What is ovulation?
Ovulation is when you release an egg from one of your ovaries. From the five days before ovulation to the day you ovulate, you are potentially fertile. But your chances of getting pregnant are highest if you have sex in the last three days of this six-day window.
When do you ovulate?
Generally, you ovulate in the middle of your menstrual cycle. If you have an average cycle of 28 days, you can ovulate around day 14. However, lengths of normal cycles can range from 21 to 35 days. Some women ovulate about the same day each cycle, but for others the timing is difficult to determine.
Learning how to identify and detect ovulation symptoms can help you plan when to have sex if you want to get pregnant.
Almost all women have these three ovulation symptoms:
- Changes in basal body temperature (BBT). Your BBT is your lowest body temperature in a 24 hour period. On the day after you ovulate, your BBT will increase by 0.5 to 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit and continue to increase until your next period.
- Changes in cervical mucus. Cervical mucus is the vaginal discharge that you sometimes get in your underwear. During the few days before you ovulate and immediately after ovulation, you may notice an increase in cervical mucus and a change in its texture.
- Changes to the cervix. During ovulation, your cervix is softer, higher, wetter and more open.
The following symptoms are not as common or consistent as those described above, so you may have all, some or none of them. They can include:
- Chest tenderness
- Mild cramps or tingling in the abdomen, or a one-sided back pain, known as medium pain (German for “middle pain”)
- Very light spots (vaginal bleeding or discharge that may occur when an egg is released)
- Increased sense of smell
- Increased sex drive (some women say they feel sexy, flirty, more sociable and physically attractive)
- Changes in appetite or mood
- Fluid retention
How to calculate ovulation
There is no infallible method of predicting when you ovulate. But here are some ways you can estimate when it will most likely happen, so you can try to time sex or intrauterine insemination (IUI) accordingly and increase your chances of getting pregnant.
(If that egg is fertilized by a sperm and implants in your uterus, you are pregnant!)
Try the calendar method
If your cycle is regular – the same number of days each time – you can try the calendar method (also known as the Standard Days method).
To estimate when you ovulate:
- Find your expected ovulation day: To do this, count back 14 days from when you are expecting your next period.
- Calculate your fertile window: This includes the day you ovulate and the previous five days. So, for example, if day 1 is the first day of your period and day 28 is the day before you expect your next period, you will be fertile on days 9 to 14.
- Emphasize the last three days: You are much more likely to get pregnant during the last three days of your fertile window than during the days immediately after you ovulate. This is because your egg survives in your fallopian tube for 24 hours after ovulation. And while sperm can survive in a woman’s body for up to five days, it’s more likely to fertilize your egg within three days of having sex.
This method is the easiest way to estimate your fertile window, but it is not very accurate, even if you have a good idea of when your next period will begin. This is because ovulation rarely occurs exactly 14 days before menstruation.
In one large study of women with 28-day cycles, the day of ovulation ranged from seven to 19 days before menstruation. Ovulation occurred only 10 percent of the time 14 days before a period.
So you can see how it is possible to completely miss your fertile window with this method. On the other hand, it is simple, free and worth a try, especially if you are not in a hurry to get pregnant.
Use an ovulation calculator
You can use BabyCenter’s Ovulation Calculator to find out which days you are likely to be fertile according to the calendar method and what your deadline will be if you become pregnant. This is one quick and easy way to find out how to increase your chances of getting pregnant.
Use an ovulation predictor set
Testing your hormone levels with an ovulation predictor (OPK) set is a more reliable way to identify your fertile window, although it may not work perfectly for all women.
There are two types of kits:
- Urine tests: This is the most common. The pie-on-a-stick test indicates when your level of luteinizing hormone (LH) has risen, which usually means that one of your ovaries will soon release an ovum. Some tests measure the level of another hormone, estrone-3-glucuronide (E3G), which also rises around the time of ovulation.
- Saliva tests: With the saliva test, you use a microscope to spot a pattern in your dried saliva that indicates the increase in estrogen that occurs in the days before ovulation.
Both types of tests show a positive result in the days before you ovulate, giving you time to plan ahead for baby sex.
The kits are available at pharmacies or online without a prescription. They can cost between $ 10 and $ 50 each.
Record your cycle by monitoring ovulation symptoms
You can watch subtle changes in your basal body temperature, cervical mucus and cervical firmness for a few cycles to try to determine when you are ovulating.
If you pay attention to these clues and record them on a graph or application, you may see a pattern that can help you predict when you are likely to ovulate next. (However, if your period is irregular, you may not notice a pattern.)
Mapping is free (after you buy the thermometer), but this method takes time and effort to do accurately.
Here’s how to detect each symptom:
- Basal body temperature: You use a special basal thermometer (which you can buy online or at a pharmacy) to measure your BBT every day, just when you wake up and after having had at least three hours of uninterrupted sleep. After ovulation, your BBT will rise 0.5 to 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit and stay that way until you get your period. The change in temperature does not tell you when you are going to ovulate, only that you have ovulated, so it is important to use this method along with observing the changes in cervical mucus throughout your cycle.
- Cervical mucus: For most of the month, you may have very little cervical mucus, or it may be thick and sticky. But in the few days before, during and immediately after ovulation, you will notice an increase in cervical mucus and a change in its texture: It will become clear, smooth and stretchy (like raw egg whites). This is the time, just before ovulation, when intercourse is most likely to lead to fertilization.
- Cervical changes: As you approach ovulation, your cervix will become soft, high, open and wet – you can remember it with the acronym SHOW. After ovulation, these signs reverse and the cervix becomes firm, low, closed and dry. You can feel these changes when you come into your vagina with a finger. Read on for more in-depth information on checking your cervix.
It can also help to be aware of other ovulation symptoms you may have, such as spotting or cramps. Although it is not an exact way to determine when you are ovulating, it can be helpful to be aware of these symptoms (if you have them) while using the calendar, OPK or chart methods.
How to check your cervix for signs of ovulation
If your other fertility signs are clear – you are producing fertile quality cervical mucus that leads to ovulation and have a sustained temperature shift after building up cervical mucus that confirms ovulation – you do not need to check your cervix. But if there is any ambiguity, your cervix provides good information to back up the other two signs.
Many women are not familiar with the touch of their cervix. And when they do, they may not know exactly how it should feel. (How soft is “soft” for example?)
Here’s what you need to know about checking your cervix:
- See when your mucus consistency changes: The best way to learn more about your cervix is to start checking it as soon as your cervical mucus changes consistency and to continue watching your temperature for a few days. That phase of about five days is when you will notice the most sudden change.
- Insert finger at middle knuckle: To check your cervix, insert your clean middle finger into your vagina to at least your middle knuckle or even further. Notice how the cervix feels to the touch. Just before ovulation, it can feel like your lips. After ovulation, it will feel louder, like the tip of your nose.
Learn more about ovulation tracking
Find out more about how to keep track of your BBT and ovulation symptoms can help you predict ovulation. Then follow the steps to chart your BBT and cervical symptoms.