How To Track Ovulation: Discover All You Need To Know
I’m a huge advocate in knowing your own body and how it works (it’s the nurse in me) and in particular, I want more women to understand their menstrual cycle. The biggest part of this for me is understanding when you ovulate. Here were going to look at why you might want to track your ovulation, cover the different ways you might do this, what you will be looking for and how to read the information you are getting from your body.
Why would you want to track ovulation?
Tracking your ovulation can not only help you get pregnant; it can help avoid pregnancy if you choose or just know when good old Aunt Flo (your period or menses) is going to turn up. This particularly helpful if you have a varied cycle length and don’t want to be halfway up a mountain or in the middle of an emergency at work when she turns up.
How can it do this you ask? Well, you are most fertile in the three days or so before you ovulate. There is only a 12-hour window where a sperm can fertilise an egg once it’s released, so one of the best ways you can ensure that the sperm makes it in time is to have them waiting in advance. By knowing when you usually ovulate you can ensure you’re doing the baby dance (having sex) at the right time. You can also use this information to avoid unprotected sex when you are most fertile if you are trying to avoid pregnancy. Equally, you can predict your period by counting the number of days between when you ovulate and your next period over a few months (your luteal phase). Your luteal phase usually only varies by about 3 days so this can give you a good idea when your menses might come.
What does a normal menstrual cycle look like?
A normal menstrual cycle for women will be between 21-40 days in length. The first day of your cycle will be the first day of your period (cycle day 1 or CD1). Your menstrual cycle is made up of three phases.
The follicular phase is the first stage, beginning with your period and taking you to ovulation. For most women, this phase will be between 11 and 27 days in length.
The second stage is ovulation which is the day that your egg is released from the follicle in your ovaries and begins its journey down the fallopian tube.
The final phase is the luteal phase which for most women will be between 10-17 days in length, however, as mentioned above, the luteal phase doesn’t tend to vary as much in length so will be reasonably stable. Usually you will find your luteal phase only varies 1 day either side of your norm i.e. if your luteal phase tends to be 12 days then it could vary between 11-13 days.
For example, your cycle might look like this if you have a regular 28-day cycle:
- Follicular phase – cycle days 1-13
- Ovulation – cycle day 14
- Luteal phase – cycle days 15-28
How can menstrual cycles differ?
The above is a nice a neat example, however, not realistic of most women, so let me provide an example of one of my cycles:
- Follicular phase – cycle days 1 -20
- Ovulation – cycle day 21
- Luteal phase – cycle days 22-32
As you can see from this, I had a 32-day cycle where my follicular phase was 20 days long, I ovulated on day 21 and had an 11-day luteal phase. This was quite typical for me, but my cycles varied from 24-34 days in length so my follicular phase length and ovulation day would change each cycle. To show this see an example of one of my 26-day cycles.
- Follicular phase – cycle day 1-15
- Ovulation – cycle day 16
- Luteal phase – cycle days 17-26
In this example my follicular phase was 15 days long, I ovulated on day 16 and my luteal phase in this month was 10 days long. This is all considered perfectly normal, but you can see even for one women things can vary.
If you are interested in learning more about the menstrual cycle, periods and the hormones involved, then check our guide to menstrual cycles.
How do you know when you’re ovulating?
There are some natural ways to know if you are ovulating, but they vary from women to women so aren’t fool proof, however, here are some you could look out for. It should be noted here that the best way to track for ovulation is to use several methods simultaneously for the best results and that you usually need at least 3 months data before you can see a pattern emerging.
Cervical Mucus – Some women may have changes to their cervical mucus during their menstrual cycle. A cervical mucus known as egg-white is usually prominent at fertile times which tends to be clear or white thin elastic mucus. You may note at these times you feel more wet below or see this in your underwear. This mucus is designed to give the sperm the optimal environment to swim to their desired location. Not all women get obvious cervical mucus changes during their cycle, but you may be able to track changes to your mucus to detect your fertile time. Want to know more? Check out our article on cervical mucus which can give you tips on checking your cervical mucus and ways to improve your amount of cervical mucus.
Mittelschmerz – Some women will also experience abdominal cramps during ovulation known as mittelschmerz. These cramps can be in your abdomen in general or specifically on one side – many women believe that the side that they experience cramp on is the side that is ovulating. Personally, I often had mittelschmerz on one side. It is important to also note here that some people believe that the you alternate which side you ovulate from cycle to cycle, however, it is not strictly true that if you ovulate on one side one month that it will be the other side next month as it just depends which side has a follicle that grows to be dominant.
Some women will also notice other changes during ovulation ranging from increased sex drive, more acne, bloating and other symptoms. It is worth keep a track of your daily symptoms, mood etc and you may begin to pick up a pattern.
Other methods for tracking ovulation
There are some more precise methods to track ovulation. Here are the most common:
Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) – Ovulation predictor kits are usually a urine strip test where you test every day to try and detect your luteinising hormone (LH) surge. Once you detect a surge in LH you will normally ovulate in the next 12-36 hours. If you want to know more, check out our article on luteinising hormone.
Basal body temperature – By tracking your temperature immediately when you wake in the morning (giving your minimal temperature during sleep) you can essentially track the hormone progesterone. Progesterone is a hormone which is involved in preparing the body for pregnancy and then maintaining a pregnancy. During the follicular phase progesterone is low and so your body temperature will remain normal, however, after ovulation progesterone rises and your temperature will rise with it. Through this rise in temperature you will be able to confirm you have ovulated. You then use previous cycles data to predict ovulation in the coming cycle. You will normally also be able to see a drop when your period is due. If you’re pregnant then progesterone remains high. If you have had continuous high temperatures for 18 days or more, we would recommend testing for pregnancy.
