When you’re trying to get pregnant, timing is crucial. A woman’s body only ovulates (produces a ripe egg ready to be fertilized) once each month. Knowing when ovulation occurs can allow you to plan sexual intercourse to ensure that sperm will be available to fertilize the egg.
But how can a woman know when she’s ovulating? There are several methods you can use to figure out when ovulation is occurring.
Charting Your Menstrual Periods
The simplest method is to write down your menstrual periods on a calendar or chart. Women usually ovulate about 14 days before the menstrual period begins; by keeping track of your periods for a few cycles, you can predict when you’re most likely to ovulate on your later cycles. However, because the timing of ovulation can vary between women and even from cycle to cycle for a single woman, charting your periods isn’t foolproof. You can use some other methods to improve the accuracy of your ovulation predictions.
The cervix produces mucus, which changes consistency during a woman’s menstrual cycle. Before and after ovulation, when she’s less fertile, the mucus is sticky and thick, preventing sperm from entering the uterus. Around ovulation, when she’s at her most fertile, the mucus becomes thin and slippery, and helps the sperm to enter the uterus and move toward the egg.
You don’t need any special equipment to examine your cervical mucus. After washing your hands, you can obtain mucus from your vagina either directly with your fingers or by wiping toilet paper along the opening of your vagina. Get some of the mucus on your fingers; if it’s thin and stretches between your fingers like egg whites, then you’re likely at your most fertile. If it’s thicker and clumps on each finger without stretching, then you’re unlikely to be ovulating. It may take a cycle or two for you to get used to monitoring your mucus, but most women can tell when their cervical mucus changes.
Basal Body Temperature
When you ovulate, the increase in the hormone progesterone causes your body temperature to rise slightly. It’s normally 96 to 98 degrees, and rises by 0.4 to 0.8 degrees in the day or two after ovulation. Your body temperature then stays elevated until your period starts; if you get pregnant, it will stay elevated during the pregnancy.
Many factors can affect your body’s temperature at a given moment, including the environment and your activity level. In order to detect the small rise in temperature, you need to take your temperature at a consistent time each day. It’s recommended that you take your temperature immediately upon awakening, before you even get out of bed. You’ll need to use a basal body thermometer, since regular thermometers may not be sensitive enough to detect the small change in temperature. It doesn’t matter whether you take your temperature orally, rectally, or vaginally, as long as you take it the same way each time, using the same thermometer. Chart your temperature, and look for a pattern that shows when you’re likely to be ovulating.
Ovulation Detection Kits
One to two days before ovulation, the body produces a surge of a hormone called lutenizing hormone (LH). This hormonal change triggers ovulation.
You can get test strips over the counter that look for LH in the urine (similar to how pregnancy tests look for the hormone hCG in the urine). You chart your menstrual period to determine the window of time in which you should test. Usually, you begin testing on day 9 or 10 of your cycle (counting your period as day 1). Each day at about the same time (many women use the morning), you dip the strip in your urine, and it will turn color when the LH surge is detected; ovulation will occur in the next one to two days. Those will be your most fertile days of that cycle.
How Long Should You Try?
When you’re ready to start your family, you probably want conception to happen right away. However, even for healthy couples with no fertility problems, it can take months to get pregnant. It’s recommended that you try for one year before beginning fertility treatment. If the woman of the couple is 35 or older, this is reduced to six months, simply because her fertile time may be limited. If it’s been six months to a year, and you still haven’t conceived, it’s time to visit a fertility clinic.
Reproductive Health Center of Tucson is a leading fertility clinic using the latest medical research to help you start your family. With numerous awards, including being named as the only Optum Center of Excellence for Southern Arizona, you can be confident that you’re seeking care at the best fertility clinic in the area.