I’ve often been asked to explain the difference between the ovulation cycle or fertility cycle and the menstrual cycle.
Well, they’re pretty much the same thing. When people speak of the menstrual cycle there’s a focus on the ‘period’ of menstruation or bleeding at the beginning of the cycle. When people speak of the fertility cycle or the ovulation cycle, their focus is on what’s happening leading up to, at the time of, and soon after ovulation.
You’ll recall from an earlier post that ovulation typically occurs around 14 days from the end of the cycle when the egg is released from the follicle to move into the fallopian tube to await fertilisation by the sperm.
When we speak of the fertility cycle or ovulation cycle we refer to two key phases of the cycle. Those are the Follicular Phase and the Luteal Phase.
The Follicular Phase commences on day one of the cycle (the day the menstrual period commences) and ends when ovulation occurs (i.e. when the egg is released from its follicle).
Because it’s thought that there’s relative consistency in the timing of ovulation at around 14 days prior to the end of the cycle, the length of the follicular phase can vary quite dramatically between women experiencing significantly different cycle lengths.
For example if we were to examine menstrual cycles varying between, say, 23 and 36 days, we’d be looking at follicular phases of those cycles of between 9 and 22 days respectively. The purpose of the follicular phase is to develop the follicle with which the egg can develop to maturity prior to ovulation.
For women undergoing various “IVF” interventions, the drug protocols prescribed by your specialist physician are, in part, directed at enhancing egg and follicle quality – even follicle numbers – to ensure the eggs collected provide the best possible chance of successful fertilisation.
The Luteal Phase. On release of the egg from the follicle, the corpus luteum forms. Thus commences a complex series of hormone reactions designed to ensure no further eggs are released and to prepare the uterus to receive and sustain a fertilised egg. (You can read about this in more details in my explanation paper, “The Human Fertility Cycle”, available FREE from this website.
If the egg is not fertilised, it will disintegrate and moves from the body along with discarded endometrium (or uterus lining material) during menstruation.
Now, all the technical stuff aside, here are the main considerations for pregnancy, presuming healthy ovulation occurs:
- The egg, left unfertilised, can be expected to survive only 12-24 hours – probably 36 hours at the outside
- Healthy sperm can be expected to survive longer – over 48 hours and even up to several days.
- It makes sense that having sex after ovulation is probably NOT the best approach if you’re keen on becoming pregnant.
- Regular unprotected sex commencing around 3 days prior to ovulation and continuing until say, the day after, makes a lot more sense if pregnancy is your objective.
For those of you who might’ve missed my earlier post on signs of ovulation and ovulation symptoms, I’d recommend you either revisit the post – or read my brief explanation paper “The Human Fertility Cycle – an overview” to gain insights on how to identify when ovulation symptoms are present for you. You can download a copy of this from this site.
There’s no doubt about it, knowledge is almost as important as eggs and sperm for couples wanting to become pregnant.
Until next post “fiat lux– et graviditas” – Let there be light – and pregnancy!