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Ovulation is when the ovary releases an egg so it can be fertilized by a sperm in order to make a baby. A woman is most likely to get pregnant if she has sex without birth control in the three days before and up to the day of ovulation (since the sperm are already in place and ready to fertilize the egg as soon as it is released). A man’s sperm can live for 3 to 5 days in a woman’s reproductive organs, but a woman’s egg lives for just 12 to 24 hours after ovulation.
Each woman’s cycle length may be different, and the time between ovulation and when the next period starts can be anywhere from one week (7 days) to more than 2 weeks (19 days).
At different times in a woman’s life, ovulation may or may not happen:
Women who are pregnant do not ovulate.
Women who are breastfeeding may or may not ovulate. Women who are breastfeeding should talk to their doctor about birth control methods if they do not want to get pregnant.
During perimenopause, the transition to menopause, you may not ovulate every month.
After menopause you do not ovulate.
A few days before you ovulate, your vaginal mucus or discharge changes and becomes more slippery and clear. This type of mucus helps sperm move up into your uterus and into the fallopian tubes where it can fertilize an egg. Some women feel minor cramping on one side of their pelvic area when they ovulate. Some women have other signs of ovulation.
Luteinizing hormone (LH) is a hormone released by your brain that tells the ovary to release an egg (called ovulation). LH levels begin to surge upward about 36 hours before ovulation, so some women and their doctors test for LH levels. LH levels peak about 12 hours before ovulation.1 Women who are tracking ovulation to become pregnant will notice a slight rise in their basal temperature (your temperature after sleeping before you get out of bed) around ovulation.