If you’ve never heard of it, predicting ovulation can sound a lot like trying to solve a college-level calculus problem. But don’t worry! We’re here to help break down the science for you so you can better understand your cycle and when to have sex if you’re trying to conceive.
What Is Ovulation?
Ovulation is the term we use to describe the process of your ovary releasing an egg. You have two ovaries, but only one ovary will release an egg during each menstrual cycle. Ovulation is able to occur because of the dozens of hormonal interactions within your body every month.
When an egg is released by an ovary, it will only last about 24-48 hours before it dies. If the egg is fertilized by a sperm cell, it will become an embryo, continue to travel down the fallopian tube, (hopefully) attach to the uterine wall, and continue to grow!
What Does My Menstrual Cycle Look Like?
Your menstrual cycle begins and ends with your period. Keep in mind that your menstrual cycle is unique to you! Everyone has a different menstrual cycle. The average length of menstrual cycles is 28 days, but a healthy cycle can be anywhere between 21 and 40 days. Another key sign of a healthy menstrual cycle is consistency. Each month, your menstrual cycle should be within a day or two of your average cycle length.
Throughout your menstrual cycle, your hormones will rise and fall to help signal to your body to prepare to release an egg to be fertilized! Everyone’s cycle is different, but in general, your body likes to release an egg from your ovaries about 2 weeks before your next period. For example, if you have a 28 day menstrual cycle, you can expect to ovulate on day 14 of your cycle (+/- 3 days). Because there is some variability with the day that you will ovulate, it’s important to use science and technology to get a better idea of the exact day.
How To Predict When Ovulation Will Occur
There are two primary methods used to predict ovulation: ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) and basal body temperature tracking.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs)
Throughout your menstrual cycle, hormones rise and fall. Think of these hormones as signals that your body parts are sending to each other. Each signal tells another body part what to do and when to do it! For example, Luteinizing Hormone (LH) is an important hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland in your brain. This hormone signals to the ovaries to release an egg. When your brain wants your ovary to release an egg, it produces a surge of LH. About 24-48 hours after this surge of LH occurs, an egg is released from the ovary.
This is how OPKs work! Ovulation strips take advantage of the fact that LH is found in your urine. If a significant amount of LH is detected by the strip, it will show you a dark line. This dark line means that you can expect to ovulate over the next 24-48 hours.
Basal Body Temperature Tracking
Your basal body temperature is your temperature at complete rest. The best time to take this reading is first thing in the morning when you wake up. You can plot these temperatures on a graph or just make a list of the numbers.
The major sign that you have ovulated is when you see a small but sharp increase in your body temperature. Your body temperature will remain elevated for about one week after you ovulate. This occurs because progesterone production increases after you ovulate, which temporarily raises your basal body temperature.
The basal body temperature tracking method is not ideal for predicting when you will ovulate during your current menstrual cycle, but it can confirm that you have ovulated in this cycle. It can also be a good indicator of the typical day of your cycle that you can expect to ovulate during future menstrual cycles.
When Should You Have Sex To Conceive?
This is most likely the biggest (and most important) question on everyone’s mind! In order to have a child, an egg and a sperm cell have to find each other, form an embryo, and attach to the uterine wall to continue to grow. To get a better idea of how we can give the egg and sperm the best chance to find each other, here are some quick statistics:
- Sperm can live inside the vaginal environment for up to 5 days.
- Once the egg is released from an ovary, it has about 24-48 hours before it dies.
- It can take sperm anywhere from 1-12 hours to reach the fallopian tube (where it usually meets up with the released egg).
Therefore, getting sperm into the vaginal tract in the days leading up to ovulation (48-hour window before ovulation) will give you the best chance of conceiving. Think about it this way: you want to give the sperm a head start because it will take them a while to reach the fallopian tubes and meet the egg. It’s best to have sex up to 5 days before ovulation and (usually) 1-2 days after ovulation in order to conceive.
Everyone’s circumstances are unique, so it’s important to know your personal fertility metrics. Some examples of metrics to know are your menstrual cycle length, estimated ovulation day, and sperm count & motility. Not sure where to start? Let us help! We offer all of the at-home fertility tests you need to get started on your fertility journey.