It’s obvious to most of us when we have our periods, right? Pretty visible and can...cramp our style. But ovulation? Not always so obvious.
Back up — what’s ovulation again?
According to the American Pregnancy Association (APA), ovulation is “when a mature egg is released from the ovary, pushed down the fallopian tube, and is made available to be fertilized.” On average, ovulation happens about 12 to 16 days after the first day of your last period. But ovulation isn’t always on the same day of the month and its regularity is different for everyone. As you probably guessed, you’re extremely fertile during ovulation — after all, the egg is hanging out and waiting to be fertilized by a sperm. Whether you’re trying to conceive, prevent pregnancy, or become more familiar with your cycle, tracking ovulation can help you better understand when you’re most (and least) likely to get pregnant during your cycle. So, ovulation tracking can be a conception and contraception tool.
For folks trying to conceive, Planned Parenthood says, “Your egg is in your fallopian tube for about 12 to 24 hours…Since an egg can live for about a day after ovulation and sperm can live [in the vagina] about six days after you have sex, you’re basically fertile for around seven days of every menstrual cycle: the five days before you ovulate and the day you ovulate.” Knowing exactly when you ovulate will help you identify this roughly week-long time window when you’re most likely to get pregnant, so you can plan to have sex on these fertile days.
This timing information is relevant if you’re trying to prevent pregnancy, too. In this case, you can use another form of birth control (like a barrier method such as a condom) or abstain from sex on the five days before ovulation, on the day itself, and a couple days after — the time period in which you’re most fertile. On other days during the month, you can have sex without a form of contraception and it’s unlikely you’ll get pregnant (there’s no egg in your fallopian tube available to be fertilized when you’re not ovulating).
How can I tell when I’m ovulating?
Fortunately, knowing when you’re ovulating doesn’t require shining a flashlight up your vagina in search of something that resembles an egg. Your body actually gives you natural clues when you’re ovulating.
Your basal body temperature (BBT) is your lowest body temperature in a 24-hour period. It’s the measurement you’ll get if you take your temp right when you wake up, even before you get out of bed (cuddling and sex will raise your temperature). When you ovulate, your temperature will go up about .5 to 1.0 degree and it’ll stay that way until your period. Cool, right? It’s not something you’d really notice on your own, but by consistently taking and recording your BBT every morning, you’ll likely notice a pattern.
You can also check your cervical mucus to identify when you’re ovulating. Your cervical mucus is the fluid secreted from your cervix that’s designed to chaperone those hopeful sperm up the reproductive tract. The APA tells us that when you’re ovulating, any discharge you see in your underwear (or what you’ll find on a piece of toilet paper or by inserting a finger and examining) is more likely to look and feel like egg whites — clear, thin, and stretchy.
There are many methods — from old school to high tech — that help you track and gather this key ovulation information in one place. We’ve put together the following treat yo’self (and your ovaries) gift guide that offers suggestions for ovulation calendar and tracking tools based on your lifestyle and preferences. Plus, we interviewed a couple of women who have tried each method, so you can really understand what each one is like.
Got an analog watch and a regular ol’ calendar hanging on the wall? A pen and paper chart may be the way to go for you.
What you’ll need:
- You can buy a workbook, like this one, or just print a chart from the internet, like this one. If you’re feeling artsy, you can also draw your own.
- Basal thermometer (a more sensitive thermometer you can use to measure your temperature up to two decimal points upon waking).
We talked to Rachel, a 31-year-old new mother, about why she likes this method:
MF: Did you use the workbook to conceive or as birth control?
R: Actually, both. We used it as birth control first, but only for about three months (abstaining from sex on the fertile days). Then, when we used it to conceive, we got pregnant the first cycle. I wish I’d started doing this years ago...it’s fascinating. You get to see how your body changes, and it’s cool no matter what your goal is.
MF: What did you have to do each day to track?
