Understanding your menstrual cycle can be one of the most confusing things you’ll ever do. It’s also one of the most powerful, especially when it comes to trying to conceive. When you understand how and why your body does the things it does, you’ll be better equipped to make choices that will support your journey towards starting a family, put you in control of your reproductive health, and make the whole process less perplexing. Ovulation is just one part of your cycle but it’s a crucial one that your ability to get pregnant hinges on. If you’re actively trying to conceive, then it’s likely that you are already checking your ovulation signs to optimize the best time for intercourse or insemination. Understanding the signs of ovulation can help you become more aware of what to look for and when to start the conception process, so let's check first, how much do you know about it with the following test:
What exactly is ovulation?
Before looking at the signs of ovulation, let’s explore a little more about what ovulation is. Simply put, it’s the phase of the menstrual cycle in which your ovaries develop follicles that each contain an egg. The strongest follicle discharges an egg, which then travels down your fallopian tube. If it is met by sperm, it may become fertilized, starting the first stages of conception. (Note: the implantation of the fertilized egg doesn’t happen right away. This usually takes place between 6 and 12 days after ovulation). If it’s not fertilized, it will disintegrate and be absorbed into your uterine lining, which will begin to shed and you’ll start your period.
When do you ovulate?
This question, unfortunately, can be a challenging one. Your ovulation date is determined by the length of your cycle and, because every woman’s body is different, there is no set answer. We do know that ovulation typically occurs between 12 and 16 days before the start of your next period. So, if you have an average cycle length of 28 days, you’ll likely ovulate midway through, on the 14th day. If you have a shorter, 21-day cycle, you may ovulate between the 6th and 10th days of your cycle. Because of this, it’s helpful to track your ovulation and become familiar with your own ovulation patterns.
Let's talk a little about what ovulation signs can you expect:
Mild pelvic or lower abdominal pain
Some women can feel themselves ovulating. Not quite like cramps, it’s usually a dull ache on one side of the lower abdomen or the other, but not both. It should only last between a few minutes and a few hours and can be treated with an over-the-counter medication like Motrin. However, it’s important to note that if the pain is severe and doesn’t go away with a mild painkiller, it’s worth talking to your doctor about so you can rule out endometriosis or ovarian cysts. Some women experience light spotting that accompanies the pain during ovulation.
Drop in basal body temperature (BBT)
Basal body temperature is the lowest body temperature attained during rest and is a great indicator of ovulation, tracked using a basal thermometer. Women tend to have lower temperatures right before ovulation begins and higher temperatures when it ends. Typically, there’s a one-half to one degree Fahrenheit increase during ovulation. If you’ve been tracking your BBT, this change will be easy to spot. Basal body temperature can also be used to identify a pregnancy or the approach of your period. If you are pregnant, your temperature will stay higher but if you’re not, it will drop.
Changes in cervical mucus
Cervical mucus is one of the best (and easiest) ways to track your ovulation and is worth getting acquainted with. As hormones fluctuate throughout your cycle, the appearance, texture, and consistency of your cervical mucus changes. There are different types of mucus for different levels of fertility and, for the sake of recognizing when you’re ovulating, some signs that your mucus is fertile are:
The most fertile type of cervical mucus is often referred to as egg-white cervical mucus (EWCM) due to its resemblance of a raw egg white. This mucus is stretchy and, if you were to stretch it between your thumb and index finger, would not lose its shape. This helps to protect the sperm as it travels to the egg and provides alkaline protection from the acidity of the vagina.
You can check your cervical mucus a few different ways, depending on what’s most comfortable for you.
- Toilet paper method - observe mucus found after wiping with toilet paper
- Externally - use clean fingers to feel for mucus around the opening of your vagina
- Internally - insert two clean fingers into your vagina and gently sweep the cervix to collect mucus
Once you have the mucus, you can observe its appearance, texture, and consistency to determine whether you may be ovulating. This ovulation sign is pretty easy to observe and can be very useful.
Changes in the cervix
Your cervix changes to optimize your chance of conception and can clue you into when you are most fertile. Checking your cervix is best done at the same time each day and with clean hands. When you are not fertile your cervix will feel hard, dry, and low. When you are fertile, your cervix will feel soft, high, open, and wet.
To check your cervix, try standing in the position you would to insert a tampon and using your fingers to gently feel inside. The location of your cervix changes so it may take a few cycles to get familiar with the process, but it can provide valuable insight about when you should try to conceive.
While there are other ovulation signs such as breast tenderness, increased libido and energy, heightened sense of smell, and spotting that can clue you into when you are fertile, they can be affected by so many other factors that they don’t make predictable signs. You may find yourself noting every little change in your body when you are trying to conceive but focusing on these proven ovulation signs, paired with an ovulation prediction or calculator, can take some of the stress away and help you become more familiar with your body in the process.