Your body provides signs each cycle about when you are ovulating. Once you know these ovulation symptoms, you can increase your chances of getting pregnant faster by ensuring you get the timing of intercourse right (in the days leading up to ovulation).
When we asked 9,863 women who are trying to conceive, if they were aware of their natural fertility signs, only 31% said yes.
You have a fertile window of only six days each cycle, due to the fact the sperm can survive up to five days in optimal conditions (more on that later) and your egg can survive up to 24 hours.
Your most fertile days are three days leading up to, and including ovulation day.
It’s easier to identify these when you first understand the events that occur during the menstrual cycle.
Your menstrual cycle begins on the first day of your period and ends on the day before your next period.
The average cycle length is 28 days, but anything between 21 and 35 days is considered normal. For the purpose of describing the events, we will use a 28-day cycle.
The menstrual cycle is controlled by hormones and can be described as the event of changes which occur in the uterus and the ovary.
Pattern of events that happen in the uterus and ovary each cycle.
|1-5||At the beginning of each cycle, your uterus shreds the lining (endometrium) that was built in the previous cycle in preparation for a new lining.||A few follicles (capsules, each containing an undeveloped egg) are stimulated to grow in the ovary. Only one will become the dominant follicle that will release it’s egg during this cycle. Learn more about follicle development.|
|6-12||A new lining begins to grow.||The hormone estrogen causes the dominant follicle to quickly grow in size. Estrogen also causes your cervix to change and release cervical fluid. Explained later.|
|13-14||The endometrium continues to grow.||Rising levels of estrogen trigger a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which provides the egg in the follicle with a final push to mature in the last 12-24 hours before it’s released (ovulation).|
|15-20||The hormone progesterone causes the endometrium to thicken in preparation for implantation (when a fertilized egg attaches to the wall of the uterus).||The released egg moves down the fallopian tube towards the uterus. The follicle (now called the corpus luteum) stays in the ovary and produces a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone is also responsible for your BBT to rise. Explained later.|
|21-28 if the egg was not fertilized||Progesterone levels drop; the endometrium starts to break up until it can no longer support itself. The endometrium is shred again (the beginning of a new cycle).||The corpus luteum stops producing progesterone.|
|21-28 if fertilization occurred||Approx. 7 days after ovulation the fertilzed egg will attach to the wall of the uterus (implantation).||The corpus luteum receives ‘human chorionic gonadotropin’ (hCG) from the embryo. hCG makes the corpus luteum keep producing progesterone for about another 8 weeks after which time the placenta takes over progesterone production throughout pregnancy.|
As mentioned, the table of events above represents what typically happens during a 28 day cycle. If your cycle is longer or shorter these events will happen on different cycle days.
An important note about cycle lengths: Cycle lengths vary from woman to woman and from cycle to cycle, however, the phase after ovulation until the next period, known as the luteal phase, is normally consistent for the same woman. Click on the image below to see a larger view.
So, now that you know the events that occur during a menstrual cycle, lets look at the ovulation signs that can occur in relation to these events.
Cervical fluid (CF), also know as cervical mucus is a perfectly natural and normal substance that is produced by glands in your cervix which is released into the vagina. It acts as both a barrier and a transport for sperm (depending on the phase in the cycle). It’s made of about 93% water, reaching 98% mid cycle, and contains electrolytes, glucose and proteins.
During each cycle your cervical fluid goes through a pattern of changes under the influence of hormones.
Dr Tash: Cervical Mucus & Predicting Ovulation
The cervix plays a big role in the female reproductive system. Your cervix connects your vagina to your uterus and acts as a barrier which opens to allow sperm to enter your uterus when you’re fertile and stays closed at other times.
You can learn when you’re approaching ovulation by identifying the changes your cervix goes through.
Your cervix position, opening and texture changes during the fertile phase of your cycle. These changes can be observed by feeling your cervix. The changes are easy to learn, but should be observed over a few cycles to ensure you are confident in identifying the changes.
Before your fertile phase your cervix will feel hard (like the tip of your nose), lower in the vagina, closed and dry (cervical fluid has dried up).
As you enter your fertile window and approach ovulation your cervix will change. It will feel softer (like your lips), higher, open and wet (due to the presence of cervical fluid). This is known as ‘SHOW’ (soft, high, open, wet).
After ovulation the cervix reverts back to its infertile position. You are most fertile when your cervix is in the ‘SHOW’ state.
Quick video by Dr Tash: Monitoring Your Cervix
Your BBT is your lowest temperature at rest, usually when you are sleeping.
Tracking your BBT is one of the best ways to detect if and when you ovulated.
Read on to learn why you should and how to track your BBT.
