Each month an egg is released from the ovaries. This egg travels into the fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterus (womb). This is called ovulation. Ovulation usually happens about 12-16 days after the first day of your last period.
An egg lives for about 12-24 hours after it’s released and in order to conceive, a sperm must fertilise the egg within this time. With such a short window of opportunity it is good to have a rough idea of when you are ovulating each month.
What is the difference between ovulation and fertile days?
While an egg only survives for up to 24 hours, sperm can remain active for up to five days. It may therefore be surprising to learn that a couple can conceive through sexual intercourse four to five days before the egg is released.
The total ‘fertility window’, taking into account the lifetime of both the sperm and the egg, is about six days. The 'fertile days' are all the days during your menstrual cycle when you have the ability to become pregnant if you have unprotected sex.
When is a woman most fertile?
The days during each cycle when you are most fertile, and therefore most likely to get pregnant from unprotected sex, are the day of ovulation and the day before – these are the two days of peak fertility. There are also a few days before this when you experience high fertility and also have an opportunity to get pregnant. Outside this ‘fertility window’ of about six days, the chances of getting pregnant are low.
To get pregnant, it’s important to have intercourse on your fertile days; if you want to find out when are your most fertile days, it’s important to get to know your own body and your own personal menstrual cycle.
Here are some signs to look out for which can indicate you are ovulating:
CERVICAL MUCUS CHANGES
Cervical mucus becomes clearer and thinner with a slippery consistency, like egg whites and this lets you know that you are about to ovulate. Your hormones also change the texture of your cervical mucus, the sticky fluid that comes from your cervix, the bottom of your uterus. As your body gets ready to ovulate, you have more of it, and it feels more stretchy and slippery, like raw egg whites. The texture helps sperm swim inside your body. When your mucus feels like this, you should be in your fertile window.
Some women experience an increased libido which is seen as nature’s way of helping.
MILD PELVIC OR LOWER ABDOMINAL PAIN
It's possible to feel yourself ovulate, but many women don't notice it. You may experience a mild ache or pain in the lower abdomen, usually on one side or the other (not the same side each time). This can last a short time or for a few hours. There may be light vaginal bleeding, discharge or nausea along with the ache or pain. But if you're trying to get pregnant, don't wait for the twinge. That means your fertile window is soon closing.
BREAST SORENESS OR TENDERNESS
Breast and nipple sensitivity, tenderness or soreness can be another sign of ovulation.
Your Basal Body Temperature (BBT) increases after ovulation. You’re most fertile 2 or 3 days before your temperature rises. Your hormone levels change throughout your menstrual cycle. During the first half, your ovaries give off the hormone estrogen. When your estrogen levels get high enough, your ovary releases an egg. Then your body starts to make progesterone, another hormone. It makes your body temperature rise slightly. This can be hard to monitor on an ongoing basis as other issues may be affecting your temperature.
HEIGHTENED SENSE OF SMELL
Some women may find they experience a more sensitive sense of smell in the latter half of a normal menstruation cycle and this can be a sign of ovulation.
Remember, these symptoms don’t always mean you’re ovulating. Here are some ways you can track your ovulation symptoms:
MARK YOUR CALENDAR
Take note of when your period begins and ends and know how long your cycle lasts. Doctors say it's best to have sex at least every other day, especially during the 5 days before you ovulate. They call this your "fertile window." Your egg only lives for about 12 to 24 hours. But sperm can survive for a few days inside your body, so it's ideal to have them already there waiting for your egg.
Tracking your cycle can help with fertility. To give you the best chance of getting pregnant, our ovulation calculator tells you when you’re most likely to be fertile.
OVULATION PREDICTOR KITS
These tests, which you can buy at pharmacies, give you a more precise idea of when to expect your fertile window. They test your urine to measure your levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), which go up in the 24 to 36 hours before you ovulate. When your LH levels are highest, you're in the fertile window.
The kits have enough test strips to let you check your LH levels several times during your menstrual cycle. Start testing a few days before you think you might ovulate, then repeat a few times over the next few days to pinpoint the exact day. When your LH levels are highest, you're in the fertile window.
PROGESTERONE OVULATION TESTS
These tests can find out whether you have ovulated. They look at the levels of progesterone metabolite (pregnanediol glucuronide, or PdG) in your urine.
PdG levels typically rise 24-36 hours after you ovulate, so the tests are highly accurate. Start testing your levels before your anticipated menstrual cycle. These tests also have several strips to allow you to check your progesterone levels throughout your cycle.
ASK YOUR DOCTOR
Some women don't ovulate on a set schedule. If you can't figure out when it happens or if your menstrual cycle isn't regular, ask your doctor for help.