Ovulation: How Much Do You Really Know?

If you’ve begun your periods, you’re already in your fertile and childbearing years. The  amazing processes your body goes through and the sensations your body feels are all part of your discovery into this new body you have, and periods are an important element of that. Tied into those monthly processes is another process though – ovulation. You may not be aware of it, but ovulation is the key feature of menstruation. Between 10 and 19 days into your menstrual cycle, the first day being the first day that you bleed, one of your ovaries releases an egg. This egg is the female reproductive cell and is often referred to as an ovum or female gamete. Interestingly, despite us not even noticing this going on within the body once a month, this is the largest cell in the entire human body. It has an approximate diameter of 0.16mm. Before we’re even born, the ovaries of women already contain all of the eggs they’ll ever need throughout their life. This means, at birth, you have around 2 million, but by the time puberty hits you will have around 500,000. Of those thousands of eggs, it’s estimated that around 500 will become mature eggs between puberty and menopause.

Ovulation is the process of releasing a mature egg from the ovary, but why do women’s bodies go through this process? The egg is released in the hope that it joins up, and is fertilised by, the sperm (the male gamete). When this fertilisation takes place, the pregnancy begins. But if the egg is not fertilised, it will be removed from the body when the lining of the uterus sheds for what becomes your menstrual flow. That is the ovulation process in a nutshell, but there is actually more to it than that. There are many bodily functions that the brain oversee and ovulation is one of them. The part of the brain responsible for ovulation is known as the hypothalamus, and it works by sending signals to the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland, telling it to secrete luteinising hormone and another hormone follicle-stimulating hormone which stimulates the ovarian follicles which contain the eggs. The entire process works in three main phases, which are as follows. The pre-ovulatory phase or follicular phase, which is where the layer of cells around the egg softens and the lining of the uterus begins to widen.

The second phase works with the aid of special enzymes, where a hole is formed through which the egg leaves the follicle and travels through the fallopian tube. This fertile stage lasts between 24 and 48 hours. The final phase is the ovulatory phase, and lasts from ovulation until the day before your next bleeding. This is around 1 to 14 days, and the ovary begins to accumulate a cholesterol-rich tissue known as the corpus luteum. This produces large amounts of progesterone, to receive and nourish a fertilised egg. The levels of progesterone decrease if the egg is not fertilised. During this stage, premenstrual symptoms such as swelling, lethargy, breast tenderness and irritability, begin to show until you begin to bleed. This signals the start of a new cycle. For some women the symptoms are obvious, whereas many women don’t even notice ovulation – it’s simply a part of the inner workings of the body. Every woman differs, and you’ll get to know what’s right for you and your body as your periods become more regular and dependable. Understanding ovulation better helps you to understand what your body should be doing, and how it works each month.

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