So what is ovulation tracking and the fertile window, and how does fertility tracking help me with conception? Fertility and Menstrual Health Naturopath Aimee Lewis of Flow Naturopathy walks us through ovulation tracking, which is a simple process that can help you identify which days of the month you’re most fertile and likely to conceive. Instead of funnelling down the wormhole of google, we have outlined some of the simple stuff to help you navigate your own body during this period.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is the physiological process of a mature egg being released from the ovary, where it travels down the fallopian tube, ready to be fertilised. To pinpoint when ovulation occurs, we have to zoom out and look at our monthly cycle.
How do I chart my menstrual cycle?
We start counting our cycle from the first day of menstruation (Day 1). Once our period is over, we enter the Follicular phase of our cycle, where our ovarian follicles are getting ready to release an egg, and oestrogen and testosterone are on the rise. Our fertile window starts to open up in this phase. Ovulation occurs in the middle of our cycle, so on a 28 day cycle we can expect to ovulate roughly on day 14. This is peak fertility time. The Luteal phase occurs on the other side of ovulation, where levels of Progesterone increase and the likelihood of falling pregnant becomes incredibly, incredibly low. Dare we say- near impossible.
What is my fertile window?
Our most fertile days are roughly the 5 days before ovulation (in the Follicular phase), and the day of ovulation. This is known as the ‘Fertile Window’. This window of time is centred around the 24 hour period we ovulate. As sperm can live comfortably in our cervical mucus for up to 5 days, any sperm hanging around in the 5 days leading up to ovulation has a chance to meet the mature egg as it drops down our fallopian tube. It’s important to know, as fertile windows are based on our own unique cycles, the fertile window can differ between women, and can even be different from month to month in the same woman.
What are the natural signs to look out for when I am fertile?
Beyond simply tracking your cycle and knowing you’re near ovulation as you’re roughly in the middle, there are several natural signs that indicate ovulation is near.
Increased Cervical Mucus
The biggest clue that ovulation is near is noticing an increase in cervical mucus. It’s this mucus that helps sperm travel towards the egg, and is usually increased in the days leading up to ovulation. It’s important to note, an increase in mucus won’t always end in ovulation. This is particularly true for people with PCOS, or those highly stressed. But for most of us, this telltale sign that ovulation is near is easy to spot on your undies or on toilet paper, or by feeling increased wetness around the vulva (opening to the vagina) or in your undies.
Libido often increases pre-ovulation, leading to increased energy, desire for social interactions and intimacy. It’s our body’s physiological way of promoting fertility and conception. As we inch closer to ovulation, oestrogen and testosterone levels ensure our libido is heightened.
Changes to our Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
You can chart ovulation by taking your temperature daily, as soon as you wake up. Aimee explains: "You’ll need a thermometer which goes up to at least 1 decimal place (usually sold as oral ovulation thermometers). As readings are most accurate after at least 4 consecutive hours of sleep, people who are up a lot in the night (poor sleepers/ parents with babies/ people needing to urinate/ shift workers) a wearable device like the ‘Tempdrop’ which automatically records overnight temperature and send this info to an app might be a helpful alternative. The best way to collate this data is with a cycle tracking app (try and turn off cycle prediction alerts if you can) or with a physical cycle tracking sheet. If you notice your body temperature has increased by at least 0.3 degrees Celsius over 3 days, then it’s safe to say ovulation has occurred and the fertile window is over."
Noticing slight one-sided lower abdominal pain or discomfort? Known as the ‘mittelschmerz,’ this signifies the release of an egg from one of your ovaries, signifying ovulation has occurred.
What are ovulation apps, and are they helpful?
A new study found more than half of fertility and period-trackers apps to be ineffective at predicting ovulation. Aimee reminds us “Cycle tracking apps are a great way to collate information, however they are not usually reliable in determining our fertile window. This is because they are based on algorithms and not our body’s unique rhythm, which changes from cycle to cycle. So many things can alter the fertile window - stress, diet, exercise, illness, travel, weight changes - and I am yet to see an app that can account for all these realities of life.”
What is an ovulation test, and is it helpful?
Both saliva and urine ovulation kits exist, and are used to predict peak fertility times so sex can be timed around baby making. Saliva tests use samples of saliva and inspect these for increased levels of salt, which indicates a rise in oestrogen and ovulation is near. Urine tests are looking for signs of high levels of Luteinising Hormone, which increases in the days prior to ovulation. While helpful tools, these tests can be costly to maintain cycle on cycle.
How much should I have sex during this time?
As soon as you start to notice increased cervical mucus around mid-way in your cycle, it is time to get busy! That mucus is what helps sperm swim to its final destination, and so it is essential for pregnancy. In terms of frequency of sex, once every alternate day in the fertile period is definitely sufficient, but if you want to go daily there is no harm. Studies suggest that sex 2 days before ovulation gives the highest probability of pregnancy.
When should I take a pregnancy test?
Pregnancy tests can spot hCG in your urine, which is produced during pregnancy. hCG can be detected as early as 10 days after conception, but it’s best to wait until at least the first day of your period, or for the most reliable reading- at least a week after your period was due.
I'm not sure I'm Ovulating
PCOS, hormonal imbalances, long term use of The Pill or irregular periods are common and confusing. It's always best to touch base with a healthcare practitioner to explore options here if you're experiencing any of these. From supporting natural ovulation to occur, to considering Ovulation Induction if infertility persists, there's a range of pathways that might suit your individual needs.
Fertility experts recommend preparing your body for pregnancy at least 3+ months before trying for a baby, and a quality prenatal vitamin can support any nutritional gaps here. Checking in with your healthcare provider as you navigate this space can also support your individualised preconception plan.