Ovulation occurs when hormonal changes signal the ovaries to release a mature egg. In women of reproductive age with no hormonally-related fertility issues, this usually occurs monthly as part of the menstrual cycle. Ovulation sometimes happens more than once within a one-month period. It can also not occur at all, even if menstruation takes place. This is why the timing of ovulation can be so confusing.
The ovulation process typically happens around two weeks prior to your period starting. It’s not a clockwork process and can vary from month to month. Identifying when you ovulate can help you determine your most fertile time. In order to conceive via sex, you need to be within your fertile window. This period of time includes ovulation, but may start up to five days prior, and extend for up to one day after. Peak fertility days are the day of ovulation, plus one day before ovulation.
What are the symptoms?
Ovulation symptoms don’t occur in every woman who ovulates. Not having symptoms doesn’t mean you aren’t ovulating. There are, however, certain physical changes you can look for which may help you identify ovulation.
Ovulation pain (mittelschmerz)
Some women experience slight ovarian pain before or during ovulation. Often referred to as mittelschmerz, ovarian pain that’s associated with ovulation may be caused by the growth of the follicle, which is holding the maturing egg, as it stretches the surface of the ovary.
These sensations are sometimes described as a twinge or pop. They can be felt in either ovary, and may vary in location and intensity from month to month. Some women may experience ovarian pain on alternating sides of their body each month, but it’s a myth that your ovaries take turns releasing eggs.
The discomfort may last for only a few moments, although some women feel mild discomfort for longer periods of time. You may also feel a burning sensation caused by the release of fluid from the follicle when the egg is expelled. This fluid sometimes causes irritation in the abdominal lining or surrounding area. A feeling of heaviness in the lower abdomen may also accompany these sensations.
Changes in body temperature
Basal body temperature (BBT) refers to the temperature you have when you first wake up in the morning prior to moving your body at all. Your basal body temperature rises by about 1°F or less during the 24-hour window after ovulation occurs. This is caused by the secretion of progesterone, the hormone which helps your uterine lining become spongy and thick in preparation for implantation of an embryo.
Your BBT will remain raised until your body begins the menstruation process if pregnancy hasn’t taken place. Tracking your BBT may provide clues about your ovulation pattern from month to month, although this method is not foolproof. A study from 2000 of over 200 women found that late ovulation cannot be predicted by any method and that no symptom of ovulation, including BBT, corresponds perfectly with the release of an egg. BBT charting is also inefficient for women who have even slightly irregular periods.
Changes in cervical mucus
Cervical mucus (CM) is made up primarily of water. Triggered by surging estrogen levels, it changes in consistency during your fertile window and may provide clues about ovulation.
Produced by the glands of the cervix, CM is the conduit which helps transport sperm to an egg. During your fertile window, this nutrition-rich, slippery fluid increases in volume. It also becomes thinner, stretchy in texture, and clear in color. CM is often referred to as having an egg white consistency during this time.
In the days leading up to ovulation, you may notice more discharge than usual. This is caused by an increase in CM volume.
When you’re at your most fertile, CM may help keep sperm alive for up to five days, increasing your opportunities for conception. It also provides lubrication for intercourse. You can test the consistency of CM by reaching up into your vagina near the cervix and observing the liquid you extract on your fingers. If it’s stringy or sticky, you may be ovulating or approaching ovulation.
Changes in saliva
Estrogen and progesterone alter the consistency of dried saliva before or during ovulation, causing patterns to form. These patterns in the dried saliva may look similar to crystals or ferns in some women. Smoking, eating, drinking, and brushing your teeth can all mask these effects, making this a less than conclusive ovulation indicator.
Ovulation home tests
There are several different types of at-home ovulation predictor kits and fertility home monitors. Many of these measure the luteinizing hormone (LH) in urine. LH rates increase one to two days before ovulation takes place. This is known as the LH surge.
The LH surge is typically a good predictor of ovulation. Some women may experience an LH surge without ovulation taking place, however. This is caused by a condition known as luteinized unruptured follicle syndrome.
Some monitors measure, track, and store information about estrogen and luteinizing hormone for several months in an effort to determine an ovulation pattern. This can help you discover your most fertile days. Some of these monitors require daily urine testing except when menstruation is occurring.
Some at-home tests are inserted into the vagina before bed and left in during the night. These sensors take your body’s temperature readings and transmit this data to an app. This is done to more easily track your BBT.
Some at-home fertility tests analyze sperm quality via an ejaculate, as well as the female partner’s hormones via urine. Testing male and female fertility may be beneficial for couples who are attempting conception.
There are also tests which provide sperm-friendly lubrication, and some which include pregnancy predictors, as well as urine strips for ovulation testing.
At-home saliva fertility tests are available, but don’t work for all women. They’re also fairly susceptible to human error. They don’t pinpoint ovulation, but instead indicate when you may be nearing ovulation. These tests are at their most effective if used daily over several months, first thing in the morning.
At-home ovulation kits can be helpful for couples who are attempting conception, especially if there are no infertility issues present. Each test claims a high success rate, but also makes clear that human error can be a factor which minimizes effectiveness. It’s important to remember that at-home ovulation predictor tests provide no indication about infertility issues that aren’t hormonal, such as:
- blocked fallopian tubes
- hostile cervical mucus
At-home sperm tests are also not definitive indicators of sperm quality.
Women who have irregular periods often have irregular ovulation, or don’t ovulate at all. You can also have regular periods and still not be ovulating. The only way to conclusively determine whether or not you’re ovulating is to have hormonal blood testing done by a physician, such as an infertility specialist.
Fertility declines with age, but even young women can have infertility issues. Talk to a fertility specialist if you’re having difficulty conceiving if:
- you’re under 35 and unable to get pregnant within one year of actively trying
- you’re over 35 and unable to get pregnant within six months of actively trying
Many infertility issues, in either partner, can be resolved without requiring expensive or invasive procedures. Keep in mind that the longer you wait, the more stress or anxiety you might feel each month. If you’re having sex during your fertile window and not getting pregnant, you don’t have to wait to seek out help.
Some, though not all women, experience ovulation symptoms. Ovulation is a part of your fertile window, but pregnancy from sexual intercourse may occur up to five days prior, and one day after. Ovulation predictor kits may help, but shouldn’t be used long term if pregnancy isn’t taking place. There are many causes of infertility which aren’t associated with ovulation. Many of these can be managed or treated with medical support.