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Knowing how to track ovulation is extremely useful when you’re trying to conceive. It helps you narrow down the relatively small fertile window in your cycle to maximise the chances of getting pregnant. 

Knowing how to track your ovulation is also a useful approach for avoiding pregnancy, as a form of natural family planning – although this is far from failsafe! But before you dash out to buy some ovulation test strips and eagerly await a positive ovulation test, it’s helpful to get to grips with the principles of ovulation tracking. 

Fertility awareness

Despite us being familiar with the regularity, or irregularity, of our menstrual cycles since puberty, many of us were not taught exactly when we are fertile, how long for, or how to know that we are. If you’re trying to get pregnant, this can mean that your chances of hitting the target and making a bundle of joy are left to luck. 

Increasingly, many people want to take greater control of their fertility, and understanding ovulation is central to this. With knowledge of when you will ovulate, you can ensure you have sex a couple of days beforehand, on the day of ovulation and again still within the fertile window to maximise your chances of becoming pregnant.

Your body has a rhythm when it comes to ovulation and being aware of it can really help you feel in control of the process of trying to conceive. 

Here we take a look at the different ways of increasing your fertility awareness, and look beyond ovulation test strips at different methods you can use to track your ovulation, including apps and ovulation temperature tracking. You may find that simple awareness of the signs of ovulation is enough for you. Or, if you’re struggling to get pregnant, you may want to take a more structured approach using other methods.

The basics of ovulation

Let’s give you a very quick biology 101. Ovulation is the point in your menstrual cycle when an egg is released. Contrary to expectations, and owing to the fact that sperm can live in your uterus for up to five days, your fertile window actually includes the five days before you ovulate, as well as the day of ovulation itself. In a standard 28 day menstrual cycle, this window is likely to be from day 10 to 17.

Having sex in this six day window is how to ensure you maximise the chances of conception. The egg released during ovulation only lives for 12-24 hours once it is released, so it’s important that you don’t misjudge this window. 

For many people, knowing when they ovulate isn’t an exact science. However, fertility tracking helps you learn more about your monthly fertile window, helping to get rid of some of the guesswork. This is especially important as so many factors affect when in your cycle you may ovulate, including things such as stress and diet.

Common signs of ovulation

Signs that you are entering a fertile window include:

  • Increased basal body temperature (more on this below)
  • Thin stretchy cervical mucus (vaginal discharge) similar to raw egg white
  • Ovulating pain (mittelschmerz) characterised by pelvic pain (not experienced by everyone during ovulation)
  • Increased sexual desire
  • Breast tenderness

In addition, if you use ovulation strips, another sign of ovulation is a positive ovulation test which is picking up higher levels of luteinising hormone (LH). You can then track these signs using different methods, such as marking it on a calendar, or choosing a dedicated fertility tracking app. 

The calendar method

The calendar method is a broad and simple approach to ovulation tracking. It’s good when your monthly cycle is predictable, running for the same number of days each month. Based on averages, you can then count back 14 days from when your period starts to pinpoint your likely fertile window.

If your cycles are irregular, or you’ve been using this method and haven’t got pregnant, then you may need to call on some more targeted ovulation tracking methods.

Ovulation temperature tracking

Your temperature is an excellent key to understanding when you are ovulating. Each morning, before you even get out of bed, take and record your temperature. Track this on a chart (or app). 

If the temperature increase is sustained, this means that ovulation has likely occurred. Getting to know what the thermometer reads prior to this increase will help you pinpoint the slightly lower basal body temperature just before ovulation, indicating your fertile window.

Ovulation test strips

Sometimes known as ovulation predictor kits (OPKs), ovulation test strips are an excellent way of identifying your ovulation at home. You still need to combine this with a chart or an app because remember, you need to pin down the fertile window before ovulation takes place. It involves building a pattern over time. Modern ovulation test strips now identify when ovulation will occur shortly, within 12-36 hours, so this is also helpful.

Ovulation test strips are urine tests. They pick up if there is a surge in luteinising hormone (LH) levels. A positive ovulation test means that you are in your fertile window and if you are trying to conceive, you should consider having sex daily from the positive result for several days.

Using OPKs can require a bit of practice and time to accurately pick up the LH surge. Using them more often will increase your ability to predict ovulation.

A step up from standard ovulation test strips are digital fertility monitors. These offer greater precision and a positive ovulation test with these can accurately predict your fertile window.

Saliva ferning tests

Saliva ferning tests identify changes to the crystal formulation in your saliva during ovulation. You take a sample of saliva, wait for it to dry on a lens, and then look for characteristic crystals under a microscope. 

Tracking cervical mucus

Keeping note of changes in your cervical mucus helps you to identify your body’s obvious signs that you will be ovulating imminently. When combined with ovulation temperature tracking, this can be highly accurate and insightful for many. 

During your fertile window, your cervical mucus will change to be thinner and clear. It resembles raw egg white. This mucus is the most welcoming to sperm, being more alkaline and passable.

Do I need to know how to track ovulation?

Tracking ovulation isn’t necessary for many people. Having unprotected sex regularly (2-3 times per week) will often result in a pregnancy. However, if you are struggling to conceive, or want to maximise your chances in a given month, then knowing how to track ovulation can increase your chances of pregnancy.

Learn more about how to increase and manage your fertility in our Trying to Conceive area.