When it comes to tracking your ovulation cycle to determine your most fertile days, it’s all in the calendar.
If any of your friends or relatives have tried to add a new member to their family, you’ve probably heard them talking about their fertility calendar or ovulation cycle. Now, if you’re trying to become pregnant, you might be wondering what that means, and how you can identify your own ovulation cycle.
“Knowing your ovulation cycle is one of the best tools women have when trying to get pregnant,” says Dr. Manuel Arreguin, northeast director of women’s health and OBGYN at Geisinger Wyoming Valley Medical Center. “So much of our reproductive system hinges on that monthly cycle, and tracking it is the first step to taking advantage of it.”
Here’s what you need to know about ovulation, and how you can track your own cycle.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation occurs when an unfertilized egg leaves the ovaries and enters the fallopian tubes, which is where fertilization occurs. Each unfertilized egg takes two weeks to grow and mature before it is released by the ovaries, which is triggered by a woman’s menstrual period.
As the egg travels down from the ovaries toward the uterus, it becomes more accessible to any sperm that may already be present. In fact, sperm can live for several days in the uterus waiting for the arrival of the egg. On the other hand, if no sperm are available to fertilize the egg, an egg can only be fertilized within 24 hours once it is released into the uterus.
What are the symptoms of ovulation?
Although not all women will display physical symptoms during ovulation, there are some things you can look out for.
Symptoms can include light bleeding or spotting, breast tenderness, increased libido and pain to one side of the abdomen—where your ovaries are. You may also notice changes in your cervical mucus.
“Some women may even experience an elevated pulse rate, heightened sense of smell and swollen lymph nodes on the sides of their pelvis,” says Dr. Arreguin.
Grab your calendar
If you don’t notice regular symptoms, don’t panic! The most popular way women track ovulation is through a fertility calendar.
“Your reproductive cycle begins the day your menstrual period begins. Let’s call that day one,” says Dr. Arreguin. “Once you know your day one, you can calculate your ovulation start date.”
From the first day of a woman’s period, a new egg has already started maturing. From there, it takes about two weeks for that egg to reach a point where it can be released, which usually happens between days 12 and 16.
“Couples commonly believe that they should be trying to conceive on the day of ovulation, but this isn’t the case,” explains Dr. Arreguin. “Ideally, sperm should be present in the fallopian tube around day 10, as they can survive much longer than an unfertilized egg.”
From here, it can take seven days for a fertilized egg to travel through the fallopian tube and attach itself to the wall of the uterus. If this doesn’t take place, a woman will get her period between days 28 and 32, as they normally would. From here, the cycle repeats itself.
Basal body temperature—or the temperature of your body at its lowest while at rest—can also solidify your calendar.
“Your basal body temperature increases during ovulation,” notes Dr. Arreguin. “If you track it while still in bed each morning when you wake up, you will be able to identify your ovulation date.” This requires a specialized thermometer that can be found at drug stores.
The process can seem difficult and overwhelming for many women and couples, leading to the surge in ovulation tracking apps and gadgets.
However, a trip to the OBGYN might be just what the doctor ordered. Your OBGYN can recommend tests that will assess your hormone levels to help pin down your ovulation date, taking the guesswork out of the equation.