What Is Ovulation?

Most women have been ovulating since middle school—but how many of us can actually explain what’s going on? We’re familiar with our periods, of course. But ovulation is often a more mysterious phase within the greater period cycle. Most of us know ovulation happens somewhere mid-cycle and is linked to our peak fertility, but many women don’t learn more specifics until they’re considering pregnancy.

Ovulation happens each month when your ovaries release an egg (or eggs), about halfway through your menstrual cycle. That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll ovulate on day 14 of a 28-day cycle. The average cycle is actually closer to 30 days, can last anywhere from 25 to 35 days, and can vary slightly from month to month. Ovulation can even occur long after your last menstrual period.

Ovulation and Fertility: What You Need to Know

Signs of Ovulation

Your body does a good job of letting you know when you’re ovulating. You might notice symptoms like:

  • an increased sex drive,
  • breast tenderness,
  • bloating,
  • cramps, and
  • light spotting.

Pay attention to these signs as they can help you figure out the best time to get pregnant.

Using an Ovulation Test

If you get your period on the same day every month (give or take a few days), you can use an over-the-counter ovulation kit, which works by detecting the hormone LH in your urine. As LH levels spike, or “surge,” you are about to ovulate. To predict ovulation, count 17-18 days backwards from when you would get a period in your shortest cycles. Then use an ovulation kit to test your LH levels beginning on that day. For example, if you usually have a 30-day cycle, start testing day 12 or 13, and test once a day, around the same time, until your kit shows a positive. A good rule of thumb is to purchase the most affordable kit with the least bells and whistles—no need to overcomplicate the process.

Finding the Best Time to Get Pregnant 

If you want to get pregnant and you have regular periods, the best time to have sex is the day before you ovulate. You also have a good chance of conceiving in the five days leading up to as well as on the actual day of ovulation. Basically, the more often you have sex during this window, the better. Frequent intercourse means increased sperm and, since sperm quality has a short shelf life, it’s good to strike when it’s fresh. 

Many people use a variety of fertility methods and products to track changes to their basal body temperature (BBT) and cervical mucus; however, turning your journey into a complicated project won’t necessarily help you get pregnant any more quickly. In fact, it could create obsessive behavior and be hard on your relationship with your partner. If you’ve already been tracking and collecting all of this data, your doctor will certainly take it into consideration. But if you’re healthy and have regular periods, the most effective way to get pregnant is to simply stop using contraception (and have sex).

When to See A Fertility Doctor

If you’re having intercourse twice a week for a year and you aren’t getting pregnant, it’s unlikely that timing is to blame. Something else could be at play and you should see your doctor to tackle the challenge together. (Learn about other reasons to consider seeing a fertility specialist.) If you are 35 or older, see a fertility specialist after 6 months of trying to get pregnant.

You should also seek care if you know you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) or irregular periods. For example, if you’ve been taking birth control for years and don’t get your period within three months after you stop taking it, make an appointment. Otherwise, you could waste time collecting data with an ovulation kit and be nowhere closer to conceiving.

What to Expect at Your Appointment

During your first visit with a fertility specialist, your doctor will ask a lot of questions about your history, to try to understand factors that may be making it harder to become pregnant. They may order some blood tests to try to understand any irregularities that might be keeping you from getting pregnant, and to make sure you are in the best possible health to become pregnant. They’ll also order a semen analysis on your partner though this won’t be performed on the day of your initial appointment. Depending on your medical history, you might also plan an ultrasound and additional imaging to further explore. If you aren’t ovulating, your doctor may prescribe medications, including ones that can help induce ovulation. The best choice is very personal and your doctor will help you understand all of your options.

Wherever you are on your fertility journey, remember that approximately 85% of healthy women will get pregnant within a year of trying. For those who struggle to conceive, you can increase your chances by mixing love with science and seeing a doctor who specializes in fertility.

We want our patients to feel as comfortable as possible during this emotional and sometimes stressful time. Our team is committed to providing the most caring, compassionate, and leading-edge fertility care available.