OK ladies, hands up, how many of you have taken a guess as to when you're ovulating and practically locked your man in the bedroom for a week? There's no need to be embarrassed! After all, the absolute best chance you've got of conceiving is by having lots of sex while you're ovulating. Of course, sex is fun anyway, but doing the deed at the wrong times of the month is very unlikely to result in pregnancy. So if you're trying to get pregnant, take a look at the most common signs and symptoms of ovulation below to see when you need to cancel your social plans!
What Happens During Ovulation?
Ovulation is a process determined by the release of follicle-stimulating hormones in the body. I'm sure you can guess by the name that these hormones stimulate follicles in the ovaries, creating a small hole through which an egg can escape and descend down the fallopian tube. If an egg is fertilized, it attaches itself to the uterine wall and develops into an embryo.
Based on a standard 28 day menstrual cycle, ovulation typically occurs around the middle of the cycle, about day 14. But it's important to remember that each woman is different. Even if you do have a menstrual cycle that runs like clockwork, you may find you ovulate right before your period, or immediately after. This is why there is no 'safe' time to have unprotected sex if you don't wish to become pregnant. Ovulation happens when it wants, it doesn't always stick to the 'rules'.
Once ovulation occurs and an egg is released, you've got about 24 hours to get busy before the egg dies and waits to be flushed out as part of the menstrual flow. But don't panic, your window of opportunity isn't quite that small. Sperm are quite determined little guys and are willing to hang around for a few days waiting for the egg to present itself (well, there's nothing wrong with making a man wait a bit, is there?). Sperm can live for about five days, so once you're familiar with your own personal ovulation pattern, it's worth getting down to business just before ovulation occurs to really maximize your chances.
How Do I Know If I'm Ovulating?
You may not have paid much attention to ovulation before, but there's actually quite a few signs to keep an eye out for which can indicate when the time is right. Take a look at the tops signs of ovulation below and see if you notice any symptoms during your next cycle.
I know, I know, not the most pleasant of symptoms to start off with, is it? But cervical mucus is actually the sign of ovulation. It's not only the most common symptom, but research tends to show it's also the most accurate indicator of ovulation. Most women experience varying amounts of discharge throughout their menstrual cycle, but it often has very telltale properties around the time of ovulation.
When you're ovulating, you may notice that your cervical mucus becomes rather thin, slippery and slimy, almost like raw egg white. It's also produced in abundance. This is the result of the hormonal changes as the follicle-stimulating hormones do their job, and its purpose is to provide a nice, lubricated environment to not only keep sperm alive for longer but also to help transport them easily towards the egg; a bit like an origami boat caught in a stream.
A study conducted way back in 1972 studied the menstrual cycles of 22 women ovulating regularly. It was found that 18 participants correctly identified the moment of ovulation based upon cervical mucus changes. The study concluded that the changes were noticeable from about six days prior to ovulation.
A further study, this time in 1986, examined 12 women and in all cases the participants were able to pinpoint ovulation based on cervical mucus. The study even found that in nine of the 12 cases, the exact day of ovulation coincided with the day of the biggest quantity of discharge.
Another telltale sign of ovulation is basal body temperature (BBT). This is measured by taking your body temperature as soon as you wake up in the morning (you need to have had at least three hours of good rest for the reading to be accurate). And when I say 'as soon as you wake up', I really mean it. No breakfast first, no glass of juice. In fact, it's best if you take your temperature while you're still wrapped up comfortably under the bed sheets. You'll need to use a dedicated BBT thermometer to allow for a truly accurate reading, but these are inexpensive and widely available in most drug stores.
Of course, this is all down to hormones. When an egg is released, the body also releases progesterone. It does this because with every ovulation, the body needs to be prepared for a pregnancy, and progesterone helps to maintain a thick and padded uterine wall for the fertilized egg to attach to. The release of progesterone raises your body temperature ever so slightly; around 0.2 degrees fahrenheit. That's such a small rise that you probably won't notice any difference, but even this tiny change can be detected by a BBT thermometer.
Although a 1986 study found that temperature rises corresponded with the exact day of ovulation in three quarters of participants, research on this accuracy has been somewhat varied. An earlier study from 1976 found an 80% accuracy, whereas a 1981 study concluded that basal body temperature was an 'unreliable method of ovulation detection'.
It's thought that the reason for this inaccuracy is that temperatures rise following the release of an egg. This means that by the time your temperature goes up, you're most likely past your most fertile period. However, if you start charting your temperature and begin to notice a pattern, you should be able to take a reasonable guess as to when your most fertile period is.
Pain And Bloating
Did you think it was only your 'time of the month' that could cause uncomfortable bloating and abdominal cramps? Well think again. Although this is a less common symptom than those above, around one in five women do actually experience a little pain around the time of ovulation. The pain is medically acknowledged, going by the German word of 'mittelschmerz', directly translated as 'middle pain', referring both to the area of the pain, and the time of the menstrual cycle when it usually occurs.
As we've looked at, for ovulation to occur, a small hole needs to be created in the ovarian follicle. That's not always going to be painless, is it? The pain is frequently described as being similar to menstrual cramps and occurs just below the hip bone, on either the left or right side depending on which ovary has released the egg. The pain can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days, but luckily it's not normally any worse than a mild headache and should respond well to over-the-counter analgesics or even a warm bath and hot water bottle.
So if you're actively trying to conceive, try getting more in tune with your body and see if you can notice any of the above signs and symptoms during your next cycle. Yes, it can take the spontaneity out of love making, but it could also help to increase your chances of getting pregnant. By keeping a log of what signs you notice and when you notice them, you should start to see a pattern emerging and you'll soon discover when you're most likely to be fertile.