Without taking a blood test, getting ultrasound imaging, or using a home ovulation predictor kit (OPK), it’s almost impossible to know precisely when you’re ovulating. However, there are many steps you can take to get familiar with your menstrual cycle and accurately predict when you will be ovulating.
We want to be very clear about something: If you skip periods, you’re not ovulating during those months. Irregular periods are not regular unless you are just starting puberty or beginning menopause. If you plan to get pregnant and are skipping or have a history of irregular periods, let your OB know ASAP so you can learn why that is.
Identifying your “fertile window” is one of the first things you should do when you’re getting ready to get pregnant. The fertile window refers to the few days leading up to when you ovulate, including the day of.
Did you know that each egg only “lives” for about 12 to 24 hours? However, healthy male sperm live an average of three to five days. So, once you identify your fertile window, you can time intercourse at home to optimize the amount of sperm waiting to meet the egg when she arrives.
Here are three steps you can take right now to learn when you’re ovulating.
The first step is to download one of multiple period or fertility apps out there, many of which are free. In the “old days,” we used to have women track their periods and symptoms on a calendar for three or four months, after which we’d review them together to determine the most likely ovulation window. Now, algorithms do that work for you.
Use the app for at least three months, allowing it to see long-term data that provides the information needed to predict ovulation. If you’re planning to get pregnant in the near future, share the information with your OB/GYN at a preconception appointment.
Once your period tracking or fertility apps have isolated your fertile window and give you prospective ovulation dates, you can put that information to the test. Over-the-counter ovulation predictor kits test the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. When you ovulate, those levels are higher.
The tests are pretty accurate and can help you learn exactly when you tend to ovulate within that fertile window. They may also indicate that you’re not ovulating – important information for your OB or fertility specialist. You can purchase OPKs at your local pharmacy or online.
Misinformed women and couples often use ovulation predictor kits to indicate when to have sex. However, in most cases, it’s already too late. LH levels go up after the egg is released, so your window is much shorter if you wait for the OPK green light to have sex. So instead, use it to more accurately determine which day tends to be ovulation day in your menstrual cycle – which gives you the information you need to time intercourse for the days leading up to and including ovulation day.
If you have a 28-day menstrual cycle, you probably ovulate around day 14. You can get a good idea of when you ovulate based on that model. If your cycle is 24 days, you probably ovulate on day 10. If your cycle is more like 30 or 32 days, you probably ovulate around day 16 or 17.
Once you start tracking daily signs and symptoms, you’ll notice physical changes that sync with the days leading up to ovulation. These include:
- Mild pelvic/abdominal cramps or pain (remember this is the week+ after your period
- Light spotting
- Changes in pelvic discharge, like thicker elastic egg white (your discharge becomes more weblike to form a “net” the sperm can swim up into the cervix)
- Breast tenderness
- Change in libido (many women feel more aroused during this time)
- Heightened senses
- Changes in basal body temperature (we used to recommend tracking basal body temp (BBT) each morning before getting up, but fertility trackers make this less necessary unless your doctor recommends it)
- The cervix feels softer and higher (you can feel your cervix as it changes throughout your menstrual cycle)
Some women also notice they feel more queasy or are more prone to headaches during ovulation.
Do you suspect you’re not ovulating regularly or at all? Schedule an appointment with your OB/GYN to check in. After a few simple tests, s/he may recommend consulting with a fertility specialist. The Reproductive Resource Center is Kansas City’s #1 fertility center, and we’re here to support you. Contact us to schedule a consultation.