If having a baby is on your to-do list, it’s essential to understand your body and how ovulation works. Because knowing when you’re ovulating and then timing sex accordingly can help you conceive.
We know you’ve probably got the sex part of the ‘getting pregnant’ equation down pat. But if AP bio wasn’t your jam (and honestly, even if it was, this sh*t is still confusing), the ovulation side of things might be daunting. But stick with us, and you’ll be a pro at tracking, recognizing, and making the most of ovulation in no time. So here’s our guide to the big O (ovulation, of course, where did you think we were going with that…!).
First up: how ovulation works
Ovulation is a specific part of your menstrual cycle. It’s when your egg (yep, the one you want to be fertilized by sperm) is released from your ovary into your fallopian tube.
When does ovulation occur?
Ovulation usually occurs midway through your menstrual cycle – so on day 14, if your cycle is a standard 28 days (which not everyone’s is – more on this in a ‘mo).
How long does ovulation last?
To answer this, it’s essential to understand that ovulation refers to the moment your egg is released from your ovaries. But the process of ovulation begins as early as seven days before your egg’s release. First, your body starts to brew a lovely follicle-stimulating hormone that helps your egg mature. Then, once your egg is matured, your body will give off a surge of something called a luteinizing hormone which triggers its release from your ovary. In general, ovulation occurs 36-40 hours after that luteinizing hormone surge.
The elusive fertile window
If you’re trying to conceive, “…you want to have sex during your fertile window”, explains Dr. Natalie Crawford, M.D, Director of Patient Experience and Education and co-founder of Texas-based clinic, Fora Fertility. “But what is your fertile window? That’s the huge question most women have.”
Your fertile window is the period in your cycle (yep, that’s a menstruation pun!) when you’re most likely to get pregnant. It usually falls two-five days before ovulation and refers to the time frame in which your egg is fertile (e.g., you’ve ovulated), and sperm can stick around in your lady parts to meet said egg. It’s only a short amount of time, which is why it’s crucial to either track your cycle or learn to recognize the signs of ovulation so you can know when to get down to business if you hope to get pregnant.
Secondly: how to track ovulation
One of the first steps you may need to take – both in starting to track ovulation and to get pregnant – is to come off the pill or any other form of birth control you might be using. From there, you need to allow your body to re-establish its natural menstrual cycle – this might take around three months. Be aware that you may experience some irregular bleeding in the first few weeks after stopping contraception. It’s also important to know you can still get pregnant while waiting for your natural cycle to come back – conception can happen as soon as you cease birth control.
It’s wise to speak to your doctor before stopping any form of birth control. While the pill, for example, doesn’t cause infertility, it can hide fertility or other underlying health issues which you might need to work through with your medical professional or a fertility doctor.
Once you’ve got your natural menstrual cycle up and running again, you can begin tracking it. There are different ways you might do this:
One of the easiest ways to track your cycle and ovulation is via an app (read our guide to the best ones here). They use an ovulation calculator that charts your period’s first and last dates to suggest when you might be ovulating. Note that the best time to start tracking your cycle is on the first day of your period, as this marks the start of your menstrual cycle.
If your body doesn’t follow a textbook 28-day menstrual cycle each month (your cycle can be longer one month and shorter the next), it might be hard to track your ovulation via an app or ovulation calculator. But that’s ok – there are other ways to know when to start gettin’ jiggy with it.
At home ovulation kit
An at home ovulation kit contains ovulation test strips designed to detect the levels of luteinizing hormone in your pee (remember that old gem that stimulates the egg drop?). It will show you when there’s a higher level of said hormone in your body, which can indicate you’re likely to ovulate. An ovulation test has a pretty decent accuracy rate but isn’t 100 per cent gospel. So it’s a good idea to use multiple methods for tracking your ovulation.
Basal body temperature
Your basal body temperature is your body’s resting temperature. It changes throughout your cycle, meaning you can, quite literally, take your temperature to help track ovulation (isn’t science freaking awesome?). Your body temperature dips just before your ovary releases that little egg then rises – and stays up for several days – afterward. So charting your temperature and understanding its patterns can be a helpful ovulation predictor. You’ll just need to purchase a good quality thermometer and take your temperature at the same time every day for consistency.
Recognizing the signs of ovulation
Because our bodies are clever little things, they also give off a few external clues that you might be ovulating, including:
- Changes in cervical mucus discharge – sounds super gross, right? But, right before you ovulate, you’ve often got more discharge, and it’s clear and stretchy (sort of like raw egg whites). Cervical mucus after ovulation might appear thicker and cloudier, and there’s generally less of it than before ovulation.
- Increased libido – around the time you’re ovulating, your body may start telling you to get it on *cue the Barry White*. It’s not clear why this happens, but it’s thought to result from the rise in your estrogen level that occurs during ovulation.
- Ovary or ovulation pain – some women report pain in their ovary during ovulation. It’s a condition called mittelschmerz (say that ten times in a row, we dare you), and you might feel discomfort or pain on either one side or both sides of your abdomen. It can be accompanied by light bleeding and nausea, too (ugh).
- Other signs of ovulation might include tender boobies, light bleeding or spotting, and mild tummy cramps (again, ugh).
But do know that not everyone experiences these ovulation symptoms, or they might experience them differently. So tracking these signs of ovulation is just one way of knowing what’s going on in your body, and you might need to use an app with an ovulation calculator or an ovulation test kit as well.
Thirdly: how to use this knowledge to get pregnant
You now know how ovulation works and why it’s essential in the journey to pregnancy. You know how to track and watch for it. Now comes the fun part – sexy times.
If you are tracking your ovulation and having sex with the aim of getting pregnant, you’ve got to strike while the iron is hot. That little egg that’s dropped out of your ovary only lives for 24 hours or so, which is why knowing when you’re ovulating is crucial.
But, sperm can live within your body for up to five days. So, while you don’t need to have sex specifically on ovulation day, enjoying a little hanky panky during your whole fertile window will increase the chances you will get pregnant.
And if the magic happens? YAY! Check out our guides to the first signs of pregnancy, how to know if you’re pregnant, and when to take a pregnancy test.
Before we leave you, it’s important to note that tracking your menstrual cycle and ovulation is just one piece in the very big, confusing, frustrating, and downright unpredictable world of fertility. This article doesn’t replace medical advice, and if you have any concerns about your health and fertility, speak with your doctor.