What is ovulation?
In scientific terms, ovulation is the release of an egg from the ovaries. After this occurs, the “luteal phase” begins, which is when that egg is available for fertilization by sperm. It is the window of fertility.
Additionally, the uterine lining (aka endometrium) is thickened during this phase in preparation for hosting a fertilized egg. If the released egg is not fertilized, then the egg, blood, and the uterine lining are shed during menstruation. This is why most women assume they may be pregnant when they miss a period. And, why women who are trying to conceive often plan their sex lives around ovulation. In short, ovulation is the timeframe during which a woman can become pregnant.
How often does ovulation occur?
For adult women, ovulation typically occurs once a month, in the middle of a menstrual cycle. Days 10-18 of a typical 28-day cycle would be the most fertile. Cycles start from the first day of a menstrual period.
For example, if you started your period on March 1st, then March 11-19 would be the most fertile time for you if you have an average 28-day cycle. For most women, ovulation will occur about 12-16 days before your next period. It’s near the middle of your cycle, but it’s not the same for everyone. It can be very difficult to track exactly when you’re ovulating if you do not have regular, predictable periods.
As we all know, there is great variation between women and many have cycles that are shorter or longer than 28 days. Due to this fact, the fertilization window could be 8-21 days, varying from woman to woman. If that’s your situation, read on to find out more about the other signs of ovulation.
Keep in mind that it may take you a few cycles, like 4-6 months, to be able to accurately predict when you are ovulating. You’ll want to chart your body temperature, menstrual periods, physical symptoms, and changes in your cervical mucus for the most accurate prediction of ovulation.
Am I more likely to become pregnant during ovulation?
While some people believe you need to fertilize the egg on the exact day of ovulation the become pregnant, the truth is there is a 6 day “fertile window” each month (or cycle) during which a woman can become pregnant. The five days prior to ovulation and the day ovulation actually occurs are the most fertile days in your cycle. Of those five days, the two days before and the day of ovulation would be your absolute most fertile. When your egg is released during ovulation, it is viable for 12-24 hours. After that, you typically can’t get pregnant until after your next menstrual cycle. Though, if you aren’t trying to conceive, be sure to use some form of birth control as charting and tracking ovulation are not fool proof family planning methods. This is especially true for women with irregular periods.
What are some of the signs of ovulation?
- Rise in Basal Body Temperature–With a special thermometer, you can measure your basal body temperature each morning. During ovulation, you should see an increase of 0.5-1.0 degree Fahrenheit. This slight rise in temperature should last until your next period.
- Change in Cervical Mucus–Throughout the month, you may notice some occasional vaginal discharge. If it is thick and opaque, you are not ovulating. If your discharge has become clear, slippery and stretchy, almost like an egg white, you are most likely ovulating.
- Physical Symptoms–There are some physical symptoms you may experience during ovulation. These signs include:
- Light Spotting
- Slight Pain or Cramping on One Side of the Pelvis
- Abdominal Bloating
- Heightened Senses (Smell, Taste, and/ or Vision)
- Increased Libido
- Breast Tenderness
- Increased Appetite
Is there a way to track my ovulation?
- Calendar Method (Charting)– Using this method, you record the day your period begins and ends for several months. This is simple and inexpensive. If you’re having regular, predictable cycles that are between 25 and 35 days long, you are most likely ovulating regularly, with ovulation occurring around day 14 of your cycle. With this information, you know you have the best chance of becoming pregnant between days 9-14 of your cycle. You may also want to chart any physical symptoms of ovulation for the most accurate picture of your reproductive cycle.
- Basal Body Temperature (BBT Monitoring) — This is another inexpensive method to track ovulation. These BBT Thermometers can be purchased online or at your local drugstore. Like charting, it will take several months before you’ve compiled enough data to determine your ovulation cycle. Each morning, you will take your temperature with a BBT thermometer before you even get out of bed. Record it for several months. When you notice a slight dip followed by a sustained increase over several days, that is ovulation. The increase is usually .05-1 degree F, just after ovulation. Again, you would need to record this accurately for several months to discover your ovulation pattern.
- Online Ovulation Calculators–Several websites and apps offer ovulation calculators to help you better predict when you may be ovulating. However, you will still need to be charting or tracking your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) to fill in the figures for these online calculators.
- Ovulation Predictor Kit–These kits are available online or at your local pharmacy. They can be quite pricey if you’re very unsure of your cycle since only 7 come in a box. Similar to a pregnancy test, these kits detect a hormone increase through urine. If there is a higher than usual presence the of luteinizing hormone (LH), the test will alert you that it is one of your most fertile days of the month.
- Monitoring Ovulation Signs–As we discussed above you can monitor your temperature, your underwear, and your physical symptoms to get a fairly decent idea of when you may be ovulating.
- A Note on Natural Family Planning (NFP)–Since many women do not have typical cycles, and ovulation windows may range from 8 to 21 days, I do not recommend tracking ovulation or charting as a method of birth control.
The best way to track your ovulation is usually a combination of the above methods. If you’re trying to conceive, thoroughly understanding when you are ovulating may help you succeed in becoming pregnant.