Making the decision to have a baby is momentous moment in every woman’s life. And if you’re here, I’m guessing you’ve decided you’re ready to have a baby! The thing is, there’s a lot more to getting pregnant than I realized.
Sure, I had this vague understanding that there were only certain times during the month you could actually conceive. But after a few (frustrating) months passed without any luck, I decided to learn all that I could about tracking ovulation.
Are you also wondering things like…
- How do I figure out when I ovulate?
- How to track ovulation
- What methods are there to track ovulation?
- What are the signs of ovulation in a woman?
- How many days before and after ovulation can you get pregnant?
- How many days after your period are you most fertile?
The bottom line is that when it comes to conception, timing is everything. So today let’s find out everything you need to know to give yourself the best chance of catching your most fertile days, timing correctly, and getting that BFP (big fat positive).
Disclaimer: We may be compensated through the affiliate links in this post, but all opinions are our own. Read more here.
The basics of ovulation
A good place to stay when learning how to track ovulation is to just understand exactly what’s going on. It’s been a while since health class, am I right?
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is the time in your cycle when an egg is released from your ovaries. During the first part of your cycle, many immature eggs grow in follicles, but only one will actually drop. This mature egg will drop on your “day of ovulation” and only survives for about 12-24 hours.
Looking ahead, this doesn’t mean there’s only 12-24 hours where you must have sex to get pregnant! That’d make things even more difficult. More on the fertile window below.
When does ovulation typically occur?
First, you need to figure out your cycle length. Your cycle begins on the first day of your period, and ends the day before your period begins. The average cycle is 28 days.
Ovulation typically occurs 12 to 14 days before your next period. That means in a 28 day cycle, on average, you will ovulate on cycle day 14.
While knowing this average and having an idea of when ovulation occurs is certainly valuable, use the tips below to find out when YOU ovulate. Every woman is different. In fact, up to 70% of women don’t ovulate during the typical, clinical window (see sources at the bottom for link to the study).
Use the average guidelines as a starting point to start identifying your own unique ovulation window. Remember that relying too heavily on a perfect day 14 ovulation might be undermining your efforts to conceive. The tips below will help you figure out exactly when YOU ovulate.
When should I have sex to get pregnant? What is the fertile window?
Okay, so now let’s get back to that whole “your egg is only available for 12-24 hour thing”. This doesn’t mean you need to have sex exactly during that small window of time.
While your egg has a relatively short life expectancy, sperm on the other hand can live for up to 5 days in your fallopian tube waiting to fertilize an egg. For this reason, your fertile window is the period of 3-5 days BEFORE you ovulate. The idea is to get busy during that time frame and have the sperm waiting for your egg when it drops.
Aim to have sex every day, or every other day during this fertile window. We’ll find out more below on identifying when your fertile window starts and ends.
5 Different ways to track ovulation
Okay, so we’ve established that the majority of women have unique cycles and shouldn’t rely on the average 14 day rule alone. But don’t worry! Getting to know your body, and with the help of some handy modern day technology, there are lots of ways to figure out when you’re most fertile in a given cycle.
1. Use an app and work with averages
A great place to start is with an app that allows you to log your period, daily symptoms, and helps you predict ovulation. I use and like the Flo app because it allows me to input my average cycle length and log symptoms (including cervical mucus, which we’ll talk about below). The app can make “smart” predictions for ovulation based on the info you provide. They also link to relevant articles based on info you put in which I like.
A word to the wise, don’t live and die by your app’s ovulation predictor or any online ovulation predictor. These are all designed off of averages. However, I think it’s a wonderful place to start. It will give you an idea of when your fertile window could be, which lets you know when to put some other strategies to work. It’s also a nice way to track your monthly cycle and start to notice patterns. It keeps it organized and all in one place.
2. Using Ovulation Predictor Kits to track ovulation (LH Surges)
Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) are strips you pee on that detect a surge of the LH hormone in your body. The LH hormone surges when your egg has reached a certain size, usually 24-48 hours before the egg drops and ovulation occurs.
