Guidelines recommend couples have sex every 2 – 3 days to make sure that sex occurs around ovulation. However we understand this can be impractical and difficult to achieve. Ovulation tracking can help you determine when you ovulate, which is essential in conceiving. You may wish to track ovulation to know when the best time in your cycle is for intercourse and plan it accordingly.
When does ovulation usually occur?
The menstrual cycle means the time between the first day of your period and the day before your next period. The length of menstrual cycles varies from woman to woman. The average is around 28 days. Ovulation usually occurs 10 to 16 days before your next period, so on day 12 to day 18 for someone with a 28 day cycle. However this can vary hence why it can be useful to track your ovulation.
Many people have shorter or longer cycles than 28 days however most people usually still ovulate between 12 to 18 days before their next period. For example for someone with a 30 days cycle they can take 12 and 18 away from 30 days to know they will likely ovulate between day 12 and 18.
If you have irregular cycles ovulation can happen on different days in the cycle and it can be harder to estimate when you ovulate. Read the section below on ovulation tracking with irregular periods.
Why is ovulation tracking important?
Ovulation tracking means using one of a number of methods available to try and determine when ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary) has or will occur.
The length of a menstrual cycle can vary month to month and could be affected by stress, weight changes and hormone fluctuations. If your menstrual cycle changes, so can your ovulation. To increase your chances of conceiving, it’s best to have intercourse around the time of ovulation2.
Ovulation tracking will help you determine when you’re fertile so you can have intercourse during this time. Once you ovulate, the egg lives for up to 24 hours3. By knowing in advance when you may ovulate, you can plan to have intercourse and give the sperm time to swim up the fallopian tube, where they will meet the egg.
If you track your cycles for a few months, you can better calculate your fertile window for future cycles without having to continuously track them every day/month. The fertile window is the day of ovulation and the five days prior to ovulation (which is the length of time sperm could potentially survive in the female reproductive system). Having intercourse during your fertile window can increase your chances of conceiving.
What are the best ways to track ovulation?
There are various methods to track your cycle and estimate ovulation4. These methods can help estimate when ovulation happens – however none can confirm if an egg has been released from your ovary. The most accurate way to predict ovulation is through ovulation predictor kits.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs)
How they work: OPKs measure hormone (luteinising hormone or LH) levels in your urine. In a menstrual cycle, LH will rise approximately 36 hours before ovulation. When you have a positive reading on an OPK, you can have timed intercourse which will increase the chances of the egg and sperm meeting.
Limitations: OPKs can be expensive and they are not a guarantee that ovulation has occurred
Although the below methods aren’t as accurate as using ovulation predictor kits some women find them simpler to do and hence preferable.
Some women get a brief one-sided pain or discomfort in their abdomen when they are ovulating. This is sometimes referred to as mittelschmerz. This can help understand when ovulation is occurring for future cycles.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
How it works: Unlike OPKs, measuring BBT is inexpensive as you only need an accurate thermometer, however it does require daily readings. BBT is your body temperature when resting, which can increase when you’re ovulating. It should be measured in the morning before getting out of bed and around the same time every day.
Limitations: BBT tracking is time consuming and charting the results requires commitment. In addition, the rise in BBT would happen after ovulation, which means you would need to have intercourse before the rise in temperature – so it’s most useful when scheduling intercourse for future cycles. It’s also important to understand the other factors that could have an impact on your BBT fluctuations like stress, sleep problems, illness and alcohol consumption.
How it works: Just before ovulation occurs, oestrogen levels lead to changes in cervical mucus. The consistency becomes wet and stretchy, making it more friendly for sperm to swim through. After ovulation it changes again and becomes thick or dry, which prevents sperm from swimming.
Limitations: Some medications can interfere with cervical mucus, like cold medications, cough suppressants and allergy medications. Women with PCOS may experience stretchy and wet cervical mucus throughout their cycle, which can make it harder to pinpoint the time of ovulation.
How to track ovulation with irregular cycles?
If you have irregular cycles, you may find it more difficult to monitor and track your ovulation. Some people prefer to forgo the stress of tracking and instead have intercourse every 2-3 days throughout the cycle5, to ensure that you’re actively trying within your fertile window without knowing precisely when it is.
What to do if you’re not ovulating?
If you’ve been tracking your cycles but can’t determine if ovulation takes place, you may want to get in touch with your GP. There might not be anything wrong, but it’s a good idea to talk to a healthcare professional that can help assess if there are any tests that should be done to see if there’s an underlying cause.
Reasons you might decide to not track ovulation
While tracking ovulation can be beneficial, it also has the potential to add stress and anxiety. If tracking your cycle is causing you stress, you can take a break from it and simply have intercourse regularly throughout your cycle. Having sex every 2-3 days will ensure that you are trying within the fertile window.
- NHS website. How can I tell when I’m ovulating? – NHS
- NHS website. How long does it usually take to get pregnant? – NHS
- NHS website. Trying to get pregnant – NHS
- NHS website. Periods and fertility in the menstrual cycle – NHS
- NHS website. Irregular periods – NHS