R: It’s kind of a combination of things. In the morning, right when I woke up and before I got out of bed, I took my temperature. I set an alarm for myself that went off every morning labeled, “TAKE YOUR TEMPERATURE!” I used a cheap drug store thermometer—you just have to make sure it measures two decimal points. Then, I’d circle the temperature in the workbook. You start to see a pattern with spikes in your temperature, and that’s when you’re ovulating. There was also a place in the chart to track cervical mucus each day, so I’d record that for some extra information. I also heard the shape of your cervix changes when you’re more fertile, but I didn’t try that because checking my cervix sounded uncomfortable to me.
MF: What’d you like about using the workbook?
R: I liked that the charts were already built into the workbook so all you had to do was circle the temperature. It was also a pretty inexpensive way to do all this.
MF: Any cons? Would you use this again?
R: No cons — it worked really well for us. If we’d been trying for six months and it wasn’t working we probably would have tried something else or seen a fertility specialist. I had a really predictable cycle, which became clear after a couple months of tracking — I’m not sure if this method would be as helpful for someone whose cycle is less predictable. And yes, I think I’d use the method again. Hormonal birth control didn’t really work for me, so I think once I get my period again I’ll start tracking.
Do you track your steps? Addicted to your Google calendar? When it comes to ovulation tracking, here’s an app (or two, or three...) for that.
What you’ll need:
- An ovulation tracking app, like Natural Cycles, Glow, or Clue (these are just 3 of many!)
Una, 29, has been using Natural Cycles to prevent pregnancy:
MF: Tell us a little bit about your experience with Natural Cycles as a birth control method.
U: It’s going pretty well so far. I like not having to take a hormonal birth control and it’s cool to learn way more about my body than I knew before. When you download the app, it asks you if you’re trying to plan or prevent a pregnancy. Since I’m trying to prevent, it shows me a calendar view where all the fertile days are red. My partner and I use condoms on the red days.
MF: Any drawbacks? Would you recommend tracking with an app to others?
U: I would but it’s honestly been really hard for me to build a habit of taking my temperature every morning, so I’d say that’s the biggest drawback so far. The app needs the data to be able to accurately predict, so obviously the more you measure the smarter the predictions get. It’d also be cool to have a smart thermometer that automatically records, or a way to factor cervical mucus into the predictions. But for now, it’s working pretty well for us.
Addicted to your Apple watch? Always on the go?
We’ve heard great things about the Ava bracelet.
What you’ll need:
- An Ava Bracelet, $249
Micaela, 29, dishes about her experience with the Ava bracelet:
MF: Can you describe the ovulation tracking method you’re using?
M: Sure, I’m using the Ava bracelet. You just put it on before bed, it gathers data while you’re sleeping (like body temperature and heart rate), and then it gives you a five to six day fertility window. We’re trying to get pregnant, so we try to have sex on the days the bracelet suggests I’d be most fertile. It makes me feel more in control, like I know what’s happening instead of waiting and wondering.
MF: Had you tried anything else before it?
M: Yeah, I started with Clue, but then switched to the Ava bracelet. Clue is an app that was great because it gives you a lot of information, but I stopped using it because it needs a few months to gather data; I wanted something I could start relying on sooner. You can’t record as much with the Ava bracelet, but I’m busy and it really fits my lifestyle. It took all the pressure off because I didn’t really have to think about it, and in the first month it started predicting the window.
MF: Did you also use it for birth control?
M: No, I always used hormonal birth control, but that wasn’t really working for my body. So, I think after having a baby, I’d probably use tracking for birth control, too.
Now that you’ve heard from a few women who’ve tried ovulation tracking for themselves, it’s important to choose what’s right for you, if you’re interested. Tracking your ovulation can help you learn a lot about your body and it’s totally natural. While methods like the above can’t protect against STIs, using fertility awareness methods (a fancier, longer name for ovulation tracking methods, like BBT temperature and cervical mucus) is said to be up to 99.6 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Whether you’re trying to plan or prevent, any ovulation tracking method you choose must be used consistently and regularly to be effective. So, if you’re taking your temperature, be sure to set that alarm (like Rachel).
Want to weigh in on one of the methods mentioned here? Have a different one that really works for you? Tell us in a comment below! We want to hear about the best ovulation tracking methods out there, so we can all get to know our bodies better.