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How to Track Your Ovulation Most Accurately, According to Ob-Gyns

If you’re looking to get pregnant, you might have heard at some point that ovulation tracking is a valuable tool. But, since Sex Ed is kind of an awkward blur, you probably have questions about exactly how to track ovulation.

Let’s back up for a second: ovulation is what happens when your ovaries release an egg. Ovulation usually occurs in the middle of your menstrual cycle, which is 14 days before your period starts if you have an average cycle of 28 days, depending on the Mayo Clinic.

That said, not everyone has a 28-day cycle, so your ovulation point may be very different from your best friend’s and even your sister’s. In fact, it’s possible to ovulate anywhere from day 11 to day 21 of your cycle, depending on the American Pregnancy Association.

Why is this important? To make a baby, your egg must meet your partner’s sperm. So you want to time things so that there is actually an egg waiting to be fertilized when you have sex.

“Tracking your ovulation can help you find when you’re most likely to successfully conceive,” says Iris Insogna, MD, of Columbia University Fertility Center. “Otherwise, it can be difficult to know when might be the most effective time for your efforts. It can add stress and pressure to what can already be a anxiety-provoking situation.

This can be very helpful for heterosexual couples trying to conceive, says Dr. Insogna. “For single women or those in same-sex relationships, this can also be important for timing home inseminations with donor sperm,” she adds.

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Not everyone has symptoms during ovulation, but you might, says Jessica Walter, MD, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Northwestern Medicine. “During ovulation, a follicle – a fluid-filled sac – in the ovary opens to release the egg inside,” she explains. “This process can lead to bleeding and the release of inflammatory fluid into the belly from the ruptured follicle.”

When this happens, you may experience mild bloating, cramping, pelvic pain, breast tenderness, or changes in your discharge. “Cervical mucus at the time of ovulation is often characterized as ‘egg whites’ because it becomes slippery and stretchy in consistency and light in color,” says Dr. Walter.

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When to start ovulation tracking

Again, ovulation usually happens on day 14 of your cycle, but everyone’s cycle is different. For this reason, when you should start tracking your ovulation really depends on your cycle length, says Dr. Insogna.

“If you have a typical 28-day cycle, then starting to track ovulation around day 10 is a good idea,” she says. “Just to make sure you don’t miss it.” If your cycle length is shorter than that, you might want to start tracking earlier, like day six or seven, to make sure you don’t miss your fertile window, she says.

How to Accurately Track Ovulation

You have a surprisingly large number of options for tracking ovulation. Here are the big ones:

1. Get ovulation predictor kits.

    “Ovulation predictor kits are the most reliable method for women with regular cycles – and I highly recommend them,” says Dr. Insogna. They usually work by detecting an increase in luteinizing hormone (LH), which triggers ovulation, in your pee. When this surge occurs, ovulation will follow soon after. “Ovulation typically occurs 14 to 26 hours after the LH surge is detected and almost always within 48 hours,” says Alexa Sassin, MD, assistant professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine/ Texas Children’s.

    Ovulation predictor kits are the most reliable method for women with regular cycles.

    But, she notes, they don’t work for *all* women, especially those with high baseline levels of LH, which can happen in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or women with diminished ovarian reserve.

    2. Use the calendar method.

    The calendar method is quite simple: you just need to determine the average length of your cycle and assume that you ovulate halfway through. While this is cheaper than testing your pee every month, it’s not necessarily the most reliable. “This method may not be accurate, however, because many women have cycle variabilities that are not accounted for in timing calculations,” says Kjersti Aagaard, MD, PhD, professor in the Division of Maternal Medicine and fetus from the Department of Obstetrics and Obstetrics. Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s.

    3. Try an ovulation and period tracker app.

    Ovulation tracker apps use the same concepts to help track ovulation and menstrual cycle length as the calendar method – they just remove whatever does the math for you. “Some of the apps can apply an algorithm to help predict ovulation based on personalized information entered into the app,” says Dr. Sassin. However, the accuracy of these predictions remains uncertain, she adds. Noted!

    If you’re hesitant to put your health data in an app due to uncertainty around privacy practices, you can use the paper calendar method to track your cycle instead.

    4. Monitor basal body temperature.

    Your basal body temperature (or BBT) “is your body temperature when you’re completely at rest,” says Lauren Demosthenes, MD, senior medical director at Babyscripts. “For most women, normal body temperature rises slightly during ovulation (0.5 to 1°F) and remains high until the end of the menstrual cycle,” she explains. “The most fertile days are the two to three days before this temperature rise.”

    It does, however, require some legwork on your part: you’ll need to take your temperature every morning after you wake up, before you do anything (including getting out of bed or sipping water). Then, record your daily temperature, and when you have a rise, you’re likely ovulating, says Dr. Demosthenes.

    It’s a bit tricky. “This method cannot be used to predict ovulation. On the contrary, the BBT can only predict that ovulation has probably occurred,” says Dr. Sassin. I understood.

    5. Check your cervical mucus.

    Some women have increased cervical mucus or vaginal discharge in the five to seven days before ovulation, says Dr. Aagaard. “This increase in cervical mucus is due to fluctuations in ovarian hormones,” she explains. “During this time, cervical mucus is noted to be more abundant, thin, slippery and stretchy.”

    When you get this egg white consistency, you are likely to ovulate. “Before ovulation, the mucus is more watery and slippery, indicating a good time to try to conceive,” says Dr. Demosthenes. “After ovulation, the mucus becomes thicker and stickier due to progesterone. This makes conception more difficult.”

    Infallible? No. But “some women are tuned into their cervical mucus and can use it to plan sex,” says Dr. Demosthenes.

    6. Try spit fern.

    Salivary fern predicts ovulation by examining the patterns formed by saliva in your mouth. “When the hormone estrogen increases near ovulation, the dried saliva can form a fern-like pattern,” says Dr. Aagaard.

    This method can be done at home with a microscope but may not work for all women, she notes. Certain medications can alter your saliva, which makes this especially tricky, she says. Also, do you really want to get a microscope? You might be better off using some of the other methods here.

    How long does it take to get pregnant after starting follow-up?

    Experts agree that this question is very difficult to answer, since factors such as your age, your reproductive health, and the reproductive health of your partner all play a role in your ability to conceive.

    “About 80% of families or individuals will conceive within the first six to nine months of trying to conceive, with the likelihood of pregnancy being highest in the first three months,” says Dr. Sassin. “Family planning studies have shown that the probability of pregnancy is higher when intercourse or insemination takes place the day before ovulation.”

    But, again, all of this is variable and individual. If you’ve been trying to conceive for a year with regular sex and you’re under 35, Dr. Demosthenes recommends talking to your doctor. And, if you are over 35, it is recommended that you check in earlier, at six months.

    Meet the Experts:

    Iris InsognaMD, specializes in Obstetrics & Gynecology, Reproductive Endocrinology/Infertility at Columbia University Fertility Center.

    Jessica Walter, MDis a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Northwestern Medicine.
    Lauren Demosthenes, MDis a gynecologist at the University of South Carolina, Greenville School of Medicine, as well as senior medical director at Babyscriptsa virtual maternity care platform.

    Alexa Sassin, MD
    is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s.

    Kjersti Aagaard, MD, PhD
    is a professor in the Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s.

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