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After a few months of trying to conceive with negative results, it may be time to get more organised in your efforts. The problem is often one of timing. Tracking ovulation is a simple way to determine when sexual intercourse is most likely to produce a pregnancy.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation happens when an ovary releases an egg into the fallopian tube to await fertilisation. There are a number of hormonal changes leading up to the release of the egg, and symptoms are easily noticeable once you know what to look for. The three days before ovulation, the day of ovulation, and a few days after that are the most fertile days of each month. These are the times when a couple who are trying to conceive should be most sexually active.
How do I track ovulation?
There are numerous ways to get a good idea of when you are ovulating. The body sends some very strong signals when it is ready to reproduce. It may take a couple of months of paying attention to these signals before you can easily recognise them.
The Calendar Method
The easiest way of figuring out when you're ovulating is by using a calendar to chart your menstrual cycle. Most women have a cycle that lasts about 28 days, but cycles can be shorter or longer, depending on the woman's health and other factors. There have been women whose cycles regularly lasted 40 days or more! With such a wide variation between women, you need to pay attention to your own unique timing.
Each cycle of fertility starts on the first day of menstrual bleeding. Then, halfway through the cycle (usually day 14 or so) an ovary will release an egg. If the egg is fertilised, pregnancy will occur. If the egg isn't fertilised within a few days, it will dissolve and menstruation will begin a new cycle.
After a few months of marking your periods on a calendar, it should become easy to tell when ovulation is happening. An egg is typically released at the midpoint of each cycle, so if you have a 31 day cycle, ovulation is most likely happening on the 15th or 16th day of your cycle. For women who have irregular periods, the calendar method is not likely to be enough to track ovulation, though, and more observation will be needed.
Basal Temperature Method
During the different phases of the menstrual cycle, a woman's body temperature fluctuates. During the first half of the cycle, before ovulation, temperature tends to remain low. Then, as ovulation occurs (usually around day 14 in a normal cycle), temperature will rise by a small amount. The rise is a small one, as little as 4 degrees Fahrenheit or 2 degrees Celsius, so it is important to take your temperature each morning before any other activity has occurred-even before getting out of bed.
A special thermometer called a basal thermometer, which is more sensitive than a regular thermometer, should be used for a more accurate reading. First thing each morning, before even getting out of bed, take your temperature with a basal thermometer and write down your results. After only a month or two, you'll begin to see a pattern in the rise and fall of your temperature that indicates when you are ovulating. When ovulation happens, your temperature will rise. Three days of elevated temperature indicate that ovulation has happened, so these are the days you should have intercourse if you are trying to conceive.
Another way to keep track of your ovulation cycle is noting the changes in cervical position and cervical mucus. It may take some practice to understand what is going on, but it isn't difficult to learn how to check your own cervix. After a few months of feeling for the position of your cervix and noting the quality of the mucus (yes, with your fingers), you should begin to notice a pattern.
How to check your cervix
After washing your hands, insert one or two fingers into the vagina carefully until you feel the end of the tunnel, so to speak. At the end of the vagina is the cervix, which is like the doorway into the uterus. Note the texture of your cervix, and also how difficult it is to reach.
During infertile times, the cervix is less supple. It is often described as having the firmness the tip of your nose. As ovulation approaches, it tends to become softer, more like the softness of your lips. The cervix will also move farther away from the vaginal opening, so the harder it is to reach, the more likely it is that ovulation is at hand.
Pay attention also to the fluid around the cervix. As ovulation approaches, the fluid will tend to become thicker and more slippery, the better to assist sperm into the uterus so the egg can be fertilised. When fertility is less likely, the fluid becomes thin and watery. During ovulation, cervical fluid looks and feels quite a bit like egg white.
Ovulation Predictor Kits
Similar to a pregnancy test in function, ovulation predictor kits consist of dipsticks which are placed in urine to detect the hormones that are released during ovulation. A kit comes with several tests so that each day of the most likely fertile time of the cycle can be tested. The tests detect LH, or luteinising hormone, which is the hormone that stimulates ovulation. Ovulation usually happens between 24 and 48 hours after LH levels surge.
This is certainly not the least expensive method of tracking fertility, but it is very accurate. You will need to have at least some idea of what your regular cycle looks like so that you'll know the best time to use the kit. Ovulation predictors are most effective when used along with another method of tracking your cycles. Ovulation predictor kits can be found in pharmacies and online.
Use the methods you feel most comfortable with
Using any one of these methods can increase your chance of becoming pregnant, but using more than one method of tracking your cycles will be even more accurate. Try whatever seems most comfortable to you. A fertility specialist will be able to give you even more insight into the fertility process, so call a physician if you continue to experience problems.