If you want to get pregnant, either now or later in life, it’s important to know whatever you can about ovulation. Misinformation on ovulation can decrease your odds of conception.
How do you know? Researchers surveyed 1,000 women ages 18 to 40. They asked them questions on basic female reproduction. More than half of the women surveyed were confused or missing essential information on getting pregnant and female fertility.
Don’t feel bad if you’re unclear on ovulation and conception. Instead, read on, so you can make informed decisions on starting your family.
Sex Must Come Before You Ovulate
If you’re trying to get pregnant, you need to have sex before you ovulate—and not after.
Sperm remain viable for up to five days. However, the ovulated egg must be fertilized within the first 12 to 24 hours after it is released.2 Ideally, you want to have sperm ready and waiting for the egg. This is why most ovulation signs appear in the days before the egg is released. The two to four days before you ovulate are your most fertile time.
How can you know when you're most fertile and ovulation is approaching? Here are some methods of detecting upcoming ovulation.
Fertile quality vaginal discharge: Your vaginal discharge can let you know if you're approaching ovulation. The increase in estrogen leads to increased production of cervical mucus. Cervical mucus also changes in form and goes from a stickier, clumpy texture to looking more like raw egg whites.You can figure out when you're most likely to get pregnant in a month by paying attention discharge on your underwear, on the toilet paper, or by actually checking your cervical mucus manually yourself.
Ovulation predictor test strips: You can buy tests at the drug store, supermarket, or online that will let you know when ovulation is approaching. They work a lot like pregnancy tests, in that you urinate on the test (or dip a test strip into a cup of urine) to get a result. There are pros and cons to ovulation test kits, and they are not for everyone. They can also get expensive over time.
Ovulation monitor: This is pretty much a fancier form of ovulation test strips. The biggest benefit of using an ovulation monitor over using test strips is the monitor will tell you if you're likely fertile, while with the test strips, you will need to interpret the results yourself. (This isn't always easy to do.) The monitor can be expensive, costing anywhere from $100 to $300.
Check your cervical opening: Yes, you can check your own cervix! Your cervical opening changes throughout your cycle. When ovulation is getting close, the cervix moves higher up, becomes softer to the touch, and opens slightly.4 When you're not fertile, the cervix is lower, harder, and closed.
Track your basal body temperature and use a fertility charting app: You can figure out when you ovulated each month by taking your basal body temperature. If you input your temperatures into fertility charting software, it will predict your fertile days based on previous months. This really only works well if you have regular periods.
Estimate (or get an educated guess) based on previous cycle lengths: You can use an ovulation calendar or calculator online to guess your most fertile dates. These work by considering your average cycle length, and then guess when you'd be most likely to ovulate based on previous months. This isn't by any means accurate, but if you have regular cycles, the results are good enough.
Ovulation Increases Both Your Partner’s and Your Desire for Sex
Speaking of ovulation signs, your body puts out several signs of increasing fertility as ovulation approaches. (And remember, you want to have sex before you ovulate.) Never underestimate biology!
You can use ovulation predictor tests to help pinpoint your most fertile days.Some studies have found this can help you get pregnant faster. But while you fiddle with urination test strips, behind the scenes, your hormones are at work, ensuring that you and your partner get busy in the bedroom.
When a woman is most fertile, her libido rises. If you ever wondered why your desire for sex waxes and wanes throughout the month, this is one big reason why.
How can you use this information to get pregnant faster? Listen to your body. If you’re in the mood to do the horizontal baby dance, go for it. No matter what your ovulation test strips say!
Your Body Doesn’t Create New Eggs Monthly
Each month, you ovulate an egg. But these eggs aren’t created new monthly. You’re actually born with all the eggs you’ll ever have. With time, the number of eggs in the ovaries decreases.
At birth, a baby girl has about 2 million eggs. By the time she reaches puberty, this number is down to around 500,000. As you age, the genetic stability of the eggs decrease. This is why women over age 35 are at a higher risk for...
having a child with a genetic disease
Because you are born with all the eggs you will ever have, some cancer treatments can cause permanent infertility in women.7 If the cancer treatments kill the eggs in your ovaries, you won’t be able to produce new ones later.
Egg freezing can help preserve fertility for women facing cancer treatments. Egg freezing is also being used in women who want to delay parenting until after 35. They freeze their eggs in the 20s, in hopes of using their younger, healthier eggs later in life.
However, using egg freezing to beat your biological clock is controversial and does come with risks.Also important to know: banking your frozen eggs does not guarantee a future successful pregnancy.
Your Overall Health Affects Ovulation and Your Future Baby Months Before You Conceive
You may not grow brand new eggs each month, but those eggs do mature into ovulation-ready eggs over several weeks before they are released. Before and during this maturation period, your health habits can make a difference in how healthy those eggs are.
In other words, your health habits before you conceive can have an effect on your ability to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and on your future baby’s health.
Diet during preconception can affect your fertility and your not-yet-conceive baby’s health.9 One nutrient that must be present before conception is folic acid. Low folic acid levels can lead to problems with fertility, a higher risk of miscarriage, and a higher risk of birth defects.
The Office on Women's Health recommends that all women of childbearing age, whether they are actively trying to conceive or not, take 400 mcg of folic acid daily.10 You should increase the dosage to 600 mcg when pregnant. Women at higher risk may need to take more.
Newer studies are finding that zinc may also be an essential mineral for healthy egg development. Be sure to speak to your doctor about what supplements he recommends when trying to conceive.
Your weight also matters. Obesity is one of the most common causes of preventable irregular ovulation. Even a 10% decrease in weight can improve your ability to conceive.
Another fertility health risk is cigarette smoking. Not only does it lower your fertility but it also increases the rate at which the eggs in your ovaries age. Your partner’s smoking can also have a negative impact on your fertility and your future baby’s health.
Just Because You’re Menstruating Doesn’t Mean You’re Ovulating
Some women mistakenly believe that if they are menstruating then they’re ovulating. This actually isn’t true.
Women who experience anovulation or irregular ovulation may have irregular cycles, lighter or shorter than usual periods, or unusually heavy periods. They may also go months without getting their period. It's also possible to have regular, normal looking periods and not be ovulating.
Just because you get a period doesn’t mean everything is okay with ovulation or your fertility. If your cycles are irregular, speak to your doctor before you start trying to get pregnant.
Just Because You’re Ovulating Doesn’t Mean You Can Get Pregnant
Healthy ovulation is a key part of getting pregnant, but it takes more than a ready egg to conceive. Sperm must be able to reach the egg. This means the fallopian tubes must be unblocked and healthy.
A fertilized embryo needs a place to implant and develop.2 This means you also need a fertility-friendly uterine environment. You also need healthy sperm to conceive! A third of couples experiencing infertility will discover male infertility as the cause. Others will find that both male and female fertility problems are causing the trouble.
Also, you may have very regular cycles, but if you’re in your 40s, those eggs may be less than ideal for conception. Your ability to get pregnant ends before your periods stop.
If you or your partner ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, even if it was treated, you may experience infertility. The infection can cause scarring in the reproductive tract of both men and women.
There are also couples who never find out why they can’t conceive. Between 15 and 30 percent of couples will be told they have unexplained infertility.
Whether you have symptoms of infertility or not, if you can’t conceive after one year, see your doctor. If you’re over 35, see your doctor after six months of trying to conceive. Delaying help can decrease your chances for a successful treatment.