Deciding to start a family is an exciting time — and timing is everything. Each cycle, a healthy couple has approximately a 20 percent chance of conceiving. Conception can only occur during ovulation, when the egg is viable and able to be fertilized. It’s a short window, typically only 12 to 24 hours, which makes it important to know when you ovulate — although sperm are able to fertilize an egg anywhere from 3 to 6 days, so even if you have intercourse a day or two before you ovulate, conception is still possible. Let’s talk about ways to track your ovulation.
Ovulation typically occurs halfway through your cycle. For this reason, it’s good to track your cycle for several months, to get an idea of how long your cycles are (the first day of your period is day 1). Up to 20 percent of women will experience slight discomfort during ovulation, called mittelschmerz, in their lower abdomen, usually on one side. Paying attention to your body might help you notice this.
Charting to Track your Ovulation
Checking your basal body temperature, or BBT, can also help track your ovulation. Using a BBT thermometer, take your temperature every morning before getting out of bed. Your BBT changes throughout the month, and when a surge of progesterone occurs around ovulation, your temperature also goes up. During the first half of your cycle, your temperature will be lower than it is during the second half, after ovulation. Your BBT will be lowest at ovulation, and then go up once ovulation has happened. It’s best to track your BBT for several months, as it will allow you to predict when ovulation will likely occur. Tracking for only one month will only show you when it occurred.
Your cervix can also send you messages to help predict ovulation. In the beginning of your cycle, your cervix is hard, low, and closed. As it gets closer to ovulation, your cervix will become higher, soften a little, and slightly open up, to allow sperm to go through. Daily checks of your cervix, using one or two fingers, can help you monitor ovulation. Cervical mucus also changes throughout your cycle. Once your period ends, cervical mucus is mostly absent, but as your cycle goes on, the amount of mucus will increase, and typically becomes whitish and clumpy. Close to ovulation, it becomes clear and viscous, like egg whites. This is a sign that ovulation is near. After ovulation, mucus may dry up again or become thicker.
There are also ovulation predictor kits, which allow you to bypass checking your cervix and mucus (but it’s always helpful to use several methods of learning your cycle). These kits, known as OPKs, let you urinate on the stick, similar to a home pregnancy test, and it measures the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH), which peaks 12 to 24 hours before ovulation. Unlike pregnancy tests, it’s best NOT to use these with first morning urine, and instead, early afternoon urine.
Using these tips to track your ovulation can help you increase your odds to conceive. If you notice you aren’t ovulating, or notice any changes in your cycle, it’s always a good idea to talk with your midwife about your concerns.