Changes That Happen During Ovulation

Some symptoms of ovulation may be obvious, while others are much more subtle.

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Klaus Vedfelt. Photo: Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images

When it comes to your menstrual cycle, your period (or menses) demands much of your attention. But there is another important time of the month: ovulation. And just like with your period, it comes with its own list of symptoms.

During ovulation, which occurs about two weeks before your period, high estrogen and rising progesterone levels prompt release of an egg from your ovary. The egg travels down the fallopian tube, where it waits to be fertilized by sperm.¹

The surge in hormones that occurs during this time triggers a number of changes. Some are so subtle they go unnoticed, while others are so intense they require a little management.

Changes That Happen During Ovulation

Many changes during ovulation are due to hormonal shifts, specifically an increase in estrogen, which is responsible for maintaining sexual and reproductive health, and progesterone, which prepares the uterus for receiving and maintaining a fertilized egg.², ³ The degree of change will vary from person to person: Some people will feel the changes intensely, while others may not notice them at all.

Fluctuating Appetite and Cravings

During ovulation, you may not have a big appetite. But just before your period, it's possible you'll be hungrier than usual or crave certain foods. In each case, hormones may be responsible. Here's why:

  • Estrogen levels peak right before you ovulate.⁴ This hormone is believed to suppress appetite.⁵
  • Post-ovulation, progesterone begins to rise. Progesterone is the hormone that helps prepare the female body to implant and nourish a fertilized egg. If egg and sperm do not meet, a menstrual period follows.⁴

It's during this window of time after you ovulate and before your period starts—the luteal phase—that changes in appetite can kick in.

In one study, researchers tracked the food intake of 259 women across the four phases of the menstrual cycle (menstruation, follicular phase, ovulation, and luteal phase) for two menstrual cycles. The women's protein intake, particularly animal protein, increased significantly during the mid-luteal phase as compared with the follicular phase. The women also reported a significant increase in appetite and cravings for chocolate, sweets, and salty foods in the late-luteal phase versus the other three phases of the menstrual cycle.⁵

Increased Energy

Estrogen levels are at their highest around the time of ovulation. The increase in estrogen may provide a boost in energy.⁴

But the feeling may not last long. Estrogen levels drop soon after ovulation and progesterone becomes the dominant hormone.⁴ In addition to preparing the uterus, progesterone has been found to promote sleep and reduce wake cycles.⁶ Don't hesitate to rest during this phase or try one of the many proven ways to increase energy.

More Vaginal Discharge

Glands in the cervix, the lower end of the uterus, produce cervical mucus, a type of vaginal discharge, The mucus is mainly composed of a protein known as mucin, which forms a mesh-like barrier for sperm. When you are ovulating, the increase in estrogen decreases the production of mucin. As a result, the structure "loosens" and sperm are able to enter the fallopian tube.⁹

The decrease of mucin will also alter the amount, color, and texture of cervical mucus. Leading up to ovulation, cervical mucus discharge will be yellow, white, or cloudy, and feel sticky. During ovulation, the amount of mucus discharge will increase and resemble raw egg whites both in terms of color and texture.¹⁰ Your cervical mucus will return to its normal amount, color, and texture once your menstrual cycle has entered the next phase.

There is no way to control your cervical mucus discharge which, fortunately, is not painful. To manage it, consider wearing pads during ovulation.

Increased Body Temperature

If you are trying to conceive, your obstetrician may tell you to measure your basal body temperature, which is just a fancy way of saying your resting temperature.¹¹ The reason: Directly after ovulation, a hormone-secreting organ known as corpus luteum is formed; it releases progesterone to prepare the body for the potential of pregnancy.¹² As part of that process, body temperature rises by 0.5 to 1 degree Fahrenheit.¹³,¹⁴ Though this is a very small change, some menstruating people report feeling warmer and sweating more during this brief period.

This is not a painful change, but can be uncomfortable if you are sensitive to temperature changes. To combat the extra heat, you can adjust your thermostat, wear light fabrics, drink cold liquids, among other cool down methods.

Abdominal Pain

It is common for people who menstruate to experience ovulation pain, also called mittelschmerz. This pain, occurring in the lower abdomen or pelvis, often happens as the egg finishes growing. It could also be the result of a ruptured follicle, which can happen as the egg is released from the ovary.¹⁵

Ovulation pain, like period pain, can feel like a dull cramp or a sharp twinge.¹⁵ It can also be treated with similar remedies, like heat and over-the-counter pain medication. If your pain is severe and you aren't trying to get pregnant, your doctor may prescribe hormonal birth control to prevent ovulation and the pain that accompanies it.

