Are you ready to get pregnant? If so, you need to know about the ovulation symptoms that indicate the perfect time to conceive. A surprising number of women still don’t really understand their ovulation cycles, and since they’re different for every single woman, it’s important to know the key signs to look out for that suggest a good time to try conceiving.
If you know the ovulation symptoms to be aware of, you’ll have a better chance of timing sex accordingly so that your chances of pregnancy are higher. Even if you don’t want to conceive just yet, understanding the ovulation symptoms will help you to understand your menstrual cycle better and could even help you to avoid pregnancy in the long-run. You’ll also be more aware of any possible abnormal symptoms that could indicate a problem that needs addressing.
In every monthly menstrual cycle, a healthy couple using no birth control has, on average, a 25-30% chance of becoming pregnant, although this may vary depending on their individual circumstances. Although those figures may look low, bear in mind that it’s only possible to conceive when you’re ovulating, and this window is very small – just 12-24 hours every month.
If that doesn’t sound very encouraging, it’s important to remember that sperm can survive for much longer than the egg and can fertilize the egg even if you had sex several days before ovulating. It takes a single sperm to create a baby, so having plenty of sperm around to meet your egg as it’s emerging is the best way to ensure a successful conception. It makes sense, though, to have sex on the day of ovulation as, after that time, the window usually closes until your next cycle begins. That’s why it’s so essential to be aware of the ovulation symptoms you need to spot.
Ovulation – What Is It?
The term “ovulation” is used to describe the release of a fully matured egg from an ovary. This occurs each month. Women are most fertile when they’re ovulating. Each woman has millions of eggs from the moment that she is born. These eggs are immature and are waiting to mature and then be released, usually singly, each month. During the ovulation process, the egg will travel down the woman’s fallopian tube and possibly meet a sperm to fertilize it. In most healthy females, ovulation occurs once per month, a couple of weeks after their menstrual period starts.
When Is Ovulation Likely to Occur?
Usually, ovulation happens around halfway through the menstrual cycle, on approximately day 14 in an average cycle of 28 days, when counting from the first day of a period to the next one’s first day. However, no two women are the same when it comes to ovulation. Cycles may last between 23-35 days and even an individual woman’s own cycle and ovulation date can vary slightly between months. In an average case, ovulation will occur between the 10th and 19th day of a cycle, which equates to about 12-16 days before their next period begins. For most women, ovulation will occur 14 days before the first day of their next period, so in a 35-day cycle, ovulation should occur on cycle day 21. On the other hand, in an average 21-day cycle, ovulation should occur on day 7.
When you’re pregnant, are taking birth control or have been through the menopause, you won’t ovulate. There are also some disorders and diseases that impact on ovulation, including premature ovarian failure and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Some medications including chemotherapy, anti-nausea medications and antidepressants also suppress ovulation for extended periods. There are also lifestyle factors that come into play when it comes to ovulation – being very overweight or underweight, or being under extreme stress, can affect ovulation negatively. Most women who exclusively breastfeed their baby won’t ovulate, but every rule has its exceptions, so don’t rely solely on breastfeeding to prevent yourself from becoming pregnant again. Introducing your little one to occasional bottles or other foods can cause ovulation to resume so you’ll need to use birth control appropriately if you want to avoid getting pregnant very quickly after giving birth.
It’s wise to familiarize yourself with your own body’s menstrual cycle so you can have a good idea of when to expect ovulation to occur for you. Track your periods for 3-months minimum before trying to conceive so you can see patterns emerging. If your menstrual cycle is irregular or if you have a cycle that is very short (under 21 days) or very long (over 35 days) you should see a doctor so medical conditions could be ruled out that are causing your irregularity. Although tracking your ovulation if you have an irregular menstrual cycle can be a challenge, remember that – in most cases – ovulation will occur 14 days before your next period begins. This means that, even with an irregular cycle, you’ll still have a chance of conceiving during your cycle at some stage.
The Ovulation Process – an Overview
The process of ovulation can be defined by a period during which hormones are elevated during a woman’s menstrual cycle. There are three distinct phases:
- The follicular or periovulatory phase – this involves the cell layer surrounding the ovum beginning to become thicker and more mucus-like. It expands as the lining of the uterus starts to thicken.
- The ovulatory phase – during this stage, enzymes will be secreted forming a stigma, or hole. The egg and its cell network use this hole to progress into the woman’s fallopian tube. During this stage, the woman is fertile. It will usually last between 24 and 48 hours in total.
- The luteal or postovulatory phase – during this phase, if an egg has been fertilized it will become implanted in the woman’s uterus. If the egg remains unfertilized it will slowly stop making hormones and will dissolve within a 24-hour period. The uterus lining will start breaking down ready to leave the body when the woman’s period begins.
