Signs of ovulation

Tracking ovulation cycle on chart

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 you ovulate?

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

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 do so sometime around the middle of the month, anywhere between 10 and 16 days before their period begins.

How long does ovulation last?

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.

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 (ovulation), there is the possibility that the sperm will still be around to fertilise the egg.

Do you know when you're ovulating?

Try our ovulation calculator

What are the main signs of ovulation?

How do you know when you're ovulating? Well, you’ll start to notice the signs 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. However, 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 you're ovulating, 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 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.

Mild abdominal ovulation 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, this 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 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.”

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 that 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 you begin, 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 this out, and therefore when your most fertile days fall (the so-called 'fertile window').

Chat to other women who are trying to conceive

How do ovulation tests work?

If you find the physical signs 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 one 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 the start of ovulating.

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 you might not be ovulating. 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 getting pregnant

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

How long do you ovulate for?