Tracking ovulation cycle on chart

Signs of ovulation

Ovulation is the point in the menstrual cycle when a mature ovarian follicle releases an egg. The egg then travels down the fallopian tube, and may be fertilised if sperm are present.

When do I ovulate?

In general you can expect to ovulate around the middle of your menstrual cycle. You can get a rough idea from our Ovulation Calculator. Contrary to what many of the books tell you, most women do not ovulate like clockwork on day 14 of their cycle – but most will ovulate some time around the middle of the month, anywhere between 10 and 16 days before their period begins.

Each cycle, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) causes between five and 12 follicles to swell, ready for ovulation. Luteinising hormone (LH) then triggers the largest of the follicles to release its egg 12-24 hours later. Usually only one egg is released, but sometimes more.

What are the main signs of ovulation?

You’ll start to notice signs of ovulation about five days before the egg is released. Knowing what’s going on when should help you get a handle on the whole conception business. There are several physical signs that can be giveaways.

Egg-white cervical mucus

After your period finishes, cervical mucus is clear and watery, but just before and during ovulation 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 designed to help the sperm to swim towards the egg, and is a good indicator that ovulation is underway.

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 when you are ovulating.

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!

Before and after ovulation your cervix feels dryish and hard – like the tip of your nose. Around the time of ovulation it feels softer – more like your ear lobe – and ‘wetter’ . It’s also higher and more open around the time of ovulation.

Learning to track changes in your cervix can take a bit of practice, so it’s worth doing 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 write your name in the front of this one.

Mild abdominal pain

Abdominal pain - common ovulation symptoms

Known (rather oddly) as ‘Mittelschmerz’, a mild sensation of discomfort in your ‘middle’ can be a sign that ovulation is occurring. Not all women experience this, however, so don’t set your watch by it. Equally, ovulation shouldn’t be all-out painful, so if you’re experiencing more than a mild twinge, speak to your GP.

“Sometimes ovulation pains are felt after ovulation rather than before – a sort of nagging feeling after the follicle has popped – so they aren't necessarily a useful pre-ovulation sign. Much better to use your fertile cervical fluid as a guide that ovulation is on its way.”

Changes to how you feel

Anecdotally, women report lots of small changes as symptoms of ovulation. You might notice any of the following:

  • increased libido and energy
  • an improved sense of taste, smell and sight
  • water retention
  • slightly more sensitive breasts
  • people telling you you look good (seriously: women apparently look at their best when ovulating, which is of course handy if you’re trying to conceive).

Change in basal body temperature

This is the most easily-trackable ovulation sign. Your body temperature remains fairly even for most of your cycle, but takes a small dip just before ovulation and then spikes (by 0.25℃ to 0.5℃) when you ovulate. You’ll need to track your temperature for a few months to work out when you ovulate and therefore when your most fertile days fall.

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How do ovulation tests work?

If you find the physical signs of ovulation hard to spot, or unreliable, you might want to try an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) to work out when's the best time to conceive.

There are two types of ovulation test.

The first tests your urine, a bit like a pregnancy test. You wee on a small stick at the same time each day, and the stick detects the presence of luteinising hormone, which indicates ovulation is approaching.

The second – a salivary ferning kit – tests your saliva. The levels of salt in your saliva increase towards ovulation, and when the saliva dries, the salt crystallises, forming a ferning pattern, which you can spot under a microscope.

What if I’m not ovulating?

There are several factors that may mean you don’t ovulate some months, or at all (this is known as anovulation). The good news is that the causes can usually be diagnosed and treated.

Diagnosing anovulation

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 ovulation might not take place. Conditions including polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) can prevent it, while diseases such as chlamydia can block the fallopian tubes, meaning ovulation can’t occur.

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 ovulation for no discernible reason.

What can be done if I’m not ovulating?

Depending on your diagnosis, there are lots of things that can help with ovulation.

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 – find out more about PCOS and its treatment.

Alternatively, your GP may prescribe Clomid, an oral medication that stimulates ovulation.

It’s also a good idea 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 ovulation, 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.

“Forget those ovulation 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, 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.”

Read more about maximising your chances of conception

When will I ovulate after coming off the pill?

Your cycle should return to normal almost immediately but you can read more here about coming off the pill and its impact on ovulation.

When will I ovulate again after giving 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.

Technically, you can ovulate 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.

Breastfeeding mother and baby

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.

Chat to other women trying to conceive after miscarriage