What is ovulation?
Ovulation refers to the release of an egg from a woman's ovaries. This usually happens once in a menstrual cycle and is triggered by hormonal changes.
What are the signs of ovulation?
There are lots of ovulation symptoms, which you may start to notice about five days before the egg is released. Knowing what’s going on (and when) should help you get a handle on the whole conception business and make it a whole lot easier for you. Here are some physical signs that can be dead giveaways:
Egg white cervical mucus
After your period finishes, cervical mucus is clear and watery. However, around your fertile window, it becomes thicker – something like the consistency of raw egg white (you can actually stretch it between your thumb and forefinger if you feel so inclined). This change in consistency is caused by an increase in oestrogen and is designed to help the sperm swim towards the egg; a good indicator that you are in your most fertile period. Some women report light spotting or an increase in vaginal discharge, too.
Changes to your cervix
You’ll need long arms for this, but it is possible to feel your own cervix and detect changes in it that will tell you where you are in your cycle.
For most of your cycle, your cervix feels dryish and hard – like the tip of your nose. Around the time an egg is released, it feels softer – more like your earlobe – and ‘wetter’. It’s also higher and more open.
Learning to track changes in your cervix can take a bit of practice, so it’s worth doing from cycle to cycle for a few months before you begin trying to conceive, and making a note of cervical position, as well as the appearance of cervical mucus on each day of your cycle, to give you a clearer picture. If you’re prone to mislaying notebooks on the bus, best not to write your name in the front of this one.
"I am scared of my cervix. I did poke around when I was in the bath but couldn't find it. Maybe standing up would be more sensible, though in-shower acrobatics can be hazardous!"
Mild ovulation pain
Known (rather oddly) as ‘Mittelschmerz’, a mild sensation of discomfort in your ‘middle’ can be a sign that it's o-day. Not all women experience this, however, so don’t set your watch by it. Equally, it shouldn’t be all-out painful, so if you’re experiencing more than a mild twinge, speak to your GP.
“Sometimes pains are felt after rather than before – a sort of nagging feeling after the follicle has popped – so they aren't necessarily a useful sign. Much better to use your fertile cervical fluid as a guide.”
Changes to how you feel
Anecdotally, women report lots of small changes as symptoms. You might notice any of the following:
- increased libido and energy – you may even feel a bit more 'flirty'
- nausea and headaches
- an improved sense of taste, smell and sight
- water retention
- slightly more sensitive breasts
- people telling you that you look good (seriously: women apparently look their best at this time, which is, of course, handy if you’re trying to conceive). Apparently, you actually smell better to others at this time, too, you fragrant thing, you.
Changes in body temperature
Your basal body temperature is the most easily-trackable sign. Your body temperature remains fairly even for most of your cycle, but takes a small dip just before and then spikes (by 0.25℃ to 0.5℃) when you are ovulating. You’ll need to track your temperature for a few months to work out when this is happening – and therefore when your most fertile days fall (the so-called 'fertile window').
Signs ovulation is over
The only way to track this really is to keep checking your cervical mucus. When it's no longer stretchy, the excitement is probably all over. Regardless though, if you've been tracking the signs and have an idea of when the egg pitched up, you'll know that within a day or two your fertile window is closing. The best time to have sex is in the days leading up to this, which is why tracking the signs can help you become familiar with your cycle.
When am I ovulating?
In general, it's around the middle of your menstrual cycle, but you can get a rough idea using our ovulation calculator.
"I ovulated on day 22 this month; day 16 the previous two months and on day eight a few months ago, so there are no hard and fast rules for which day it will happen."
How many days after your period do you ovulate?
Contrary to what many of the books tell you, for most women, it doesn't happen like clockwork on day 14 of their cycle – but it is usually some time around the middle of the month, anywhere between 10 and 16 days before their period starts. It's easier to work back around 15 days from the start of your next cycle (when your period arrives) as the part of your cycle after the egg is released is usually less 'flexible' than the part before.
So, if you have a 35-day cycle (few woman have regular 28-day cycles), you'll probably ovulate around day 20, whereas if you have a 22-day cycle, it'll be more like around day eight. However, it's different for every woman so it's worth being able to spot the signs to help you work out what's going on in there.
How long does ovulation last?
Each cycle, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) causes between five and 12 follicles to swell. Luteinising hormone (LH) then triggers the largest of the follicles to release its egg 12 – 24 hours later. Usually, only one egg is released at the time of ovulation, but sometimes more.
How long is your fertile window?
Although an egg will only be fertile for up to 24 hours after it is released, there are actually about six days in each month when you can get pregnant. This is because sperm can wait in your fallopian tubes for up to five days. So, if you have sex anywhere between five days before and one day after you release an egg, there is the possibility that the sperm will still be around to fertilise that egg.
Do you know when you're ovulating?
How do ovulation tests work?
There are two types of test. The first one tests your urine, a bit like a pregnancy test. You wee on a small stick at the same time each day to check out your hormone levels and see if luteinising hormone is detected, which indicates that – you guessed it – you're ovulating.
The second – a salivary ferning kit – tests your saliva. The levels of salt in your saliva increase towards o-time and when the saliva dries, the salt crystallises, forming a ferning pattern that you can spot under a microscope.
