While it’s true that ovulation and menstruation usually go hand in hand, it’s not always the case. You can ovulate without having a period first or afterward. You can even bleed without having ovulated!
If you’re dealing with this, you’ll know it makes it incredibly hard to conceive or practice natural family planning.
So, let’s look into everything you need to know about this part of your menstrual cycle and what might be causing the problem.
How is Ovulation Linked to Menstruation?
Your menstrual cycle goes through 4 phases:
1. The Follicular Phase
Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) prompts your ovaries to produce follicles. The healthiest one matures into an egg. This triggers an estrogen surge that thickens your uterine lining.
Luteinizing hormone triggers the release of the egg. It travels down the fallopian tube, where it will either be fertilized or not.
3. The Luteal Phase
The egg becomes the corpus luteum. If fertilized, it will implant and release hormones to stop your period. If it’s not fertilized, you will enter the menstrual phase.
4. The Menstrual Phase
The corpus luteum is reabsorbed, and your estrogen and progesterone levels drop. This triggers the shedding of your uterine lining, which is released through your vagina.
As ovulation is triggered by the follicular phase and not menstruation, you can ovulate without menstruating first.
In certain circumstances, you may not bleed afterward, either. Let’s take a look at why.
Why You Might Ovulate Without Having a Period Afterward
There are two reasons you might not experience any bleeding after ovulation. Either you’ve fallen pregnant, or an issue with your uterus is preventing the thickening or shedding of your uterine lining.
If, after ovulation, your egg is successfully fertilized and implanted, it will produce estrogen and progesterone. These hormones strengthen your uterine lining and stop it from shedding.
This is easy to confirm or rule out with an at-home pregnancy test.
Uterine scarring is where bands of fibrous scar tissue form within your uterus. This can be caused by:
- Abdominal Surgery
- Dilation and curettage (D&C) are performed for a miscarriage, abortion, retained placenta, or heavy uterine bleeding.
- Infections like chlamydia, tuberculosis, or schistosomiasis
The scars can reduce the blood supply to your endometrial lining. This will prevent thickening and, therefore, the need for shedding. In some cases, it can even trap menstrual blood in your uterus, which will be painful.
Uterine scarring can cause infertility as the egg can’t implant in the endometrium. It can also cause miscarriage due to poor blood supply and scar tissue, which isn’t stretchy and can’t expand during pregnancy.
Fortunately, it’s often possible to treat the scarring with surgery and estrogen therapy.
Why You Might Ovulate Without a Period First
You may go weeks or months without a period if you have an irregular menstrual cycle. Then, when your body is ready, you’ll ovulate. This can take some women by surprise, as they find themselves pregnant without remembering their last period.
Here are the most common reasons you might experience irregularities with your cycle:
Primary amenorrhea is when you don’t get your period after puberty. Secondary is when it disappears for 3 months or more.
Many things can cause amenorrhea, including:
- Abdominal surgery
- Birth control
- Genetic conditions
- Medications for depression, psychosis, blood pressure, or allergies
- Very low body weight
- Rapid weight loss
Treatments for the condition will vary according to the cause.
The prolactin you produce while breastfeeding suppresses your ovulation hormones. This causes something called lactational amenorrhea, meaning you won’t menstruate.
However, to be effective, you must breastfeed at least every 4 hours during the day and every 6 hours at night. Skipping feeds or having shorter nursing sessions may trigger a surprise ovulation.
Even if you’re not breastfeeding, it could still take 6 to 8 weeks for your period to come back postpartum. This is how long your hormones take to return to their routine. You’ll ovulate as soon as they do, even though you won’t have had a period since you conceived.
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS)
PCOS is a hormonal condition that causes irregular menstrual cycles. It’s associated with a lack of ovulation as the follicles fail to mature into eggs. This results in a lot of missed or prolonged periods.
However, PCOS doesn’t stop ovulation altogether. So it’s possible to suddenly ovulate after many months without menstruating.
As you approach menopause (between the ages of 40 and 55), your ovulation will become erratic. This means that in some months, you could ovulate twice, and in others, you won’t ovulate at all.
