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If you’ve recently made the decision to start a family — congratulations! This is obviously a huge life step that comes with many questions. The first thing you might be thinking about, is what are the signs of fertility?
Trying to conceive, can be, well, trying. So how do you maximize your chances and plan sex accordingly?
One place to start is by tracking your ovulation.
Keep reading to learn what happens during ovulation, when it occurs, why it may be a sign of fertility, and the different ways to tell if you are ovulating. We will also explain when the best window is to get pregnant and schedule an appointment with your doctor.
Before we break down the signs of ovulation, let’s first learn what exactly happens during this process. In its simplest form, ovulation is when a mature egg is released from the ovary. Once released, it travels down through the fallopian tubes, and may be fertilized by sperm. A delicate balance of hormones controls this process.
If the mature egg is fertilized, then it will travel down to the uterus, where it will attach to the wall. If it’s successfully attached to the uterus wall, then you are pregnant. The fertilized egg—also known as a blastocyst at this stage—takes between six to 10 days for implementation.
If the egg is not fertilized or the implementation is not successful, then your body will have its menstruation period, and the egg will be released with the uterine lining.
The short answer is yes — ovulation is a key sign of fertility. Without the release of the egg, there cannot be anything for the sperm to fertilize. While the viability of sperm, fertilization, and implementation is also a part of fertility, ovulation must occur for any of these functions to happen.
Ovulation occurs about halfway through your menstruation cycle. Your menstrual cycle begins at the start of your period. The average cycle lasts about 28 days, but the normal range is anywhere between 21 and 35 days.
Ovulation occurs 14 days before your period starts, on average. Of course, each person’s cycle is different, so you may ovulate a little earlier or later in your cycle.
With ovulation being such an essential piece to fertility, it helps to know the signs. Keep in mind that some of these signs are very clear, while others you may or may not experience.
If you are actively trying to get pregnant, start tracking different ovulation signs now.
This will be helpful for you and your partner to learn you are most fertile, and it can also be helpful if you talk to your doctor about your fertility.
One way to tell if you are ovulating is by breast tenderness. Some women experience tenderness in their breasts due to higher estrogen levels right before ovulation. It may also be due to the high levels of progesterone after ovulation. While this sign is not one that every woman experiences, it is worth noting in your ovulation tracker.
Another change to your breasts may be their size. Your body may retain water during ovulation. Estrogen may be the cause of this change, too. Some women have such a change in their breasts that they have to go up a bras size during certain times of the month.
Have you ever experienced that dull ache on one side of your abdomen a couple of weeks before your menstruation period? That pain is called mittelschmerz—or ovulation discomfort.
This is a sign that you may or may not experience. You also may not notice it if you happen to be more bloated during this time. If you feel a slight discomfort though, it’s a good idea to track it in your ovulation journal.
Some women may feel an increase in their sex drive leading up to ovulation. This increase in libido is due to Luteinizing Hormone (LH). This hormone surges before ovulation, causing the ovary to release a mature egg—estrogen released before ovulation can also increase sex drive.
Once ovulation occurs, your body produces more progesterone to thicken and prepare your uterus for potential implantation. Progesterone may cause your sex drive to dip down.
You may have noticed that you may have more or less discharge at certain times throughout the month. It may even have different consistencies. This is entirely normal. These changes are due to the changes in your hormone levels.
Before ovulation, your body produces more estrogen. Your cervical mucus will likely increase, and the consistency will be similar to the white of an egg — thick and clear.
After ovulation, your cervical mucus may start to dry up due to lower estrogen levels and high progesterone levels.
During ovulation, your cervix also changes in a couple of ways. The location of your cervix may vary, as well as the firmness and whether it is open or closed. These changes help create a more hospitable environment for sex, sperm, and conception.
The cervix will move up higher in the vagina during ovulation. If you do become pregnant, your cervix will stay higher. If you are not pregnant, your cervix will move back down lower and prepare for your menstruation period.
Another change to the cervix is how firm it feels. During ovulation, your cervix may feel soft like your lips. After ovulation, it will feel more firm, like the tip of your nose.
Your cervix will also open slightly, so the sperm can travel through it to get to the fallopian tubes and attempt to fertilize the egg.
After washing your hands, you can try and feel for your own cervix to feel for these changes. When ovulating, it is a little harder to reach since it travels higher, but you will likely find it with a bit of patience.
