If there’s one female health topic that can be as confusing as ovulation, it’s menstruation. Menstruation is the notorious time of the month that’s also known as “period” – this is when a woman’s uterine lining, or endometrium, is shed to ensure that her uterus is able to provide a healthy home for a fetus and baby, should a woman become pregnant during the upcoming month.
Both menstruation and ovulation are part of a woman’s monthly menstrual cycle, meaning that these potentially confusing topics are intricately linked. As a result, we see and hear a lot of questions about how periods affect a woman’s fertility and ability to conceive – and many of these questions come from women who are having trouble getting pregnant. So to help address the confusion behind periods and ovulation, our team has tackled five questions we often hear about this topic:
Question 1: Can I Ovulate During My Period?
No – by definition, ovulation and menstruation are two different parts of a woman’s menstrual cycle. In fact, menstruation is the follow-up process to ovulation, as it’s meant to take place if a woman’s ovulated egg is not fertilized.
That said, some women do bleed around the time of ovulation, but this is simply spotting, or light ovulatory bleeding. Spotting is not menstruation, as no endometrium is shed during the spotting process. Unfortunately, if a woman experiences light or irregular periods, it’s easy for her to confuse her period with ovulatory bleeding. This possible scenario is just one example of why ovulation tracking can be so beneficial for women who are trying to conceive, as ovulation tools can help women identify what type of bleed they’re dealing with.
Question 2: Can I Ovulate Right After My Period?
This is a question where we’re forced to give the ambiguous answer of “it depends!” Here’s why: your ovulation date is determined by the length of your overall menstrual cycle. According to the American Pregnancy Association, “If you have a short[er] cycle, for example 21 days, and you bleed for 7 days, then you could ovulate right after your period. This is because ovulation generally occurs 12-16 days before your next period begins, and this would estimate you ovulating at days 6-10 of your cycle.” So, depending on the length of your cycle, the answer to this question could be yes, or it could be no.
It’s noteworthy that a “short” menstrual cycle – where a woman experiences a period every 21 to 28 days – is generally considered to be healthy and normal. While stress and some lifestyle factors may contribute to a shorter cycle length, it’s often just a natural hormonal pattern that some women’s bodies develop. If you experience bleeding more frequently than every 21 days, however, you may want to speak to a doctor to make sure there isn’t an underlying problem behind the bleeding.
Question 3: Can I Get Pregnant During My Period?
Yes and no. While conception cannot occur during an actual period itself, it may be possible for a woman to get pregnant as a result of engaging in intercourse during her period. Since healthy sperm can live for up to five days after sex within a woman’s body, if a woman ovulates shortly after her period ends and the timing works out in the sperms’ favor, it’s entirely possible for a woman to conceive in this scenario. Just like with question #2, it all comes down to how long a woman’s menstrual cycle is.
Question 4: Can I Ovulate Without Having A Period?
The short answer to this one is, yes indeed. In fact, this is a likely scenario for women who experience irregular periods. Unless they’re using ovulation tools that track physical symptoms of ovulation, a woman in this scenario may get no indication of when she ovulates at all. If you are having trouble getting pregnant, and you do not experience regular periods, we (and the American Pregnancy Association) highly recommend charting your basal temperature and cervical fluid changes, to ensure that you have some idea of when you may ovulate – this, and working with your doctor, will increase your chances of conceiving and help you track your ovulation date, in spite of a lack of a period.
Question 5: Can I Have A Period And Still Not Have Ovulated?
Unfortunately, yes (“unfortunately” because so many women use their period dates to help track ovulation). While ovulation and menstruation usually go hand in hand, if something is off in a woman’s reproductive system one month, it’s entirely possible for her body to not ovulate. Keep in mind that during a cycle, different hormone levels determine when a woman ovulates and menstruates. A rise in certain hormones triggers ovulation, while a drop in these hormones triggers menstruation. But if adequate higher levels of follicle-stimulating hormone and estrogen are not present, and do not trigger the release of an egg, a woman will not ovulate. And hormone production can be affected by anything from stress to a major lifestyle change to an illness – so it’s entirely possible for a woman to not ovulate on a short- or long-term basis, but still have a period.
Because of this, it’s important to track ovulation in some way in addition to simply tracking your period dates if you’re trying to conceive. Doing so will help you take steps to overcome any difficulty conceiving that you might otherwise experience if you did not know that – despite your monthly bleeding occurring on time – no egg is being released to be fertilized.
These questions regarding ovulation and menstruation are just a small sampling of the types of questions we often see from hopeful couples who are having difficulty conceiving. If you didn’t see your question in this blog post, don’t worry! We may have answered it in our last post – or we may answer it in the coming weeks as we continue to tackle common ovulation questions!