Usually, the pain is mild and lasts for two days at most.¹⁵ If the pain intensifies or lingers, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Tender Breast

Breast pain during ovulation can range from minimal to so severe that it hurts to wear a bra. As with many changes, it's a side effect of shifting hormones. The hormone that is responsible, however, is unclear. Some research suggests the increase in estrogen is to blame, while other research points to the decrease in progesterone.¹⁶

Managing the pain will depend on its severity. For mild discomfort, apply heat and take ibuprofen or acetaminophen. For more severe discomfort, you should see your doctor, who may suggest taking vitamin E or hormonal birth control.

Bloating

During ovulation, you may find yourself feeling uncomfortably full, despite not eating an excessive amount. If that's the case, you can thank your abundance of estrogen, which can trigger water retention and swelling.¹⁸

For most, ovulation bloating tends to resolve on its own a few hours to a few days later. You may be able to relieve some of the discomfort by limiting salt and caffeine intake, and increasing water consumption. But if the feeling persists, you should contact your doctor, as the bloating may be a sign of something more serious.

Increased Libido

Not all changes during ovulation are painful. For many, the increase in estrogen can lead to an increased sex drive. This change will last until your estrogen level returns to normal.¹⁹

You may welcome this change in libido if you're trying to conceive—or even if you're not.

Recap

The rise and fall of hormones can lead to some mild, but uncomfortable changes during ovulation. Fortunately many of these side effects disappear once the ovulation phase has ended, which is usually in a week.

If you are trying to conceive, monitoring these changes can help you find your "fertile window" and increase your chance of getting pregnant. You may also want to monitor these changes if they are persistent and intense, as that could indicate a medical issue. In that case, you should also make an appointment with your OB-GYN or physician.

Sources:

  1. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. The Menstrual Cycle: Menstruation, Ovulation, and How Pregnancy Occurs.
  2. Endocrine Society. Reproductive Health.
  3. Cable JK, Grider MH. Physiology, Progesterone. [Updated 2022 May 8]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.
  4. Office on Women's Health. Physical activity and your menstrual cycle.
  5. Gorczyca AM, Sjaarda LA, Mitchell EM, et al. Changes in macronutrient, micronutrient, and food group intakes throughout the menstrual cycle in healthy, premenopausal women. Eur J Nutr. 2016;55(3):1181-1188. doi:10.1007/s00394-015-0931-0
  6. A. Bernal, D. Paolieri. The influence of estradiol and progesterone on neurocognition during three phases of the menstrual cycle: Modulating factors. Behavioural Brain Research. doi: 10.1016/j.bbr.2021.113593
  7. Office on Women's Health. Physical activity and your menstrual cycle.
  8. Schüssler P, et al. Progesterone reduces wakefulness in sleep EEG and has no effect on cognition in healthy postmenopausal women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. 2008. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.05.013
  9. Su HW, et al. Detection of ovulation, a review of currently available methods. Bioengineering & Translational Medicine. 2017:2(3):238-246. doi: 10.1002/btm2.10058
  10. Planned Parenthood. What's the cervical mucus method of FAMs?
  11. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Fertility Awareness-Based Methods of Family Planning.
  12. Steward K, Raja A. Physiology, Ovulation And Basal Body Temperature. [Updated 2021 Jul 22]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.
  13. Lee H, et al. Higher sweating rate and skin blood flow during the luteal phase of the menstrual cycle. The Tohoku Journal of Experimental Medicine. 2014 Oct;234(2):117-22. doi: 10.1620/tjem.234.117
  14. Steward K, Raja A. Physiology, Ovulation And Basal Body Temperature. In: StatPearls. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; July 22, 2021.
  15. MedlinePlus. Mittelschmerz.
  16. Grullon S, Bechmann S. Mastodynia. [Updated 2022 May 9]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.
  17. Tahir MT, Shamsudeen S. Mastalgia [Updated 2021 Dec. 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2022 Jan.
  18. Tacani PM, et al. Characterization of symptoms and edema distribution in premenstrual syndrome. International Journal of Women's Health. 2015 Mar 11;7:297-303. doi: 10.2147/IJWH.S74251. PMID: 25792857; PMCID: PMC4362892
  19. Cappelletti M, et al. Increasing women's sexual desire: The comparative effectiveness of estrogens and androgens. Hormones and Behavior. 2016;78:178-193. doi:10.1016/j.yhbeh.2015.11.003
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