If you’re just starting to try to conceive (hi, new #ttc club member!), you may be tempted to think that all you have to do is have a lot of unprotected sex. Well, that’s definitely key—and might be fun at first—but what’s actually more important is making sure you’re having sex at the right time. The fact is, there are only about 6 days in any given cycle when your body is able to get pregnant.
So, other than having all the sex, the real trick is figuring out the best days to have that sex in your cycle—and that means predicting your ovulation date. No need to break out a crystal ball; there are some key indicators that, once you get used to measuring them, actually help as telltale signs a woman is ovulating. Let’s break it down.
What’s ovulation, again?
Ovulation is the single day in your cycle when your ovaries release one egg (although it is possible to release more) into your fallopian tubes. That egg hangs out there for about 24 hours, awaiting fertilization from incoming sperm. If fertilization occurs, the egg-and-sperm combo (now called a zygote) moves on to your uterus, where—if all goes well, fingers crossed—it implants itself in the uterine lining and, ta-da! You’re pregnant. Of course, our bodies can be more complicated than that, but those are the basics.
Got it. So what happens before I ovulate?
Day one of your cycle = day one of your period, or day one of your follicular phase. What happens during your period is that your uterine lining is shedding; leaving behind a fresh, clean lining, ready for implantation by a zygote. So basically, your period acts as a monthly clean sweep that preps your body for a potential pregnancy. Periods are super cool…right? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Ok, so you finished your period and now you’re still in your follicular phase, gearing up for ovulation. If you’re TTC, it’s time to clear your calendar for some good, old-fashioned baby-making. According to The American Pregnancy Association, the best time to have sex in order to increase the chance of conception is 5-7 days leading up to your ovulation, and the day of your ovulation itself. This is because normal sperm can live in your body for 3-5 days after sex.
Note: you’ll find some conflicting information—often in outdated forums—telling you that you really want to do it every other day leading up to ovulation, but unless you know that your partner has a low sperm count, there’s no need to concern yourself with that just yet.
Right, right, right. But WHEN do I ovulate?
Old school sex-ed sources would tell you that every woman, everywhere, in every cycle, ovulates on day 14 of her cycle. We don’t have to tell you that obviously that’s ridiculous. Just like some women’s periods last for 4 days, some last for 7; some women ovulate on day 12 and some on day 16. It’s all normal, and it’s all unique to you.
So, we can’t tell you exactly when you’ll ovulate, but the awesome news is that a few easy-to-find tools might be able to.
Seriously. It’s called Basal Body Temperature (BBT), and if you check it every morning, as soon as you wake up (before you even pee!), then mark it on a chart (or an app—there are some super easy ones out there), at the end of the cycle, you’ll be able to step back and hopefully see a pattern in your chart that might tell you when you’re most likely to get pregnant.
How do I measure my BBT?
Step 1: pick up a digital thermometer.
Not just any thermometer, ideally, you’ll find one that specifically measures BBT and reads your temperature to the 100th of a degree (we’re talking about super subtle temp shifts here, so accuracy counts).
Step 2: start temping.
On the first day of your next period, mark that as day 1 of your cycle and start taking your BBT the next morning. Try to do it as close to the same time each day, and again—it has to be done before you pee, start making coffee, even before you get out of bed. Just roll over, hit the snooze button, and pop that thermometer in your mouth.
Step 3: mark it down.
Once you get that day’s temp, mark it on your chart, and go about your day. And if you’re not the remember-to-take-my-temperature-every-morning type, there are some wearable solutions that do it automatically, in addition to monitoring a few other signs.
Now, here’s the catch about BBT: you won’t be able to see your ovulation day until AFTER you’ve ovulated. On the day after your ovulation, your temperature will rise a good 2-4 tenths of a degree and stay there for 3 days. Once that happens, your ovulation is likely confirmed for the day before the temp rise. In order to make sure you’re seeing the pattern, consider giving yourself a couple of months where you’re not hard-core trying to get pregnant and just interested in tracking your cycle.
What about ovulation predictor kits (OPKs)?
If you want to cut to the chase, you can buy an ovulation predictor kit (OPK). These are sticks you pee on (almost identical to home pregnancy tests) during the days leading up to your anticipated ovulation date. Depending on the brand of the test, a darker line or a different kind of smiley face will tell you how close you are to peak fertility (ovulation). But as you can guess, OPKs are most effective when you already have a good idea of when your ovulation will occur, so taking a month or two to get used to tracking your cycle will help you use those expensive tests more effectively.
Plus, if you’re just coming off birth control, according to the Mayo Clinic your cycle may take a month or two to regulate itself, so BBT will be helpful in helping you see that. For example, if you don’t see a traditional post-ovulation rise and you see a whole lot of temp fluctuation through the month, it’s possible you’ve had an anovulatory cycle (with no ovulation). If you see 2 or 3 of these kinds of cycles, you might want to visit with your doctor to see if further testing can help you confirm ovulation.
What else happens when I’m ovulating?
In addition to BBT, your body sends other coded signals to tell you when the time is right for conceiving. Tracking your cervical mucus is another form of data to add to your BBT chart, confirming that ovulation is approaching. As you get closer to the ovulation date, your cervical mucus will move from a sticky, cloudy substance to a thin, stretchy consistency. This fertile stuff is technically referred to as egg-white cervical mucus (EWCM), so that gives you a pretty clear picture of what to look for when you think you’re ovulating.
To check your cervical fluid, you can either inspect the discharge on your underwear, or insert a clean finger into your vagina and then look over what comes out. To get the most accurate understanding of it, you’ll want to rub the stuff between your thumb and forefinger, pulling your fingers apart to see how stretchy, sticky, thick or watery it is.
Keep in mind that your partner’s ejaculate will affect the quality of the fluid, so if you’re really looking to wrap your head around your cervical mucus, make sure you haven’t just had sex.
I can’t wait to try this!
Awesome. You can and should try to crack the code on your ovulation. Doing so can leave you feeling empowered and even more connected to your cycles than you ever thought you could be. Most of all, it will take you into the adventure of trying to get pregnant with confidence.
- Start taking your BBT a month or two before you plan to start trying.
- Check out some sample charts online.
- Start getting familiar with your cervical mucus and learning how to read it.
- Use OPKs to confirm your ovulation date.
- Have sex on each of the 5 days leading up to ovulation and on the date of ovulation.
You ready? Go for it. We believe in you!
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