If you have regular periods and are not on hormonal birth control, then you probably do ovulate most months (about two weeks before your period). If you don’t have regular periods, then you just can’t be sure. It’s also possible to not ovulate but then still see a bleed. That’s called an “anovulatory” cycle, and it’s surprisingly common.
Short of asking your doctor for a blood test, the best way to know if you ovulate is to look for physical signs of ovulation. Physical signs include a change in vaginal mucus and the position of your cervix, as well as a measurable rise in body temperature.
But what if you don’t ovulate regularly, or just aren't sure? What can you do about it? I discuss all these strategies and more in my new book Period Repair Manual, but here are seven ways to get you started.
1. Learn About The Benefits Of Your Natural Hormones
A man can make a steady flow of testosterone, as long as he has testicles. It’s different for you and your ovaries. You can’t make a steady flow of estrogen and progesterone. Instead, you make waves of hormones both before and after you ovulate (release an egg). As you get ready to ovulate, you make estrogen, and that’s why you feel brighter and more confident in the middle part of your cycle. Then, shortly after you ovulate, you make progesterone which is a soothing, calming hormone. Make enough progesterone, and you won’t have as bad PMS.
2. Choose A Form Of Non-Hormonal Birth Control
All methods of hormonal contraception (birth control pill, injection, implant, and Nuvaring) work the same way: They shut down ovulation, so they shut down your naturally occurring hormones. Of course, they replace your hormones with similar synthetic steroids, but in my professional opinion, that’s not good enough. Synthetic steroids like ethinylestradiol and levonorgestrel are not beneficial in the same way as real hormones. They have different actions. (For example, the pill’s progestin (levonorgestrel) causes hair loss, but real progesterone promotes hair growth!)
3. Nourish Yourself
It takes a lot of nutrients to release an egg, and also to form a temporary progesterone-secreting gland (called the corpus luteum). The corpus luteum is amazing. It grows from a microscopic nothing to a fully vascularized four centimeter structure in less than one day, which makes it the fastest growing tissue in the human body, hands down. No wonder you need nutrients!
To ovulate, you need all food groups. You need sufficient protein, iron, and zinc which you can most easily obtain from eggs, meat, and fish. You need magnesium from green veggies, and healthy starch from potatoes and squash. You also need fat such as butter and olive oil, so don’t starve your ovaries. Enjoy full meals each and every day, and your hormones will thank you.
4. Commit To Stressing Less
Stress is a major problem for ovulation. When you’re stressed, a part of your brain called the hypothalamus actively decides that it’s not a good time to make a baby. Therefore, it’s not a good time to ovulate.
Reduce stress by working less and resting more. Schedule time for a yoga class, and take that riverside walk with your friend. Remember: It’s all in service to your hormones.
5. Sleep More
Hormonally speaking, sleep is a very important time. Sleep reduces stress hormones, which is good for your hypothalamus and your ovaries. Sleep also regulates a pituitary hormone called LH, which is essential for healthy ovulation.
Aim for eight hours as often as you can get it. If you have trouble sleeping, make some changes. Cut back on coffee and set some boundaries around bedtime. No work and no bright computer screens for at least two hours before you lay head to pillow.
6. Consider Taking Vitex
Vitex agnus-castus (chaste tree or chasteberry) is a medicine prepared from the berries of a large Mediterranean tree. In ancient times, it was used to suppress the libido of monks (hence the name), but fortunately, it does not have that effect in women. Vitex promotes ovulation by improving the communication between your pituitary gland and your ovaries. It comes in tablet form, so it’s easy to take. Vitex is a safe herb, but it should not be combined with fertility medication.
7. See Your Doctor
If you’re nourished and rested, and you still don’t ovulate, there might be something else wrong. It’s time to have a chat with your friendly family doctor or OB-GYN. She’ll run some tests, and hopefully figure out if your lack of ovulation is due to an underlying medical problem such as thyroid disease or polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Then your best strategy is to correct that problem. Fix your health, and you fix your ovulation.
Images: themonnie/Flickr; Giphy