Ovulation is critical for becoming pregnant and even just for overall hormone health, but sometimes it can seem like there’s a lot to keep track of and understand. Successful ovulation can be one such term — you may be thinking, don’t I just ovulate or not? How could it be successful or not?
Also, why does it matter if ovulation is successful? And how would I even know?
These are great questions, and we’re here to provide the answers and demystify the process! Read on to learn the difference between ovulation and successful ovulation, and how to learn if you’re ovulating successfully.
Read on to learn the difference between ovulation and successful ovulation!
What happens during ovulation?
Ovulation is the main event of the menstrual cycle, and it’s not possible to conceive without it. In a healthy cycle, a few days after your period, follicle-stimulating hormone promotes the development of several follicles (fluid-filled sacs in the ovary, containing eggs). Estrogen begins to rise and one follicle will become dominant over the others.
High estrogen triggers the release of luteinizing hormone, which in turn tells the dominant follicle that it’s time to release an egg! The egg then travels down the fallopian tube, where it may encounter sperm and become fertilized.
This moment of egg release is termed ovulation, but the process isn’t over yet. Two things still have to happen for a pregnancy to occur, and for healthy hormone levels!
The first is that the leftover follicle becomes the corpus luteum, an entirely new organ made every cycle (amazing, right?). The corpus luteum has one key job — it produces progesterone, the hormone that dominates the second half of your cycle.
Progesterone stabilizes the uterine lining in order to prepare for a potential pregnancy — i.e. making it “sticky” — and that brings us to the second thing that has to happen for pregnancy. The newly fertilized egg has to travel down the fallopian tube and into the uterus, where it implants in the uterine wall.
If progesterone levels are high enough during this time (the implantation window), the fertilized egg will have a good chance of implanting and continuing to grow. If progesterone levels are too low though and the uterine lining becomes destabilized, this can be a common cause of early miscarriage.
What makes ovulation successful?
If an egg is released, that’s ovulation by definition. But for ovulation to be successful, the corpus luteum must form well enough to produce healthy progesterone levels (specifically, about 10 ng/mL in blood, if you’re curious).
This is the result of a domino effect from hormone levels at the beginning of the cycle, so it all adds up! You need good levels of follicle-stimulating hormone, leading to high estrogen, and a strong luteinizing hormone surge (to “luteinize” the follicle into the corpus luteum).
If the corpus luteum is successfully formed, and produces enough progesterone, it’s much more likely that the uterine lining will be sufficiently maintained and a fertilized egg will implant. Even if you aren’t trying to get pregnant, successful ovulation will mean you reap the benefits of good progesterone levels, including bone maintenance, good sleep, and mood improvements.
Even if you aren't trying to get pregnant, successful ovulation will mean you can still reap the benefits of good progesterone levels.
What isn’t successful ovulation?
If you aren’t ovulating successfully, there could be several other things happening instead. These include:
This is the absence of ovulation altogether. It’s impossible to ovulate successfully if you just aren’t ovulating! This can just occur randomly for women with normal cycles — one study found that up to a third of cycles may actually be anovulatory! It’s also typical for teen girls and perimenopausal women to experience more anovulatory cycles.
Chronic anovulation, though, is a greater concern and may be due to PCOS (polycystic ovarian syndrome), overexercise, poor diet, or other medical conditions. If you determine that you’re frequently having anovulatory cycles — or missing your period entirely — talk to your doctor about options.
It’s also possible that you’re ovulating — that is, an egg is released from a follicle into the fallopian tube — but the follicle either doesn’t entirely become the corpus luteum, or the corpus luteum doesn’t actually make enough progesterone for successful implantation.
Since high enough progesterone levels to sustain implantation are an important consequence of ovulation, we can say that ovulation that doesn’t achieve this goal is suboptimal. If you’re trying to get pregnant, you’ll likely need to work with a medical provider to support or elevate your progesterone levels if you’re experiencing suboptimal ovulation.
How do I know if I’m ovulating successfully?
Since successful ovulation is all about progesterone, it’s actually pretty easy to find out if you’re ovulating successfully! First, you’ll need to know when you’re ovulating, or at least your approximate time of peak fertility, which you can learn more about here.
After detecting peak fertility, it’s time to find the implantation window. Long story short, this is about 7-10 days from peak fertility or the approximate time of ovulation.
To test progesterone itself, you need a blood draw from a physician’s office, usually on day 7 after ovulation.
There is an easier way though, and that’s testing PdG, a metabolite of progesterone that correlates with your average progesterone levels from the day before. Proov Confirm is the only FDA-cleared at-home test for PdG, so we’ve got you covered!
You can test PdG with your first morning urine on days 7-10 (the Proov Insight App will help direct you).
Whether you’re using Confirm or Complete, Proov will provide an Ovulation Score and an Insight Report following your testing, which will help you figure out if you’re ovulating successfully and what your next steps are!