The Ovulation Symptoms to Be Aware Of
There are seven key ovulation symptoms to be aware of. These include:
- A slight fall in the body’s basal temperature before it rises once more
- The cervical mucus is thinner and clearer, having a slippery egg-white-like consistency
- The cervix will start to soften and will begin to open slightly
- You may experience mild cramping or slight pains in the lower stomach
- You may have a higher sex drive
- You might notice that you’re spotting slightly
- The vagina or vulva may look a little swollen
Can Ovulation Be Predicted?
There are several methods that can be used to predict ovulation:
- Check your menstrual calendar. If you track your periods for several months you’ll build up a picture of what is normal for your cycle. You can also use tools that help calculate ovulation. This may work for women who have regular periods, but if yours are irregular, you may need a greater awareness of the ovulation symptoms that occur simultaneously.
- Pay attention to your own body. 20% of women actually feel themselves ovulating. This may come in the form of a pain, twinge or cramps in their lower stomach. Often, this will focus on the side where the egg has been released. This is sometimes called “mittelschmerz” and it’s believed to occur when the egg is released from the ovary.
- Tracking your temperature. Your BBT or basal body temperature will decrease slightly when you ovulate. You can take this using a basal body thermometer first thing before getting out of bed after a minimum of 3-5 hours of rest. You need to take this temperature before sitting up, talking or getting out of bed. The BBT fluctuates through a woman’s cycle due to changing hormone levels. Before ovulation, the dominating hormone is estrogen but once ovulation has occurred, progesterone surges and increases the woman’s body temperature to prepare the womb to receive a fertilized egg. This means you’ll have a lower BBL before you ovulate when compared with the second part of the month. The BBL reaches the lowest point when you ovulate then rises quickly afterward by around 0.5 degrees. If you chart your BBT regularly for several months, you’ll begin to spot patterns that indicate when you’re likely to be most fertile.
- Familiarize yourself with your cervix. The process of ovulation isn’t completely hidden and you’ll spot some clear physical signs if you know where to look for them. When the body begins to sense the hormonal changes that say the egg will soon be released, it starts to prepare for the arrival of sperm that will hopefully fertilize the egg. A key ovulation symptom to look out for is the cervix’s actual position. At the start of your cycle, the cervix (the donut-shaped passage that acts as a neck between the uterus and vagina) is closed, firm and low. When ovulation approaches, it will pull upwards, opening a little and softening to allow the sperm to enter as they try to reach the egg. While some women are easily able to feel such changes, others find it harder. It makes sense to check the cervix on a daily basis and record the observations so you can quickly detect changes.
- There is a second cervical symptom of ovulation to be aware of – mucus changes. Your cervical discharge changes throughout the month. Straight after the end of your period, you’ll notice you produce very little mucus but the amount will slowly increase. It will take on a cloudy, white appearance and, once you reach ovulation, you’ll notice it becomes thinner, more copious and thinner with a slippery feel which is similar to egg-whites. You should be able to stretch it easily so it reaches several inches in length before breaking. This stretchy mucus is a key sign that ovulation is about to occur. Following ovulation, your discharge will become thicker. Noticing these differences and keeping a clear chart of your observations will allow you to more easily track your cycle so you can predict the most likely date when ovulation will occur.
- Purchase a kit to predict your ovulation. If you want a simpler solution to charting your cycle for months on end and messing about with your cervical mucus, there’s another solution – using an ovulation predictor kit. This can pinpoint your ovulation date 12-24 hours before it takes place. It does this by examining the level of LH (luteinizing hormone) which is the last hormone to reach its peak level before you actually ovulate. It’s very easy to use these tests. You simply pee onto a stick then wait for an indicator that tells you if you’re due to ovulate within the next day or so. There is another option – the saliva test. This measures the level of estrogen in your saliva when you’re approaching ovulation. Looking at saliva under the test kit’s eyepiece when you’re in the process of ovulating will show that there is a microscopic pattern resembling frost or a fern plant’s leaves. While not every woman’s saliva patterns are equally clear, this type of reusable test is more affordable than a standard kit. Some devices can also detect the salts like potassium, sodium and chloride in your sweat which will change at different stages of your menstrual cycle. This is known as “the chloride ion surge” and it takes place before the surge in LH and estrogen. This means you’ll have a warning period of up to 4 days before ovulation instead of the short 12-24 hour period that a regular ovulation kit will supply.
Persistence and Patience Is Key
Remember, persistence and patience are vital when you’re keen to conceive, and it can never be guaranteed that you’ll conceive even when you know for sure that you’re ovulating. However, knowing the ovulation symptoms to be aware of in advance can help you time sex right so that you’ll have the best possible chance of getting pregnant.