What if I’m not ovulating?
There are several factors that may mean it just doesn't happen some months, or at all (this is known as anovulation), but the good news is that the causes can usually be diagnosed and treated.
How can you tell if you're ovulating?
Your GP can send you for a blood test on day 21 of your cycle to measure progesterone levels. If they’re low, they can then look into why.
Why aren’t I ovulating?
There are many reasons why this might be the case. Conditions including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can prevent it, while diseases such as chlamydia can block the fallopian tubes.
Being excessively over or underweight, stress, anxiety and other environmental factors can all cause a woman not to ovulate, too. Finally, there are women who struggle with it for no discernible reason.
What can be done?
Depending on your diagnosis, there are lots of things that can help.
If the problem seems to be chlamydia, antibiotics may be prescribed, which are usually very successful. Meanwhile, PCOS can be treated in a variety of ways.
Alternatively, your GP may prescribe Clomid, an oral medication that stimulates the ovaries.
It’s also a good idea to take steps to maximise your chances yourself. Make sure you’re a healthy weight and consider your diet: check you’re getting plenty of iron, zinc and vitamins C and D, all of which can help regulate your cycle, and take a long, hard look at any unhealthy habits you’re indulging in. Cigarettes cause the ovaries to age prematurely, and there’s mounting evidence to suggest that excessive alcohol consumption may also be a factor in egg implantation. The good news is, if you don’t get a thin blue line at the end of the month, a large glass of Sauvignon to drown your sorrows will likely do no harm.
Ovulation tracking bracelets – do they work?
You may have read about ovulation tracking bracelets and be curious as to what they are and how they may be able to help you get pregnant. They are still fairly new on the scene and use technology to track your fertile window.
The idea is that you wear the bracelet at night and it connects up with the app to tell you when in the month you are ovulating. The device also tracks your body temperature, sleep and heart rate to give you an overall picture of your physical health.
There're probably not enough findings just yet to whether or not it's worth your while buying an ovulation tracking bracelet. If you're interested in giving it a go, though, if only to see how you're doing health-wise overall, then there's no reason why you shouldn't.
What Mumsnetters say about fertility/ovulation tracking bracelets
"It takes a bit of effort to figure out what your results mean, but it definitely takes the stress out of trying to take manual readings."
"I really wouldn’t buy it if your cycles aren't regular or if you have PCOS."
"After reading lots of reviews, I just got mine. I’m so excited to use it and not to have to wake up early every morning to take my temperature."
When will I ovulate after coming off the pill?
Your cycle should return to normal almost immediately after you come off the pill, and it's safe to start trying to conceive right away.
When will I ovulate again after giving birth?
Technically, you can release an egg 21 days after giving birth. It’s highly unlikely (as are the chances that you’ll be having sex again by this point, if we’re honest), but it is possible.
If you aren’t breastfeeding, your cycles will usually return to normal four to six weeks after you’ve given birth.
"Think of the day you gave birth as the date of your last period. If you are not breastfeeding, you could ovulate within two weeks to a month of delivery."
Does breastfeeding prevent ovulation?
On the whole, yes – but it’s by no means a reliable method of contraception. If your child is younger than six months, you’re never going more than four hours without feeding, and if you’re breastfeeding exclusively (no bottles or mixed feeding) then your body is unlikely to ovulate. Once you stop breastfeeding exclusively (or stop completely) your menstrual cycle usually cranks into action again soon after, so you could ovulate at any time.
When will I ovulate after a miscarriage?
Whether you’ve decided to try again as soon as possible or want to have a break from trying to conceive, it’s worth being aware that you can ovulate as normal in the weeks after a miscarriage.
“After a miscarriage, you can fall pregnant in that cycle before your period returns. But do be gentle and don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Although physically you are ready for another pregnancy, it may take a bit longer for you to feel emotionally strong enough.”
Because it’s difficult to know where you are with your first cycle after a miscarriage, doctors often suggest women wait for one menstrual period to come and go before trying to conceive again.
There’s no danger in trying again straight after a miscarriage as long as there are no complications (such as an ectopic pregnancy or infection) – doing so won’t increase your chances of having another miscarriage. However, it does make it harder to date the pregnancy, so if you’re feeling anxious following a miscarriage, it might be easier on you to wait until you know exactly where you are in your cycle.
What Mumsnetters say
“Forget those sticks, forget charts and temperature readings – that’s the road to obsession. Just take folic acid every day, eat a healthy diet, drink alcohol in moderation if you fancy a tipple, stop smoking, have sex every other day, don’t obsess, don’t get worried until you have been TTC for 12 months or more. Oh, and whatever you do, don’t put anything off, 'just in case' – it can drive you demented and become very tedious.”
“I don't know about pains… I do feel like murdering people at ovulation time.”
“I took ovulation tests practically every day when I was trying to conceive. I never got a clear definitive positive. Then I got my BFP! I'm not sure how much I trust those test kits now!”
“Egg-white cervical mucus is like jelly or bogies. It can be wobbly on the loo roll and stretch stringily between your fingers. My book says it should stretch to 5cm if it's the proper good fertile stuff!”
“I always have very strong pains. Tired, bit sick, moody. Just like when I have a period actually.”