The birth control pill, also called the pill, is a popular and effective method of contraception used by many sexually active people with vaginas to prevent pregnancy.
However, no method of contraception is guaranteed to be 100% effective—and factors like missing a pill can interfere with your birth control’s effectiveness.
Because people with vaginas are most likely to get pregnant during ovulation, it’s important to know if you are ovulating on the pill or not so you can better plan when to have sexual intercourse.
In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about ovulation and the birth control pill.
What Is Birth Control?
There are many types of contraceptives—each with their own specific function—but they all stop sperm from fertilizing an egg to prevent the implantation of an embryo in the uterus.
Non-hormonal forms of birth control, like condoms and sterilization, function without affecting the hormones of people with vaginas.
On the other hand, hormonal birth control is a medicine or a device that has been scientifically designed to alter the body’s hormones to prevent people with vaginas from becoming pregnant.
The birth control pill is a hormonal form of contraception.
Birth control and pregnancy prevention
Contraceptives are designed to prevent pregnancy, and they do that in a few different ways:
- Preventing sperm from getting to the eggs. This includes condoms, diaphragms, cervical caps, and contraceptive sponges.
- Keeping the ovaries from releasing eggs that could be fertilized. This includes birth control pills, patches, shots, vaginal rings, emergency contraceptive pills, most IUDs, and sterilization of people with vaginas.
- Preventing sperm from leaving the body. This includes sterilization of people with penises.
The type of birth control you choose can be determined by many other factors like your health, sexual activity, and whether you wish to have children in the future.
For example, sterilization is one of the most effective methods of birth control, but it is permanent.
So if you want to have kids in the future, a different method may be better for you, like the pill or an IUD.
Your doctor will recommend the best form of birth control based on your needs.
What Is Ovulation?
Your menstrual cycle is a monthly process that your body goes through to prepare for pregnancy.
It begins on day one of your period, or menstruation, when the lining of the uterus sheds and makes way for a new lining that will support the implantation of a fertilized egg.
The average menstrual cycle is 28 days, although every body is different and your cycle may be shorter or longer.
Ovulation is a phase in the menstrual cycle when an egg, or ovum, is released from the ovaries, spurred by an increase in estrogen levels.
The ovum matures within a fluid-filled space, called a follicle, in the ovaries that ruptures at the time of ovulation to allow the egg to pass.
The egg then starts to travel along the fallopian tubes, towards the uterus, where it is available for fertilization.
Many people with ovaries ovulate between day 8 and day 21 of their cycle.
At this time, the ruptured follicle transforms into a corpus luteum.
This transforms the lining of the uterus, also called the endometrium, into a luteinized endometrium, which is thicker and softer in order to prepare for the reception of a fertilized egg.
If conception does not occur, this lining is no longer needed and it is shed during menstruation, signaling the beginning of a new menstrual cycle.
Knowing when you’re ovulating
Your body goes through certain changes because of the hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle.
Here are a few signs that can help you recognize when you are ovulating:
- Altered character of cervical and vaginal discharge: During ovulation, the mucus produced in the cervix changes from thick to slippery and copious, resembling uncooked egg white, which is evident in the vaginal discharge.
- Body temperature: The basal body temperature drops slightly just before ovulation and then increases very slightly, usually less than one degree Fahrenheit, until ovulation. By taking your temperature first thing every morning before you get out of bed and charting the results, you can look for the telltale rise that signals impending ovulation.
- Mittelschmerz: This refers to abdominal pain in the region of the ovaries at the time of ovulation, either generalized or on alternating sides of the abdomen, corresponding to the side of ovulation.
- Senses: Many women experienced a heightened sense of smell during ovulation and may even be able to sense the precise moment of ovulation.
- Libido: It is common to have a higher sexual drive in the days immediately prior to ovulation.
- Ovulation test kits: Another option is to use ovulation test kits. These tests work a lot like pregnancy tests, in that they detect a particular hormone in your urine. When you get a positive result on an ovulation test, you’re approaching ovulation, and you should have sex if you’re trying to conceive. However, not all ovulation kits are highly accurate and some may be difficult to interpret. In fact, studies show that the reliability of these products ranges from 19% to 99% and that mistiming sex is a key contributing factor in some couples’ infertility challenges.
It is important to understand that hormonal changes aren’t a foolproof way of knowing when you are going to ovulate, as there may be times when these changes don’t occur as expected.
Birth Control Pills and Ovulation
Ovulation occurs midway through the menstrual cycle when your ovaries release a mature egg into the fallopian tube. If you have sex and sperm makes its way to the egg, it can fertilize the egg.
This fertilized egg can implant on the lining of your uterus, which is the beginning of a pregnancy.
If you don’t ovulate, you will not get pregnant because you aren’t releasing any eggs and, therefore, there is nothing to fertilize.
At the beginning of the cycle, the hypothalamus releases a hormone, GNrH, that signals to the pituitary gland to release two more hormones: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).
FSH and LH travel through the blood into the ovaries, where FSH signals the ovaries to start developing a mature egg and increasing the level of estrogen.
The rise in estrogen causes the uterine lining to thicken in preparation for the implantation of a fertilized egg and also signals another surge of LH, which causes ovulation.
At the same time, the cervical mucus thins, so that sperm can get through more easily.
Combination birth control pills contain two synthetic hormones: estrogen and progestin.
According to Harvard Health, estrogen helps prevent ovulation by stopping the pituitary gland from releasing FSH and LH.
The absence of FSH means that the ovaries don’t begin the process of producing a mature egg.
In addition, the progestin stops the pituitary gland from releasing the surge of LH that would normally tell your ovary to release the egg, or ovulate.
Can you ovulate on birth control?
Because FSH and LH aren’t released, your body doesn’t produce an egg or release a mature egg for fertilization.
This means that people who take combination birth control pills—with both estrogen and progestin—don’t usually ovulate.
If you are taking the minipill, which only has progestin in it, there is some suppression of ovulation—but it’s not as consistent, and it’s still possible or even likely to ovulate.
That being said, neither pill may be the right contraceptive for you, especially if it is hard for you to remember to take your pill every day. It is always best to talk to your doctor about your options.
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Frequently Asked Questions
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Sterilization in the United States. (2008)
The Normal Menstrual Cycle and the Control of Ovulation. (2018)
Detection of ovulation, a review of currently available methods. (2017)
Real-life insights on menstrual cycles and ovulation using big data. (2020)
TAMING THE CYCLE: HOW DOES THE PILL WORK? (2008)