If you know my work, you know I’m a big fan of tracking and understanding your cycle.
Figuring out when you ovulate is part of the cycle tracking process. This isn’t only for those of you on a fertility journey; it’s also for those of you wanting to avoid pregnancy + those of you wanting to get to know your cycles/hormones better.
Ovulation is also how you make most of your progesterone, so having ovulatory cycles is key for that.
Ovulation happens when there is a surge in LH (luteinizing hormone) around the middle of a cycle.
As with most things in life, there will be some variability in how each individual experiences ovulation. Don’t be alarmed if you don’t see yourself reflected here–you can always talk to your healthcare team about what you’re noticing. You might even notice changes in ovulatory manifestations as you age or go through certain life events.
Remember: if you’re on the combined oral contraceptive pill or patch or Nuvaring, ovulation is no longer happening, so these signs don’t apply. For those of you with a hormonal IUD like the Mirena or Kyleena, or the Nexplanon implant, then you’re likely ovulating but these signs may or may not be present.
The most common changes around ovulation include:
- Cervical Mucus: Egg-whitey and stretchy/stringy mucus can be present starting before ovulation (thanks to estrogen). This can mark the beginning of the fertile window. After ovulation, cervical mucus often is tackier and gummier denoting that ovulation has already occurred. Note: not everyone makes a lot of mucus.
- Basal Body Temperature (BBT): Your body temperature rises after ovulation thanks to progesterone that goes up at this time in the menstrual cycle. The increase is mild: 0.5-1 degrees Fahrenheit or 0.3-0.5 degrees Celsius. You want to take your temperature orally, vaginally, or rectally as soon as you wake up before doing anything (including drinking or eating anything). Take your temperature at around the same time over your whole cycle to get a retrospective on when ovulation happened because your BBT goes up after ovulation. Things like sleep issues, thyroid problems, meds, and other factors can impact your BBT.
- Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK) or LH Strips: There are pregnancy test like strips to measure your LH as this hormone surges right before you ovulate. Peak LH happens around 12 hours before the egg is released. Note: conditions like PCOS can lead to LH strips not being an accurate representation of LH because of baseline elevations in this hormone.
- Cervical Position: This isn’t a visible sign and definitely requires a bit more involvement, but can be used if you so choose. The cervix (at the bottom of the uterus) becomes shorter and softer mid-cycle. You basically need to insert (clean) fingers into the vaginal tract not only during the fertile window but outside of it as well in order to feel what it’s like and how it changes around ovulation time.
- Other Signs and Symptoms: Other things can happen at ovulation time because of hormone change. The most common is ovarian pain or mittelschmerz or fluid retention. Some people can get a bit of breakthrough bleeding, which can be associated with an underlying condition.
Another way to retrospectively figure out when you ovulated is counting 12-14 days back from your period. Once you ovulate (and pregnancy didn’t occur), you’re going to get your period around two weeks after that.
Sometimes an attempt to ovulate can look like ovulation. If you have irregular cycles, you’re either not ovulating or you’re ovulating haphazardly. That said, sometimes you can have regular cycles even though you’re not ovulating.
I know this can make things confusing. This is where your healthcare team (like family doctor, naturopathic doctor, fertility clinic, endocrinologist, etc.) can help.
Post-ovulatory progesterone measured via bloodwork and imaging through a doctor (the latter is typically reserved for fertility clinic patients) can definitively confirm whether or not ovulation happened.
You need at least a few months’ tracking (more than three) to identify patterns and connect the dots with the prospective and retrospective data.
Then, you can use that info for whatever purpose you’d like–for fertility, for contraception, to discuss with your healthcare team, or to celebrate that all’s well in your menstrual world.
My next post will be on using this info to pinpoint your fertile window.