You may have heard ovulation is the main event of the cycle, but did you know you can experience cycles where ovulation is delayed or you don’t ovulate at all? This is called delayed ovulation or an anovulatory cycle, and it's more common than you might think!
The ovulation cycle
The entire hormonal cycle revolves around ovulation, and ovulation dictates the length of our cycle. From our period until ovulation, we are in what is called the follicular phase. The developing egg is growing and getting ready to be released at ovulation. The follicular phase is fluid and can change depending on life circumstances, stress or health change.
Even if you have a regular cycle, stress could potentially cause the follicular phase to be shorter or longer than what you are used to.
The time between ovulation and your next period is called the luteal phase. This phase of the cycle remains relatively stable for each individual from cycle to cycle. What this means is that once you ovulate, you can expect to get your period in the next 9-18 days. For example, if you usually have a 13 day luteal phase, you can expect it to be approximately 13 days from ovulation to your next period each cycle.
What happens in long cycle?
If the follicular phase is long or short, this will lengthen or shorten your entire cycle. A couple scenarios are possible in a long cycle:
- Delayed ovulation: You will eventually ovulate, and your follicular phase will be long.
- Anovulatory cycle: you will not ovulate but will eventually experience a withdrawal bleed, which is caused by a drop in estrogen and is not the same as a true menstruation.
This is why knowing your cycle can be so empowering, especially with irregular cycles. You may have an anovulatory cycle followed by what looks like a period, when it is just a withdrawal bleed. As you haven't ovulated before the withdrawal bleed, you can still ovulate at any point - including during a bleed - so the distinction is important.
You can find out if you are ovulating by tracking your fertility signs like basal body temperature and cervical mucus, and recording these signs on a fertility chart. Charts should then be evaluated using the rules of your chosen fertility awareness method.
Charts can help you learn both if and when you are ovulating, and you don't need a regular cycle in order to use a fertility awareness method. In fact if you have irregular cycles, I highly encourage you to track your fertility. This gives you more data you can bring to your healthcare provider.
What causes it?
Sometimes we can have cycles where it takes longer to ovulate, or where we don’t ovulate at all. Why does this happen? It can be due to a number of causes including:
- Coming off hormonal birth control
- Significant stress
It is also normal to experience an anovulatory cycle once or twice a year without reason for concern.
Learning to track your cycles when you’re experiencing irregularities can bring you some peace of mind. If you are struggling to conceive, you can use this information to time intercourse for when you are actually ovulating, as opposed to making a guess. If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, you can spend less time worrying you may be pregnant.
What should I do?
If you’re frequently experiencing anovulatory cycles or cycles over 36 days long, seek support from a qualified hormonal health professional or your primary care provider. Your provider should listen to your concerns and support you in your situation. Have bloodwork done to assess your hormone levels, so you can address the root cause of the cycle irregularity. If a provider offers you hormonal birth control as a treatment for irregular cycles, you may want to look into finding another provider. Hormonal birth control will not fix the root cause of the imbalance causing the irregularity. It may restore what looks like a regular cycle, but it is not the same thing.
You can also support your body in other ways as you seek a potential treatment. One of the ways to do this is by reducing stress, a huge contributor to delayed ovulation and anovulatory cycles. When we are in a constant state of vigilance, ovulation is put on the backburner. Reducing stress tells your body it is safe to ovulate. You can reduce stress by prioritizing self care, moving your body, drinking water, eating nourishing meals, and living in line with your cycle.
Anovulatory cycles and delayed ovulation are normal every once in awhile unless they become more frequent. Life stress can be the cause of long cycles, but it may be a signal to look into potentially other hormone imbalance issues. If you're experiencing long cycles, seek support from a qualified hormonal health provider - you don't need to do it alone!