A small percentage of women experience spotting during ovulation. In one small study, 4.8% of women experience spotting. This spotting is thought to be caused by higher levels of estrogen, progesterone, and LH.
If you are spotting between your period cycles, it is best to talk to your doctor. While it can be a sign of ovulation, it may also be a sign of anovulation—the absence of ovulation. With your doctor’s help, you may be able to rule out anovulation and use light spotting as a sign for ovulation in your tracker.
Bloating can be a not-so-fun side effect of both ovulation and the days leading up to your period. It is likely due to ovulation if you find yourself on the bloated side in the middle of your menstruation cycle.
Why do some women become more bloated? It goes back to an increase in estrogen and LH. These hormones may cause water retention and swell in the abdomen area.
These same hormones can also cause your gastrointestinal tract to have some unwelcome symptoms. You may be constipated, gassy, have pains, or even have diarrhea. You may find yourself with these symptoms during ovulation and your period.
Some women have noticed a heightened sense of smell during ovulation, but there isn’t a lot of research on this phenomenon. One thought is that estrogen increases the sense of smell while progesterone decreases it. As we have learned, estrogen rises before ovulation, which may be the reason some women notice a more heightened sense of smell.
Suppose you notice that your sense of smell changes during the month. It may be worth tracking in your ovulation journal.
Until now, we have explored different ovulation signs based on various things you may feel during the month. Since ovulation may not be on the exact day every month, it is important to notice those signs.
There are also a couple of ways to track ovulation that are a bit more scientific. The first is tracking your basal body temperature. Your basal body temperature is your body temperature first thing in the morning before you even get out of bed.
To track this temperature, have a thermometer on your bedside table. When you wake up in the morning, take your temperature before you even sit up. Track your basal body temperature for a few months to see a clear pattern.
Now, what are you looking for, exactly? You will notice a slight increase in your basal body temperature during ovulation. This change is usually less than half of a degree Fahrenheit.
If your basal body temperature has been consistently higher for three days, you have likely ovulated. If it stays high well past ovulation—two or three weeks, you may be pregnant.
Another way to test for ovulation is with ovulation test kits. These test kits or strips are similar to pregnancy tests. By testing urine, they measure the amount of LH. There are two lines like some pregnancy tests—a control line and a test line. Usually, LH suggests about a day and a half before ovulation.
While no test is 100% accurate, some ovulation tests may be as high as 99% accurate. If you do not see a pattern with the other signs you are tracking, these are a great tool to use. The downside to the ovulation tests is they can be expensive if you are testing every day.
Now that you know how to track when you are ovulating, it’s essential to know when you are most fertile. There are six fertile days during the month. Your best chances to become pregnant are the five days before you ovulate and the day of ovulation.
With the different hormonal changes we have discussed, sperm can live in the female body while waiting for the egg to be released. Once the egg is released, it will not stay viable very long, only 12 to 24 hours.
Suppose you have been actively trying to conceive and are under 35, setting up an appointment with your OB-GYN after a year is often recommended.
As we age, fertility starts to drop, and chances of conceiving naturally will fall. If you are over 35 years of age, set that appointment up around the six-month mark.
For women over 40, you may want to set up an appointment as soon as you decide to start trying.
If you have been tracking your ovulation but don’t see any clear signs, it may be good to set up an appointment with your doctor sooner. Make sure to bring in your ovulation journal so you can review it with them. It may help to answer questions they have.
When it comes to the signs of fertility, it’s crucial to track your ovulation—the release of a mature egg from the ovary. Ovulation is the first step in fertility. Ovulation usually occurs 14 days before your menstrual period; however, some women ovulate earlier or later in their cycle.
There are many way to tell if you are ovulating, thanks changes in your hormones. Some of these signs include slight changes in your body, like ovulation pain, bloating, or a heightened sense of smell.
Other signs may be more obvious, like breast tenderness, changes to the cervix, and cervical mucus. There are also ways to test for ovulation using the basal body temperature and ovulation test kits.
Tracking your ovulation can help determine when your six fertile days are within your cycle—five days before ovulation and the day you ovulate.
As always, if you have any questions about your ovulation signs or are actively trying to become pregnant with no success, schedule an appointment with your doctor to talk about it more.
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