When you use ovulation strips, you are looking for this surge to occur. When you have a positive ovulation test, you should be actively trying to get pregnant on that day, and for the next 3 to 4 days to be safe.
Ideally, you want to be using your ovulation test strips every day after day 10 of your cycle until you get a positive result. The LH hormone builds up in your body during the day, so aim to take your tests in the late afternoon or evening.
So many of my mama friends attribute getting pregnant to using ovulation strips. They really work for a lot of women! But here are some things to note about using them:
- Some women have very short LH surges that can be difficult to catch with just once daily ovulation testing
- On the other hand, some women’s LH surges last a very long time, and can make it tricky to know if ovulation is actually imminent
- If you drink a lot of water during the day, or don’t do a long enough “hold” before a test, it may be difficult to ever see a positive test
I am actually someone who doesn’t have a lot of luck with OPKs, while Trina on the other hand found them super useful! Definitely worth a try, but if you aren’t seeing positives ever, it may be time to try another method. Or better yet, use more than one tracking method anyways to increase your knowledge of your body.
3. How to track ovulation with your Cervical Mucus?
If you aren’t having luck with test strips, or even in conjunction with them, learning how to track your cervical mucus (CM) can be an easy and effective way to spot your fertile window. The right cervical mucus can be one of the clearest signs of ovulation before it happens which means you can time intercourse perfectly.
This is the typical progression of CM throughout your cycle:
- Right after your period: Dry or Absent CM
- Sticky Phase (not fertile)
- Creamy Phase (semi-fertile)
- Clear, ‘Egg White’ Phase: Fertile! Ovulation is coming in the next few days
- Dry again after you ovulate
When these phases happen will vary from woman to woman depending on your cycle length. But on average, you can expect to see the ‘magic’ egg white cervical mucus between cycle days 10-14. This slippery CM will look like raw egg whites and when put between your fingers and pulled apart is the only type of CM that can stretch and stay intact.
Egg white cervical mucus usually begins 1-5 days before you ovulate. This type of cervical mucus creates a perfect environment for sperm to travel up to the egg. Typically, younger women will have a higher number of days with this egg white CM and as we age, we might have fewer days of this CM before ovulation.
As soon as you notice this type of CM, it’s time to actively try to have a baby. This is one of the clearest physiological indicators of ovulation.
How to check your cervical mucus? Tips from my experience:
- Many women find they can check it on their toilet paper when they wipe or will see it on their panty liner. If you weren’t familiar with this term before, you may have been thinking of it as discharge.
- Once I learned about CM it actually became very easy to track and monitor. Timing sex using this method was a lot more successful for me than using ovulation predictor kits because I am a big water drinker. This results in plenty of CM but rarely a positive ovulation predictor strip.
- After 2 cycles of regular checking, I saw a clear pattern in my CM and ovulation.
- If you find that you aren’t seeing CM or discharge when you wipe or on your underwear, you can do an internal check. Make sure your hands are clean and well rinsed and simply insert two fingers and examine the type of CM that is present.
- I learned a lot about tracking cervical mucus from my favorite natural pregnancy resource, Mama Natural, so be sure to consult her info too. And when you do get the big fat positive, sign up for her free weekly pregnancy series, you’re going to love it 🙂
4. Using Basal Body Temperature to Track Ovulation
Another way to track your cycle and figure out when you ovulate is by monitoring your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) with a Basal Thermometer. Your BBT is the lowest temperature your body reaches in a 24 hour period. The idea is that by taking your temperature every day, right when you wake up, you can find a spike in your basal temperature, which indicates ovulation has occurred.
How BBT tells you when you ovulate?
After your body releases an egg (ovulates) your BBT will rise due to a surge in the hormone progesterone. This is great because now you know what cycle day you ovulate on.
What’s the problem with using BBT alone?
Well, by the time you see the spike in your temperature that indicates ovulation, that confirms that your fertile window has ended. Yes, this is helpful for next month, but remember if you want to conceive you want to be having sex 3-5 days BEFORE your egg drops.
