Understanding Ovulation Cycles and Fertility Windows

Many women don’t pay much attention to their ovulation schedule. However, when you’re trying to conceive,  keeping track of your ovulation cycle is vital to increase your odds of conception. Ovulation typically occurs once a month and lasts an average of 12 to 48 hours. Women are only fertile for up to six days around ovulation. As women are most fertile around the time of ovulation, couples may chart a woman’s ovulation cycle to pinpoint the best times to have sexual intercourse.

What Happens When You Ovulate?

Ovulation is a process that typically occurs 12 to 16 days before your period. During ovulation, hormone changes trigger an ovary to release an egg. In the days leading up to ovulation, the body produces increased amounts of estrogen, which causes the uterine lining to thicken. This creates a sperm-friendly environment. An egg can only be fertilized for approximately 24 hours following ovulation. If the egg fails to fertilize, the uterine lining sheds and with it the egg. This is the start of your menstrual cycle.

What are the Signs of Ovulation?

During ovulation, you may notice several distinct symptoms that can help you indicate where you are in your cycle. While the signs of ovulation can vary from woman to woman, most experience a change in cervical fluid that resembles egg whites. Ovulation usually takes place on the day with the most cervical fluid. As you get closer to ovulation, your basal body temperature may slightly decline, followed by a sharp increase. An ovulation monitor may be used to detect basal body temperature. With ovulation, you may also experience light spotting, slight cramping on one side of the pelvis, abdominal bloating, breast tenderness, and an increase in sex drive.

What Factors Could Prevent Ovulation?

Certain factors can prevent ovulation and reduce your odds of fertility. Being overweight or underweight can affect estrogen levels and alter your reproductive cycle. Irregularities in the hormone system can also affect ovulation and cause long, short, or heavy periods. Certain autoimmune conditions, medications like antidepressants and antibiotics, and the use of alcohol and tobacco may also increase the risk of infertility in some women.

How Can I Best Track Ovulation?

While there’s no foolproof method to determine when you will ovulate month to month, you can help narrow down the most likely dates using a variety of tools. If your cycle is regular, the calendar method (Standard Days Method) may work well for you. For this method, simply count back 14 days from when you expect your next period. An ovulation predictor kit is also effective in determining ovulation. These kits generally test your hormone levels using urine or saliva.

You may also have luck charting your ovulation symptoms, such as your cervical mucus and basal body temperature (BBT). Your BBT represents your lowest body temperature within a 24-hour period. On the day of ovulation, you should see an increase in your BBT of 0.5 to 1.0 degree Fahrenheit. This increase in temperature will usually last until your next period. If all else fails, try a fertility monitor. This advanced method detects the surge in Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which triggers ovulation.