Whether you are trying to get pregnant or to avoid it, knowing where you are in your menstrual cycle can make a huge difference. You are at your most fertile just before you ovulate, and so knowing when that happens can be instrumental in ensuring or dodging a pregnancy. So, what are the signs of ovulation?
How Does Ovulation Work?
Ovulation is the term used to describe when an egg is released from a woman’s ovaries. Over the course of a normal menstrual cycle, one egg develops and is released. It then travels through the fallopian tubes towards the uterus. The egg usually lives for around 24 hours after it is released.
The first day of your cycle is the day on which you get your period, and the average cycle is said to be 28 days. A woman with regular cycles will ovulate on average between the 11th and 21st day of her cycle, and the day of the ovulation is when she is the most fertile.
While some people say that you are most likely to ovulate on the 14th day, this isn’t always the case. If your menstrual cycles are shorter, ovulation is more likely to happen closer to the 11th day. Women with long cycles tend to ovulate closer to the 21st day of their cycle.
What Are the Signs of Ovulation?
Every woman’s body is different, and so the signs can vary from person to person. While some women will show all the signs, some will only experience one or two, and it’s entirely possible to not experience any noticeable signs at all. Plus, while some women’s cycles are as reliable as clockwork and occur on the same day each month, many live with irregular and unpredictable cycles.
Narrowing down the window of time when ovulation may occur is the first step to identifying and tracking your ovulation symptoms. Your next step is to pay attention to signs that may indicate that you are ovulating.
- Changes in basal body temperature – Basal body temperature is the lowest temperature your body reaches during periods of rest, and so it is normally tested immediately after waking, before you start doing any physical activity. Most of the time, it should be consistent, and as your ovulation approaches, you may notice a slight decrease. It will then increase greatly shortly after the ovulation has occurred. This sign is therefore mainly useful for determining that ovulation has actually happened, rather than for predicting one.
- Change in cervical mucus – When you are about to ovulate, your body increases its production of estrogen. This causes your cervical mucus to become clear and stretchy, like egg whites. However, the amount of mucus varies from woman to woman, so it helps to know what to look for. To test for ovulation, insert a clean finger into your vagina, collect some mucus, then stretch the fluid between your finger and thumb. If it’s very slippery and wet, or stretchy and sticky, it is likely that you are about to ovulate, or that you already have.
- Changes in the position and firmness of the cervix – The cervix changes in a number of ways over the course of a menstrual cycle, to better accommodate the various stages your reproductive system goes through. During ovulation, your cervix will be higher, softer, more wet, and open. This sign can be more difficult to check for, and it helps to know what your cervix feels like the rest of the time (it will generally feel somewhat like touching the tip of your nose, while it feels more like touching your lip during ovulation).
Using these three signs of fertility and ovulation to encourage or avoid pregnancy is known as the fertility awareness method, or natural family planning. It takes between three to six cycles to learn the signs and processes necessary, though it is 99% effective and so can be worth the extra effort.
While the first three mentioned are the most common and (usually) the most accurate methods of establishing when and if you are ovulating, there are a quite a few other symptoms that can help you determine when your eggs are released. These are generally not consistent, and may not occur at all, so don’t rely on them for contraception.
These less-common signs include:
- Abdominal bloating
- Light spotting
- Slight pain or cramping in your lower abdomen
- Increased sex drive
- Breast tenderness
- Heightened senses
How to Use the Signs
Generally, the main reason to be aware of when you ovulate is so that you know when you are most likely to be able to get pregnant. If you know when the egg is about to be, or has been released, you can increase your chances of conception, or you can tell when to use a contraceptive to avoid it.
Sperm will generally last around four days inside the fallopian tubes, though they can last up to seven. As mentioned, the egg lasts between 12 and 24 hours after release. If you’re trying to get pregnant, the ideal thing to do is to have sperm in your tubes ready and waiting for the egg to be released. This means having sex every day or two from around the 8th day of your cycle until the 21st to ensure your man’s swimmers are in position.
On the other side of the coin, this means that you are in theory the least fertile between days 1-7 and 22-28 of your cycle, though this very much depends on the length and regularity of your cycles.
Don’t Put All Your Eggs in One Basket
Knowing when you are ovulating can make the difference between a wonderful new addition to the family, and an unpleasant surprise (one way or the other). Using the three main signs that your body has released an egg, along with the various secondary signs, can help you to understand what your body is doing when, and so allow you to plan for your future accordingly. However, if you want to avoid pregnancy, it’s best not to rely only on natural family planning.