The menstrual cycle, which you might know as “the period,” refers to the monthly sequence of changes in the body that prepare you for pregnancy, starting with the first day of bleeding in a cycle until the first day of bleeding in the next. The ovulatory phase refers to the time in a menstrual cycle during which an egg is released and moves to one of the fallopian tubes—this is when the egg can be fertilized if you have unprotected intercourse.
The ovulatory phase starts in the middle of your cycle, around day 14 in a 28-day cycle. For couples interested in conceiving, intercourse should ideally occur two to three times per week starting a week after the cycle begins to ensure that intercourse falls within the fertile window, which is approximately one to two days prior to ovulation. Though your cycle may vary, in a typical 28-day cycle, this is day 11 or 12 of the menstrual cycle.
Prior to ovulation, estrogen levels rise as the dominant follicle containing the egg matures. As estrogen levels increase, the lining of the uterus will continue to grow and thicken. Then, on the day prior to ovulation, a “switch” occurs and the production of estrogen slows down, which previously provided negative feedback to the pituitary gland, which causes and induces a surge in luteinizing hormone (LH). The LH surge causes the egg to release from the follicle approximately 36 hours later. Granulosa cells that surround the egg in the ovary then begin to produce progesterone, which stabilizes the endometrial lining in preparation for potential fertilization and implantation.
If the egg is fertilized, it will migrate over 5 days from the fallopian tube to the uterus, where it will land and develop during pregnancy. If fertilization does not occur, both progesterone and estrogen levels will eventually decrease, and the lining of the uterus will be shed during your period.
If you are considering or trying to get pregnant, it may be helpful to track your menstrual cycle to better understand when you are most likely to conceive. This means keeping a record of when you are menstruating. There are many apps available, and you can also record it by hand.
At Progyny, we want to ensure you have the support you need to reach your family building goals. If you are a Progyny member, you can always speak to your dedicated Patient Care Advocate or our team of Clinical Educators to learn more.
Article reviewed by: Dr. Grant Schmidt
Board-certified in Reproductive Endocrinology and Obstetrics & Gynecology, Dr Grant Schmidt began his medical career with an undergraduate degree in Chemistry from Bethel College in Kansas. He then received his Medical Degree as well as his Ph.D. in Biochemistry from the University of Missouri, where he also completed a year of residency in Pathology. Dr. Schmidt continued his training with a residency in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and completed his Fellowship in Reproductive Endocrinology & Fertility at The Ohio State University Hospitals in Columbus.