How to Tell if You’re Ovulating
You might assume it’ll be tricky to tell if you’re ovulating if you’re not menstruating. But it’s actually possible to bleed without ovulating (anovulatory bleeding). So, having a period is never a reliable indicator that an egg has been released.
Instead, look out for:
- A Positive Result Using an At-Home Ovulation Test Kit
These simple urine tests detect a rise in luteinizing hormone (LH). That’s the one that tells your ovary to release an egg.
- A Change in Your Vaginal Discharge
It will become clear and stretchy, like egg white, during ovulation.
- Increased Vaginal Wetness
Your cervical fluid volume peaks during ovulation to help the sperm reach the egg.
- A Rise in Your Basal Body Temperature
You will see a 0.5 to 1OC spike in your resting body temperature the day after you ovulate.
- A Change in Cervix Height and Firmness
When ovulating, your cervix will be higher, softer, and slightly open.
How to Tell if You’re Not Ovulating
Sometimes during your menstrual cycle, your ovary won’t release an egg. This is known as anovulation and is the cause of 25% of infertility cases.
Signs and symptoms of anovulation include:
- Very Long or Short Menstrual Cycles
A typical cycle is around 28 days; if yours is below 24 or above 38, it could be a cause for concern.
Missing your period means there’s a good chance you haven’t ovulated.
- Very Heavy or Light Periods
If you frequently leak or your bleeding lasts more than 7 days, it’s considered very heavy. If your bleeding is very light and requires little protection, it can also be a sign of trouble.
- No Egg White Mucus
If your vaginal discharge is always white, thick, creamy, or watery and never clear and stretchy, you may not be ovulating.
- No Pattern in Your Basal Body Temperature
If you are ovulating, you should see a spike in temperature at roughly the same time each cycle.
- No Positive Ovulation Test Results
Catching your LH spike using at-home tests can be tricky. However, if you’re testing twice daily and still not getting a positive result, it could mean you’re not ovulating.
Can You Still Be Fertile Without a Period?
Although it’s tricky, getting pregnant without a period is possible as long as you are ovulating.
The difficulty is figuring out the best time to have sex is a bit more complicated.
Your most fertile 14 days before your next period. So, if you know when it will be, you can time intercourse during your fertile window. That’s five days before ovulation, the day of, and the day after.
You can use at-home ovulation kits if you don’t have regular periods. But, once you get a positive result, you’ll have missed five days of peak fertility.
So, if you’re trying for a baby, it’s best to have sex every other day throughout your cycle just to be safe.
On the other hand, you may be hoping that your lack of periods will act as a good form of contraception. But, as we’ve discussed, you could start ovulating again anytime, and you won’t have a period to warn you. So, your absent menstruation won’t protect you from conceiving.
Frustratingly, it can also make it harder to use hormone-free contraception, like the rhythm method or natural family planning. Both methods rely on tracking your cycle accurately and avoiding sex during your fertile window. Without menstruating, this becomes impossible to calculate.
Can You Get Pregnant With Irregular Cycles?
Yes, it’s perfectly possible to get pregnant with an irregular cycle. But it will depend on the underlying cause.
If your cycle is irregular, but you are releasing healthy eggs some of the time, you should be able to get pregnant. But it may take a little more effort and a lot more sex.
Ovulation tracking kits, sperm-friendly lubricants, and regular intercourse will all increase your chances.
If, however, you’re having anovulatory cycles, you may need extra help from a fertility specialist.
How Can You Make Your Menstrual Cycle More Regular?
If your cycle length is less than 24 or more than 38 days, it’s considered irregular. You’ll often need to speak to your doctor for a diagnosis and effective treatment. Even if you’re not trying to conceive, regulating your cycle is good for your overall health and well-being.
You can also try some home remedies and lifestyle changes to help regulate your cycle. For example, try to:
- Maintain a healthy BMI (Body Mass Index).
- Exercise regularly, but not excessively.
- Practice yoga daily.
- Ensure you get enough vitamin D through diet, supplements, and sunshine.
- Take ginger or cinnamon supplements.
- Drink apple cider vinegar.