What is ovulation?
Although most people have a passing familiarity with the concept of ovulation, many people are still unsure as to what the ovulation cycle really is and what it means for women. The ovulation cycle, or ovulation period, occurs when a mature egg is released from a woman’s ovary. The egg travels down the fallopian tube where it is then made available for fertilization. In preparation for a fertilized egg, the lining of the uterine wall thickens. If the egg is fertilized, then this marks the beginning of a pregnancy. If the egg is not fertilized, then the lining of the uterine wall is shed, marking the beginning of the menstruation cycle. However, it is important to know that menstruation can occur even if ovulation has not occurred and likewise, ovulation can occur even if menstruation has not occurred.
There are actually two phases of the ovulation cycle: the follicular phase and the luteal phase.
The follicular phase begins on the first day of a woman’s last menstrual period and continues until ovulation. This period can last anywhere from 7 days to 40 days, depending on a woman’s individual body. The second part of the ovulation cycle, the luteal phase, lasts from the day ovulation begins until the day that menstruation begins.
The luteal phase generally lasts from about 12 to 16 days. This phase can be noticeably affected by factors such as stress and illness. Some women may believe that stress effects the menstrual cycle—while this can be true, it is usually the ovulation cycle which is most noticeably affected by stress; but since the ovulation cycle is the precursor to the menstrual cycle for most women, it can indirectly affect the menstrual cycle’s timing or intensity.
How long does ovulation really last?
When most women want to know about their ovulation cycle, what they really want to know is: how long does it last? Ovulation can be tricky because it is fairly easily affected by stress, illness and other factors—even a disruption in normal routine, such as getting a new job and having to work night shifts, can affect the length and timing of ovulation.
In general, however, ovulation usually lasts for one to two days in most women. This is because eggs, once they have left the ovary, can usually only last about 1 to 2 days without fertilization. When the eggs are not fertilized, they disintegrate into the uterine lining and are shed out of the body along with the thickened uterine lining during the menstrual cycle. However, it should be noted that sperm can live in the body for around 3 to 5 days—meaning that it is possible for a women to become pregnant if she has sexual intercourse up to 5 days before the beginning of her ovulation cycle, which increase the general window of time a woman has if she is trying to get pregnant… or if she is trying to avoid pregnancy by tracking her ovulation cycles.