Infradian Rhythm: Defined
If you’re new to this series, welcome! You’re about to learn a lot about how your hormones are impacted by nearly everything in your life – so get excited! And if not, you’re on your way to becoming a seasoned expert in your infradian rhythm and how to live in accordance with it.
As a quick refresher, the infradian rhythm is a woman’s 28-day internal clock – it regulates everything from sleep and mood to appetite, energy, body temperature, reproductive cycles, and so much more. It essentially serves as a link between a woman’s brain and her bodily processes. The reason why it’s so important to learn about the infradian rhythm is because it lies at the center of nearly every aspect of female health. As always, feel free to visit the previous two articles in this series to refresh yourself on the menstrual and follicular phases.
The Ovulatory Phase
The ovulatory phase is the third of four phases of the ovarian cycle. Though it’s the shortest phase, lasting only 1-2 days on average, it’s also one of the most complex. The main event of the ovulatory phase (and really, the whole cycle) is the act of ovulation – when a mature egg is released from a follicle in one of the ovaries. The egg is one of the largest human cells, and it contains all the instructions necessary for the embryo to begin developing if it’s fertilized. The egg also “chooses” which single sperm out of potentially millions will fertilize it.
In preparation for ovulation, the female body will experience a rise in luteinizing hormone (LH), which ultimately triggers the release of an egg. Luteinizing hormone is a critical hormone that’s responsible for stimulating sexual development in both women and men. (In men, the presence of LH causes the testes to produce testosterone.) Doctors have discovered that if it weren’t for LH, women would not be able to ovulate – that’s how important it is for our bodies’ sexual development and functioning. Once the egg has been released from the ovary into the fallopian tube, it remains there, waiting to be fertilized for about 12-24 hours. If it’s not fertilized within that time span, the egg will break down.
The ovulatory phase is famously known for being the most fertile time of a woman’s cycle. Previous medical assumptions were that ovulation was actually the only time of the cycle when a woman could get pregnant. While this is technically true – you can’t get pregnant without ovulating and the unfertilized egg only lives for 12-24 hours – sperm can stay alive in the woman for up to five days. This means that if you have unprotected sex five days before you ovulate, you could still get pregnant, which leads most gynecologists and fertility specialists to consider there to be a window of about 4-7 days a month when a woman could end up conceiving. Although the exact number of days that make up this window is hotly debated in the medical field and varies from woman to woman, this window spans from the tail end of the follicular phase, through the 1-day ovulatory phase, until the first day of the luteal phase.
Along with being the most fertile time of the month, the ovulatory phase is also characterized by increased sex drive, proving that when the body is most able to conceive, it will also be the most willing. Along with a heightened libido, experts say that you may also notice changes in your cervical mucus consistency and feel lower abdominal aches known as ovulation pain. Some women also report breast tenderness, bloating, and light cramping during this phase. However, at a physiological level, your body’s hormones are peaking, so you probably will find yourself feeling more energized, beautiful, and confident than you have all month.
Food and Fitness in the Ovulatory Phase
During ovulation, your body’s primary focus is centered around reproducing, so it’s unlikely for most women to experience intense cravings for unhealthy foods. Instead, your body will gravitate toward vitamin B and folate-rich foods, both of which contain properties that encourage healthy egg production.
Dr. Jolene Brighten, a board-certified specialist in women’s health, recommends choosing foods high in fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin A, and phytonutrients in addition to vitamin B and folate. Each of these contains properties that will aid in balancing estrogen, reducing inflammation, fostering healthy eggs, and strengthening your immune system. If you’re at the grocery store before ovulating, make sure to grab things like leafy greens, berries, chocolate, tea, sweet potatoes, avocados, salmon, walnuts, quinoa, or unsweetened yogurt. Avoid foods like alcohol, caffeine, or foods high in sugar, as it’s possible these could interfere with ovulation.
Focus on foods rich in vitamin B and folate.
During the ovulatory phase, your body will naturally have more energy – use it wisely! This is a great time of the month to set a personal record in the gym. While ovulation itself is only 1-2 days, it’s likely you will experience higher energy levels in the days leading up to and following this phase. Evie’s cycle tracking app, 28, suggests running, swimming, cycling, or other high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts during this time of the month.
The Signs of Ovulation
A lot of women struggle to pinpoint their exact day or two of ovulation because many women don’t experience any symptoms during this phase. One popular way to predict ovulation is called the basal body temperature technique.
To track ovulation, record your temperature with a digital basal body oral thermometer before getting out of bed in the morning (even before taking a drink of water or going to the bathroom) for accurate results. The Mayo Clinic suggests taking your body temperature at the same exact time each day. This method works because research shows that a woman’s body temperature rises 2-3 days after ovulation due to the production of progesterone. So, while you won’t be able to pinpoint ovulation while it’s happening, you can note your temperature change and plan ahead for next month if you’re trying to conceive. The basal body temperature method has no direct negative side effects or risks, but take note that it's not always the most accurate since body temperature is affected by so many factors. While this can be a great method to help women conceive, when used alone, it’s one of the least effective methods in preventing pregnancy.
Cervical mucus changes in consistency and appearance throughout your cycle in accordance with your hormones.
Many women use basal body temperature in conjunction with tracking their cervical mucus, or cervical fluid. Cervical mucus changes in consistency and appearance throughout your cycle in accordance with your hormones. Following your period and leading up to ovulation, your cervical mucus can go from creamy and opaque to somewhat stretchy and milky to clear and very stretchy. During the ovulatory phase, your body will produce cervical fluid that looks like egg whites, clear and very stretchy. This kind of cervical mucus nourishes and protects sperm, as well as has channels that help the sperm swim. After ovulation, cervical mucus quality decreases, and it might disappear entirely. Tracking your cervical mucus can show you when your most fertile days are, and the downshift in quality, together with your BBT, can indicate that ovulation has occurred. When both methods are used together, one study found it has 99.6% effectiveness at preventing pregnancy.
As Dr. Brighten so simply states: “Without ovulation, you can’t get pregnant. But aside from the importance of ovulation for fertility, it’s also important for your overall reproductive health.” The ovulatory phase is absolutely critical to conception, and if you’re someone who’s trying to get pregnant, it will greatly benefit you to track your cycle and note the dates of your fertile window. On the opposite hand, if you want to avoid getting pregnant but don’t want to take hormonal birth control to do so, knowing the precise dates of your monthly fertile window is just as important. Also, note that there are other techniques to track ovulation – such as LH (luteinizing hormone) tests – and all of these methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Talk to your doctor to figure out which method is right for you.
To learn more about ovulation or the infradian rhythm in general, download Evie’s 28 app, visit Dr. Jolene Brighten’s blog, or read my two other articles in this series on the menstrual and follicular phases. And stay tuned for part four of this series!
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