What are the most common ovulation signs?
If you want to optimise your chances of getting pregnant then one of the first steps to take is to pinpoint when you are ovulating. The release of an egg from the ovary is called ovulation, it’s a process that happens, once every menstrual cycle. Contrary to the belief that every woman with a 28-day cycle will ovulate on day 14, the day can vary woman to woman and even cycle to cycle.
Once an egg is released from the ovaries it travels down the fallopian tube where it is hopefully met by the sperm to be fertilised. An egg can only live for around 12-24 hours after ovulation, and sperm can live inside a woman for as many as 5 days after ejaculation.
This means that there are around 6 days in a cycle that you could conceive, this includes the day of ovulation and the 5 days before ovulation. Pinpointing the ovulation date can help you to time baby making to increase your chances of conception.
The good news is there are many ways you can monitor signs of ovulation from the comfort of your own home to help identify your ovulation date.
For women who have very regular periods, the date of ovulation can be estimated with a calendar or phone app. Ovulation usually occurs 10-16 days before your period starts, so if you track your period dates and always have a gap of 28 days, you will be likely to narrow down when you’re due to ovulate to within a few days.
Although apps and the calendar methods can give you a good idea of ovulation date, they cannot be 100% relied on when used alone and are best when used in combination with other signs.
Most women, although not all, may notice changes to their vaginal discharge throughout their menstrual cycle. As you near ovulation the discharge contains more cervical mucus and you may notice you feel wetter. If you stretch the mucus between 2 clean fingertips it should form into a stretchy string, this is known as ‘fertile mucus’, which can also be described as thinner, slippery and of egg white consistency. This can vary depending on if you have had previous pregnancies or are taking certain fertility medicines.
Pregnancy rates are higher when couples have sex on the day of maximum mucus, which is usually 2-3 days before ovulation, so if you notice mucus changes you should try to have sex at this time or within the next 24 hours.
Measuring your basal body temperature (BBT) is another method to help to identify ovulation. Basal body temperature is your lowest body temperature during rest. It is usually estimated by taking your temperature as soon as you wake up, before you even sit up, have a drink or get out of bed. You can measure your BBT with a standard digital thermometer or a specially designed fertility monitor such as an internal vaginal monitor
When a woman ovulates her progesterone levels then increase, which causes her body temperature to rise very slightly by about 0.5°C. This spike in BBT is usually seen a day or two after ovulation so BBT can be a useful tool to track when you have ovulated, but not to predict when you’re about to ovulate. If you have regular cycles, after tracking for a few months you could use this information alongside your cycle dates to predict when you will ovulate so that you can calculate your fertile window. Some fertility monitors will do this tracking for you.
Approximately 24 to 36 hours before ovulation there is a surge in a woman’s level of luteinising hormone (LH), this LH can be measured in a woman’s urine from about 12-24 hours before ovulation. Ovulation test strips that measure LH levels can be used to identify the ‘surge’ and therefore the ovulation date can be calculated as 12-24 hours later.
There are other less reliable signs of ovulation such as breast tenderness, bloating or abdominal pains and changes in libido or sex drive. For some women these coincide strongly with ovulation dates but there can be other causes of these symptoms so it’s best to not rely on them alone and to combine them with other ovulation tracking methods.
What products are available to help me track my fertile window and ovulation dates?
Ovulation test strips are a simple and relatively affordable way to track your ovulation and fertile window. You can either test for LH or both LH and oestrogen in the urine. Testing for LH and oestrogen together gives you a wider fertile window than testing for LH alone.
Ovulation tests are not suitable for everyone. Some women with Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) may have high levels of LH even when they are not ovulating which can lead to misleading results. Other women may have naturally low baseline levels of LH that won’t be detected by a traditional ovulation test even during their LH surge, leading to false negative results.
A fertility monitor helps you to track your cycle to help identify when you are fertile. Many fertility monitors are linked to an app that will visually display your data, which can be very helpful. Fertility monitors track various fertility indicators such as hormone levels in your urine, body temperature and pulse rate. In general, they offer you much more than a traditional ovulation test, including prediction of more fertile days (some can predict your entire fertile window), storage of personal information such as cycle length, sexual intercourse dates and allow you to share your data with your doctor or partner. Unfortunately, not all fertility monitors are suitable for women with irregular cycles or PCOS, so if this applies to you, please check the ‘Is this product right for you?’ section on the product page before buying one.
Some couples love to have all the facts, feel more in control and like to know exactly when to time sex, but for others this can feel like added pressure and make sex feel like a burden. It’s important to do what feels right for you. The experts advise that regardless of tracking, if you have regular sex around every 2-3 days you will hit your fertile window.
References1. NHS Choices [Online content accessed 11.03.20] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/getting-pregnant/
2. WebMD - Infertility and Reproduction [Online content accessed 20.02.20] https://www.webmd.com/infertility-and-reproduction/guide/sperm-and-semen-faq#1
3. Tommys.org [Online content accessed 11.03.20] https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/planning-pregnancy/how-get-pregnant/ovulation-and-fertility
4. NHS Choices [Online content accessed 11.03.20] https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/womens-health/how-can-i-tell-when-i-am-ovulating/
5. The Fertility Handbook, Professor Mary Wingfield 2017 – Page 15
6. The Fertility Handbook, Professor Mary Wingfield 2017 – Page 17
7. NHS Choices [Online content accessed 11.03.20] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/polycystic-ovary-syndrome-pcos/causes/
8. The Fertility Handbook, Professor Mary Wingfield 2017 – Page 12