick it up from your underwear or toilet paper and pull it apart with two fingers, it would be thick, stretchy and feel quite strong. This is exactly what we want – it’s a sign of good health.
- Libido, Mood and Energy
You’ll notice that you’ll reach the peak of your libido, mood and energy. What does this mean? You’ll have your strongest orgasms, you’ll have lots of energy to do what you need to do and your outlook will be more positive. If you notice this doesn’t happen for you, it’s worth exploring this further. In my book, I discuss pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) in detail.
- Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
BBT increases just after ovulation, moving from an average of between 36.1°C (96.9°F) and 36.7°C (98°F) to between 36.4°C (97.5°F) and 37°C (98.6°F), where it will plateau until a few days before menstruation when it returns to the lower range. You can use an oral thermometer such as Daysy to check your BBT.
- Cervical Position
The position of the cervix is another sign of ovulation. During menstruation and the follicular phase, the cervix will be positioned low in the vaginal canal and will be very firm. As we move toward ovulation, the cervix softens, moves higher in the vaginal canal and the cervical canal itself opens, in preparation for fertilisation. If you’re not sure what position your cervix is in, you can check yourself or ask your partner.
- Ovulation Prediction Kits (OPKs)
Luteinising hormone (LH) surges just before ovulation, telling our body that it’s time to release the mature egg from one of our ovaries. You can use ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) to tell you when the LH surge is taking place.
Do you know when ovulation takes place for you? Let me know in the comments.
Le’Nise Brothers is a yoga teacher and registered nutritionist, mBANT, mCNHC, specialising in women’s health, hormones and the menstrual cycle. She is also the host of the Period Story Podcast, which aims to break taboos around menstrual health and hormones.
Le’Nise has helped hundreds of women improve their menstrual and hormone health through her private practice and group programmes, talks and workshops for the likes of Stylist, Channel 4, Boden, Ebay and TikTok and her Instagram page. Le’Nise works primarily with women who feel like they’re being ruled by their sugar cravings, mood swings and hormonal acne & bloating. They want to get to grips with heavy, missing, irregular & painful periods, fibroids, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, post-natal depletion and perimenopause.
Her first book You Can Have A Better Period will be released in March 2022.