Although usually associated with a menstrual period, some women may actually experience abdominal cramping after menstruation, which is closer to ovulation. Mittelschmerz, the German name for ovulation pain, literally means "pain in the middle." Although ovulation pain is normal, not all women experience it. Using ovulation pain along with other fertility signs can help a woman pinpoint ovulation.
The female fertility cycle averages about 28 days and during this time a woman menstruates, ovulates and, if needed, begins nourishing a fertilised egg. During this cycle, several factors may cause a woman to experience abdominal cramping as she nears ovulation.
A woman's cycle can be divided into three phases, and post-menstrual cramping happens during phase 2. During Phase 1-- menstruation -- the uterus sheds its endometrial lining and a surge of oestrogen helps to thicken mucus to prepare the body for ovulation.
During Phase 2 -- a woman's fertile time period -- some women may notice ovulation pain or cramping. According to John and Sheila Kippley, authors of "The Art of Natural Family Planning," this pain may only last a few hours, but in some women it could last two to three days.
During Phase 3 -- the luteal phase -- a surge of progesterone inhibits a subsequent ovulation and helps to maintain the inner lining of the uterus with a rich blood supply.
Ovulation pain varies between women, but it will always come after menstruation. Generally, women feel it in their lower abdomen or on one side of the body, near the ovaries. The Kippleys say that the cause of ovulation pain is debated, and there could be three possible reasons for this cramping.
First, a congestion of mucus in the Fallopian tubes could cause swelling and pain. This would explain pain that occurred a few days before ovulation, as mucus is excreted before ovulation.
Another reason may be a pulsing of the Fallopian tubes at ovulation and for a short time afterward. The pulsing motion helps the ovum to move through the Fallopian tube to the uterus.
A final cause of ovulation pain could be that a small amount of blood is released at ovulation, and the abdominal lining is sensitive to internal bleeding. The reaction is pain. Where does this blood come from? The ovarian follicle must rupture for an egg to be released, so a small blood vessel may be ruptured in the process.
Other fertility symptoms
The Kippleys warn that ovulation pain on its own isn't enough to use as a primary fertility indicator. Only use ovulation pain as a secondary indicator of fertility. Check other signs of fertility as well.
Before ovulation, cervical mucus becomes long and stretchy. Check cervical mucus internally or externally at the labia.
In addition, the surge of progesterone immediately following ovulation causes basal body temperature to rise approximately 0.2º C. After recording a few cycles, you should be able to see a clear pattern for ovulation. Ovulation pain may coincide with these symptoms.
The Feminist Women's Health Centre offers several suggestions for women who want some relief from painful cramping. These suggestions may help with both menstrual and ovulation cramping. Consider increasing your exercise routine to help improve blood and oxygen flow. Avoid red meat, sugar, fatty foods and milk, and add whole grains and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables to your diet. Also avoid caffeine, as it constricts blood vessels and increases tension.