I personally recommend doing basal temperature monitoring in conjunction with ovulation predictor kits or cervical mucus tracking, because alone, it’s just telling you when your window has ended.
5. Tracking Ovulation with the Ava Bracelet
So, if you’re just starting the trying to conceive process, or maybe even if you’ve been in the game for a few months (or longer), your head may be starting to spin. All of this monitoring and tracking can be exhausting and stressful. And as you may or may not know, stress isn’t going to help with conception.
But guess what guys? It’s the 21st Century. And that means there is an amazing, smart, digital product that can tell you exactly when your 5 most fertile days are every month. All you have to do is wear it each night when you go to sleep. The Ava Bracelet. Ava is a digital monitoring device, similar to a “Fitbit”, that tracks physiological patterns in your body each night while you sleep. Based on this tracking, it can predict when your fertile window begins and ends with up to 89% accuracy.
After a number of unsuccessful months trying to conceive, my best friend decided to give the Ava Bracelet a try and conceived on her second month using it. Coincidence? Maybe. Maybe not. But the reduced stress of whether her timing was right, and ability to let go of the trying to conceive obsession was worth it
Who should use the Ava Bracelet to track ovulation:
- If you’re exhausted and fed up with the process of tracking your cycle every month
- If you’re not having luck tracking with test strips, cervical mucus is confusing to you, and you just aren’t sure if your timing is right
- You’re starting to become obsessed with tracking ovulation and trying to conceive is causing increased stress and anxiety every month
- You have an irregular cycle that makes it difficult to track and predict ovulation
- You’re just getting started on this whole trying to conceive thing, and you want to give yourself the best possible odds from the start.
Signs of ovulation
The above methods are really your best bet when it comes to tracking ovulation. Relying on ‘symptoms and signs’, is definitely not the recommended method when it comes to predicting ovulation. However, know the following signs of ovulation can be helpful in confirming or reassuring results from a more reliable method like the ones detailed above.
1. Change in Cervical Mucus
When you notice that clear, slippery, and stretchy egg white cervical mucus, ovulation is imminent. It’s go time!
2. Change in Basal Body Temperature
A rise in BBT confirms that ovulation has occurred. This means you are probably not still fertile, but can be helpful to know when your fertile window ends. It’s also good knowledge for next month.
3. Heightened sex drive
You may feel an increase in sex drive on the days leading up to ovulation. Your body knows when it’s most fertile and is wired to reproduce.
4. Light spotting or brownish discharge
Some women may see evidence of ovulation when they wipe or on their panty liner. This will not look like bleeding and would be very light. This may occur when the egg is released.
5. Achy pelvic floor
A general feeling of achiness in your pelvic floor, hips and lower back could be a sign of ovulation.
6. Change in Cervical Position
If you track your cervical position, it will be higher, softer, and more open as you approach ovulation.
7. Tender or Swollen Breasts
Due to fluctuations in hormones during ovulation, you may experience sore, tender, or swollen breasts as it approaches.
Sending sticky baby dust your way, Mama!
Timing really is everything when it comes to getting pregnant. But in addition to tracking ovulation, you want to make sure you are living a healthy and stress-free lifestyle. There are a number of things you can do to promote fertility in addition to tracking ovulation. Don’t miss our top 10 tips to get pregnant faster.
Now you’re ready to really understand what’s going on with your body. With these 5 ways to track ovulation, you can relax and know that you are getting the timing right each month. For the best results, don’t just pick one method. Use these methods together to get a better idea about what’s going on in your body each month.
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Alli Wittbold is a wife, mama, blogger, and online teacher. She feels passionate about connecting expectant mothers with childbirth class educators, and supporting them to achieve the birth they desire. After having her first baby delivered by a Certified Nurse Midwife, Alli is an advocate for midwifery prenatal care. She has learned so much about labor and delivery by attending and reviewing dozens of birth classes to help mothers learn and explore options. Alli co-authored the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook, resources she is proud to share with as many expectant and new mothers as possible. Read more about Alli.