With all the technological tools out there to help a woman get pregnant, it seems we have forgotten that our bodies have the necessary tools to be our own ovulation calculators! Learning about how the body works, and how exactly pregnancy can be achieved (besides the obvious:) takes some education and may not be as “quick” as using an ovulation calculator. But the rewards of understanding your cycle, and in particular, ovulation, can be very rewarding and help you become successful in getting pregnant.
The first step is to have a basic understanding of the menstrual cycle. A normal, healthy woman that is not on birth control will have a period between every 28-34 days. This means that from the first day of one period to the first day of the next period takes about 28-34 days, depending on the woman. There are 2 parts to the cycle; simply put, there is the weeks before ovulation and the weeks after. It is only possible to get pregnant if ovulation actually occurs; if there is no egg being released, there is no chance of pregnancy. The most fertile time is in the few days preceeding ovulation. Once the egg has been released and ovulation has occurred, it is no longer possible to achieve pregnancy in that cycle. So, we are talking about narrowing down those few important days where the body is primed and ready to receive sperm for the egg! With an average 28 day cycle, it would be assumed that ovulation happens right in the middle of that; so, at about day 14 of the cycle. However, women are not all the same, and our bodies are not calculators. So, regardless of the cycle length, the exact day of ovulation can vary. Some women ovulate as early as day 9 of their cycle; others not until day 20. The key is to understand and be able to track the signs leading up to ovulation, so that no matter when it happens, you have a sense of about when it is to occur.
There are a few tools you can learn about and use to figure out when you generally ovulate so you can be your own ovulation calculator. Learning this information about your body pays itself back every month; it’s true that ovulation can vary from cycle to cycle but a good understanding of your patterns will make it that much easier to see what’s going on in your body.
The first tool, and one I have used with the most success is observing and charting cervical fluid. It is amazing how our bodies provide us with everything we need! Let’s start at the beginning of the cycle, when the bleeding occurs. The bleeding goes on for an average of 5 days; right after that ends it is time to begin observing the fluid that comes out of your vagina. The fluid is really coming down from your cervix, but you will see it vaginally especially after using the toilet, or even just on your underwear. There usually isn’t too much fluid to report right after the period ends; although, again, there are women that ovulate immediately after the bleeding ends, and so yet another reason to pay attention to what you see! Most women experience no fluid, or maybe a scant, sticky kind of fluid. As the days of the cycle increase and get closer to ovulation, the fluid changes from maybe scant and sticky to thicker and a bit wetter, resembling lotion for some. There is some variation in the fluid preceding ovulation, but the key is to really be noticing and in tune when the fluid does make a shift to being “pre-ovulatory.” In order for sperm to be able to survive in the vagina and make it to the egg, there needs to be some nourishment and a good home for the sperm to live in. The fluid, at every other time during the cycle except ovulation, is pretty unfriendly to sperm. But, around ovulation time, the fluid produced by the cervix is copious and stretchy and can keep the sperm alive for up to 5 days before ovulation even happens. This is why it is key to observe the fluid- a lot of clear, stretchy, “egg white” fluid means that you are entering your fertile phase and will likely release an egg soon. Again, this happens about mid-cycle (but not always), and most women have about 3 days of egg white fluid, although some have as many as 5 or as few as 1.
The best time to observe this fluid is on the toilet paper after having a bowel movement. This seems to bring it down from the cervix, and if you are paying attention (and producing this fertile quality fluid) then there may be a lot to see! The clear, stretchy fluid can resemble what can often come out of your nose; but rest assured that this is a wonderful, healthy sign that likely means an egg is coming! Sometimes the fluid can be blood streaked, which some say is a great sign of fertility. For as long as you observe this fluid, you are considered fertile. Once the egg has been released and ovulation has occured, the fluid will quickly dry up. This may leave you with no fluid, or back to fluid that is dry, tacky or gummy.
As you observe your fluid over the course of a few cycles, you will get to know your own patterns and what is normal for you. You will basically become your own ovulation calculator.
The only caveat is that sometimes, an egg is not released at all during a cycle (called an “anovulatory cycle”). So, the only way to be 100% sure that ovulation has come, and gone, is tracking your basal body temperature.
Here’s the difference:
Charting fluid lets you be aware of when ovulation is approaching, and about when your fertile days are. Charting your daily, waking temperature only tells you when ovulation has passed. By the time your temperature reflects a “change” (more on that in a minute), ovulation has already happened and the fertile time has now passed.
Basal body temperature is your temperature when the body is at rest. There are lots of “rules” about how to take it. Most sources say to be consistent about the time of morning you take it, and to take it after at least 4 consecutive hours of sleep. These are helpful rules to follow, especially when you are beginning to chart. However, as a breastfeeding mother for almost 8 straight years now, it is often difficult to get those consecutive hours of sleep! I have found that, for me, the temperature is largely unaffected by the “rules”. However, I am aware of my lows (before ovulation) and my highs (post ovulation) and I find that those ranges are not affected too much. Anyway, the idea is to take your temperature daily and write it down. You will notice that the pre-ovulatory temps are in a certain range, usually low 97s. By the time the temp has changed ranges (post ovulatory can be high 97s-99), ovulation has happened. So, the key is to do this for a few cycles and see what cycle day your last low temp range reading is. That is likely the day ovulation occurred, as by the next day it is in the high range and reflective of the egg having been released already.
Last, but certainly not least, are the symptoms (or “secondary signs”) that are individual to each woman in regards to impending ovulation. Not every woman experiences these, but I do think that the more in tune you are with your body, the more you will start to notice. As with the signs above, be sure to write it down! A headache on cycle day 12, for example, may seem meaningless. But you may be able to see a pattern from month to month that helps you determine where you are in the cycle and what those hormones are up to.
Personally, I could not miss ovulation if I tried, and I would probably not need to chart anything other than the pre-ovulatory pain I get. “Pain” is actually a pretty strong word; it’s more like a sore muscle ache kind of feeling in my lower pelvis, at about where my ovaries are. It sticks around for about 4-5 days, increasing in intensity as the fluid becomes more fertile; and then disappears the moment I do ovulate and the fluid dries up. Some women experience a shooting kind of pain when the egg is actually released, some have sore breasts. There are lots of individual signs, that when paid attention to, can be immensely helpful. With all these clues, who needs an ovulation calculator?
Of course, some women may choose not to take the time to really learn what’s going on in their cycles and become their own ovulation calculator.
Poor timing is only one of the challenges when you’re trying to conceive. For a more indepth look at some of the other challenges, take a look at Pregnancy Miracle by Lisa Olson.