After ovulation, high levels of progesterone will cause your BBT to rise slightly and stay elevated until the end of your cycle (cycle days 15-20 in the events table). This natural fertility sign occurs after ovulation, so whilst you can’t use it to help you this cycle, you can use it to help predict when you’re fertile in future cycles.
The rise is only about 0.5°F to 1.0°F so you need to take your BBT with a digital thermometer that can measure to one tenth of a degree.
View detailed instructions on how to monitor your BBT, or see the overview below.
Starting from the first day of your period take your temperature each morning at the same time, as soon as you wake. It’s important to take your temperature before it naturally increases from movements, so it’s a good idea to set an alarm and take it before even sitting up in bed.
Take your temperature in your mouth by inserting the tip of the thermometer under your tongue and push it toward the back where the tongue meets the bottom of the mouth. Leave it in there long enough to get an accurate reading.
Do this each day and record the temperatures on a chart (there is one below you can download for free) or add them to your daily log in Ovulation Calendar. You will notice the temperature shifts and it stays higher until the end of your cycle. The shift happens about one to two days after ovulation.
Quick video by Dr Tash: Tracking Your BBT
A ferning pattern of your saliva is another possible sign of when ovulation is about to occur. There are special microscopes for this purpose, but you could technically use a toy microscope. A ferning pattern is a pattern that looks like frost on a windowpane. The ferning pattern appears during the LH surge (cycle days 13-24 in the events table), which occurs about 24-36 hours before ovulation.
Although not a natural sign of fertility without the aid of a ovulation prediction kit (OPK), this is popular way for women to find out when they are about to ovulate.
There are two types of kit available, those that check urine, and those that check saliva. We have mentioned the saliva type above.
Urine based OPKs look for the LH surge (cycle days 13-14 in the events table). The LH surge happens about 24-36 before ovulation, so they can be a good indicator to when you’re fertile.
As mentioned, OPKs look for this surge in LH and will show a positive result when this surge is detected. A positive result is expected the day before you are going to ovulate. However, unlike pregnancy tests that are looking for a hormone that is ONLY released AFTER conception, traces of LH are in your urine all the time. For this reason it’s important you follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Most OPKs will advise that you do not urinate for at least 4 hours before testing. This is to ensure that the hormone level in your urine is concentrated enough. And you should use the test the same time each day for consistency. Many women find that first thing in the morning is convenient. But check the instructions carefully to see what the manufacture recommends.
You are looking for the first positive result, so you need to begin testing before you expect to be fertile and then test every day until you get the first positive result. This is to ensure you do not miss the surge. If you test too late you may have missed the surge, but not only that, you may not be able to tell if you are about to ovulate or if you have already ovulated as you can have an increase in LH in both cases.
Again, it is important that you begin testing until you get the FIRST positive result. You then know that you should be ovulating in about 24-36 hours.
It depends on the kit you purchase. The following table is an example.
|Cycle length||Cycle day (CD) to begin testing|
There are two main types of urine based OPKs, paper / plastic strips and digital.
Paper / Plastic Strips
The paper and plastic strips can be used once. They have a control line and a result line. You dip the strip into a cup of urine for five seconds before checking the result. Some can be placed directly in your urine stream. A positive result is indicated when the result line is the same color or darker, than the control line.
The digital based kits show the result on a digital screen. Digital OPKs come with disposable test sticks that are fitted into the device before testing and then disposed of after testing.
Quick video by Dr Tash: Using An OPK
Some women may experience slight spotting due to a drop of estrogen before ovulation. Learn more about spotting due to ovulation.
Research has shown that women experience an increase in sexual desire when they are most fertile.
Hormone levels in a woman’s body can influence a heightened sense of smell, taste or vision around ovulation time.
Some women can experience a sensation and or cramping type pain during ovulation. The pain is felt in the lower abdomen, on one side, being the side of the ovary releasing an egg. This pain is called mittelschmerz, which comes from the German words for “middle” and “pain.”
See the image below to see the follicle rupturing and releasing it’s egg at ovulation.
Another sign of ovulation is slight bloating. You may feel slightly bloated in the abdomen around the time of ovulation. This symptom can be caused by increased water retention due to a rise in the hormone estrogen.
Some women experience tenderness in their breasts just before or after ovulation. This is related to the hormones in your body, getting ready for ovulation and the potential of pregnancy.
Knowing when you’re most fertile from your ovulation signs can increase your chances of getting pregnant sooner.
With a little bit of practice you’ll get to know the pattern of events that happen each cycle and be able to pinpoint when you’re ovulating.
The best time to have intercourse is in the three days leading up to, and including ovulation day.
To help you remember the natural fertility signs, take a look at the following infographic.
Click the image to see a larger view
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