When do you ovulate, and how can you keep track of your cycle? Read on to learn how you can determine when you're most fertile.
Women usually have hundreds of periods throughout their lives. But just because you’re having periods doesn’t mean that you can get pregnant at any time. In fact, your most fertile window for pregnancy each month is quite small.
You’re most likely to conceive if you have sex around the time of ovulation. So when do you ovulate, and how can you tell? If you're trying to understand your fertility cycle better, you're in the right place. Read on to find out everything you need to know about how to calculate ovulation.
How Does Ovulation Work?
Ovulation is the part of a the menstrual cycle in which an ovary releases an egg. It usually happens midway through the cycle in response to changes in your hormone levels. A brief outline of the steps in a menstrual cycle is:
- The cycle starts with your period
- Your period ends, and your estrogen levels start to rise again, preparing your ovaries to release another egg (follicular phase)
- Estrogen levels peak, and the ovaries release an egg (ovulation). Ovulation typically occurs 14 days before your next period.
- A hormone called progesterone increases and the uterus lining thickens (luteal phase)
If an egg was fertilized by a sperm cell around the time of ovulation, progesterone continues to increase and the uterus lining stays thick for the embryo to implant. If no egg was fertilized, the hormone levels drop and you start to shed the thick uterine lining (menstruation). .
This means you have a small window each month to get pregnant, and timing is everything. So when does ovulation occur?
When Do You Ovulate?
The most fertile window for conception is around the time of ovulation, usually days 10-17 of the menstrual cycle. But only 30% of women have a fertile window that matches this definition. Everyone’s cycle is a little different, and so is the fertile window.
The length of your menstrual cycle affects when you ovulate. Changes in your hormone levels due to stress or illness can also temporarily affect whether or not you ovulate, though these changes are usually temporary.
The good news is, there are some signs you can look out for to help you figure out when ovulation will occur.
Signs of Ovulation
The same hormonal changes that trigger ovulation also cause signs and symptoms of ovulation, including:
- An increase in your basal body temperature
- Ovulation pain, also called mittelschmerz (pain in the pelvis and lower abdomen)
- Increased libido (sex drive)
- Breast tenderness
- Changes in your cervical mucus
- Heightened sense of smell
Ovulation affects each woman differently, so that you may experience some symptoms, all of them, or none at all. Your symptoms may also change during your life, so don't be surprised if you start experiencing new ones.
The easiest way to get familiar with your symptoms is to make a note of them throughout your cycle. That way, you can spot patterns and changes in them.
How Can Tracking Ovulation Help You Get Pregnant?
17% of couples in America experience infertility during their lifetime. Whether or not you ovulate can have a big impact on fertility.
If you do ovulate, tracking your cycle may help you increase your chances of getting pregnant. Having sex in the days before, during, and after ovulation is your best chance at pregnancy. Tracking your ovulation may also help you to pinpoint any other fertility concerns more quickly.
Fortunately, there are many different ways that you can track your cycle. Let's take a look at how to calculate ovulation.
The Calendar Method
The calendar method involves regularly tracking your menstrual cycle to create a picture of when you will be ovulating. This works best for people who have a regular menstrual cycle, no matter how long this is.
Ovulation will usually occur 14 days before your period. If you have a longer cycle, the time before ovulation (follicular phase) may be longer, but your next period will still be 14 days after ovulation.
The Basal Body Temperature Method
Your basal body temperature or BBT is your body temperature when you wake up each morning. It changes throughout the menstrual cycle, so measuring it can help you pinpoint where in the cycle you are.
Just before ovulation, BBT drops to 96 to 98° F. This is because progesterone triggers an increase in body temperature. Your temperature will then remain higher for about two weeks and drop just before your period.
To figure out your temperature pattern, it’s helpful to check your BBT every morning. Over time, you will start to notice when it changes. An increase in your BBT for three or more days usually indicates that ovulation has occurred.
This can help you to identify your ovulation window. However, it is important to note that certain factors can affect your BBT. These include:
- Being sick or having a fever
- Interrupted sleep cycles or getting too much sleep
- Drinking alcohol
- Travel, especially between different time zones
- Taking certain medications
If you are recording your BBT, make sure you also note any other factors that may influence it. Many BBT monitoring apps discount the readings from these days to avoid them affecting the rest of their data.
The Cervical Mucus Method
Cervical mucus helps sperm enter the uterus during your fertile window. Because of this, the consistency of cervical mucus changes throughout your cycle. This can help you identify when your body is preparing for ovulation.
Changes in cervical mucus during the menstrual cycle include:
- A few weeks before ovulation, cervical mucus is dry or sticky
- As you start to prepare for ovulation (follicular phase), the mucus becomes more creamy and whitish in color
- Right before ovulation, your cervical mucus becomes more wet and watery
- After ovulation, it will be wet and stretchy, resembling raw egg whites
If you look at your mucus and see that it’s the consistency of egg whites, it’s likely that ovulation has occurred. You can monitor your cervical mucus on its own, or you can combine these with other symptoms for better accuracy.
The Symptothermal Method
The symptothermal method combines the calendar method, BBT monitoring, and cervical mucus monitoring. It may allow you to get a more accurate idea of when you’ll ovulate.
In this method, you start looking for symptoms 14 days before you expect to have your next period. Look for changes in your temperature and cervical mucus around this time.
If you’re not sure about the length of your cycle or your ovulation window, the symptothermal method can also help you narrow it down. You can monitor temperature and mucus every day, because a change in your BBT and cervical mucus at the same time usually isn't just a coincidence. It’s a helpful indicator that ovulation has occurred.
A lot of fertility monitoring apps use a symptothermal method to improve their accuracy. The more data you put in, the easier it is for them to create accurate information quickly.
The Cervical Position Method
Your cervix is the name given to the opening at the bottom of your uterus. Throughout your menstrual cycle, its position changes.
At the beginning of your cycle, your cervix sits lower in your vagina and feels firm. As your body approaches ovulation, it moves higher up within the vagina. It also becomes softer and opens slightly.
You can check the position of your cervix by sitting or standing and inserting one or two fingers into the vagina. If you feel a firm cervix, you may not have ovulated yet. If it’s harder to find the cervix because it’s high up in the vagina, it’s a sign that ovulation has occurred.
It helps to examine your cervix in the same position each time. For example, you may find it easier to do when you’re sitting on the toilet or standing with one leg resting on the edge of the bath.
Using Ovulation Predictor Kits
Using ovulation predictor kits may be a helpful way to predict ovulation. These look a lot like home pregnancy tests where you have to pee on a stick.
Ovulation kits test the level of a hormone called LH (leuteinizing hormone) levels in your urine to measure whether or not you are ovulating. When your LH levels surge, it usually means that you will ovulate within the next 12 to 36 hours.
Saliva Ferning Tests
The change in hormones in your body during ovulation also affects your saliva. When you’re ovulating, your saliva dries to form fern-shaped crystals.
You can use saliva testing kits to analyze these changes. These include swabs, lenses, and a small viewing scope. Take a swab of your saliva, place it on one of the lenses, and then leave it for five minutes to dry out. After this, examine it with the viewing scope.
If you notice fern shapes, ovulation will likely occur during the next 24 to 72 hours. Having sex during this time will increase your chances of getting pregnant.