Core body temperature – Core body temperature operates in a similar way to basal body temperature in terms that it also monitors your temperature in order to detect a rise in progesterone. The differences being that it usually has be done with a specific core sensor which monitors your internal temperature and you can use this to predict ovulation in advance rather than just confirm it happened afterwards, this is because it is able to pick up the subtle changes in temperature that begin to happen before you ovulate rather than just the rise afterwards. This can be more useful for women with irregular cycles where ovulation varies significantly from month to month. As with basal body temperature you will have a drop in temperature when your period is due or when it arrives or temperatures will continue to be raised if you are pregnant.
Other fertility monitors – There are a variety of fertility monitors on the market. These vary from monitor to monitor but the most common and most highly recommended from what we’ve seen are:
- Tracking two hormones – usually tracking LH and oestrogen simultaneously such as the Clear Blue monitor.
- Bracelets – they usually use skin temperature (basal) but may also use resting pulse rate, breathing rate, heart rate variability, blood flow, and movement to detect the fertile window is beginning for example the Tempdrop or Ava bracelet.
There are so many different monitors coming out on the market which we will cover in a further article. This is just to give you an idea of the options.
All the above involve hormones, you can see in the graphic below how hormones fluctuate during your menstrual cycle and thus what is being monitoring in these methods.
How to track ovulation using OPK’s
In order to track ovulation using OPKs you will need OPK tests. A few we recommend which can suit different budgets are below. We have suggested a digital one below which may suit some women who prefer an easy to read option, however, there is no further advantage to this and they come at a substantially higher cost so we would not recommend these tests normally:
You will need to start using these strips about 3-4 days before the midpoint of your shortest cycle (i.e. if you have a 26 day cycle, your midpoint would be 13 days so its recommended you start testing around cycle day 9 or 10; if you have a 35 day cycle your midpoint would be day 17 so you should start testing around day 13-14). You should continue to test each day until a surge of LH is detected.
When you are testing you should aim to test between 12-8pm ideally. Women tend to have an LH surge in the morning which can then be picked up around 4 hours later in urine. Either way it is important to try and test around the same time of day each day until the strip is positive.
You should follow the individual instructions for the test you have purchased, but as a general guide, you will need to collect a sample of urine in a clean dry container, open your strip packet, insert your strip into the urine (ensure you insert it the correct way up and pay attention to the maximum line so you don’t insert the strip in past that line). You will then need to wait usually 5-10 minutes to read the test. Usually you should not read it once 30 minutes has passed as the test will be invalid.
Ovulation strips are different to pregnancy tests and therefore it is important you understand how to read them. For an ovulation strip to be positive the test line must be the same colour or darker than the control line. If the test line is lighter than the control line that is a negative test and there is not an LH surge. See the image here for examples of the different test results you might see.
Once you get a positive LH surge you should have sex if you wish to get pregnant as you will likely ovulate in the next 36 hours. Remember you don’t necessarily need to have sex every day, sex every two to three days should maximise your chances.
This is again a relatively low-cost option although depending on your cycle length you may get through a lot of test strips. It is relatively convenient and if timed correctly you can get up to 12-36 hours’ notice of ovulation. Some more expensive tests such as the one below will also show you when your LH is beginning to rise as well as when you hit the peak of your surge.
However, the LH surge may not be a reliable indicator of ovulation in some groups of women due to disturbance in their LH production. For example, in women who suffer from:
- Turner’s syndrome
- Pituitary issues
- Eating disorder
How to track ovulation using basal body temperature
It is essential if you want to track basal body temperature you follow certain guidelines:
It is important when tracking basal body temperature that:
- You have had at least 4 hours continuous sleep
- That wake the same time each day or as close as possible (within 30 minutes)
- That you immediately take your temperature before doing anything else including getting out of bed.
- It must also be done with a thermometer specifically for basal body temperatures as you need to monitor your temperature to 1/100th of a degree in Celsius or 1/10th of a degree in Fahrenheit.
When you plot your daily temperature, you are looking for a rise in temperature usually around 0.2 degrees Celsius or 0.4 degrees Fahrenheit compared to the previous six days and at it should remain higher than your previous temperatures for three consecutive days. You may get spikes of temperature at other times. You will probably need to chart your temperatures for about 3 cycles before you will be able to see any pattern. You will be able to see an example of one of my charts at the end of this article which I will talk you through.
This is a relatively cheap option as all you need is a basal body thermometer which reads to at least 1/100th of a degree and a cycle chart, either paper or you can use one of the many free phone apps. You can also choose to take your temperature orally, vaginally or rectally. It doesn’t matter which, just ensure you use the same route each time. Below are some thermometers we recommend:
The disadvantages of basal body temperature are that it relies on you having a consistent sleep pattern and you can get at least 4 hours sleep at once as well as waking the same time each day. This could prove problematic for women who may be caring for children or others who must wake in the night, it also might not suit women who work shifts. Your basal body temperature can also be influenced by other factors such as travelling (different time zones) illness or fever, alcohol and stress.
How to track ovulation using core body temperature
Core body temperature currently can only be measured through specific internal sensors. There is currently only one on the market that we are aware of, although we know of one other due to be released this year (2020).
The OvuSense monitor is an internal sensor which is inserted vaginally before you go to sleep. You can start using it once your period ends for the rest of your cycle. When you wake the sensor can be removed, it needs a minimum of 4 hours continuous data. It is then cleaned, and the information can be downloaded into your phone directly by its internal NFC or through an NFC device. The temperatures are displayed on a chart and the OvuSense algorithm uses the data to predict firstly an 8 day fertile window and then as more information is provided a 4 day window, eventually pinpointing a predicted ovulation day and then finally confirming this after you ovulate. You can also enter information on medications you are taking, when you had sex and if it is a natural, medicated, IUI or IVF cycle.
This can suit many women including those with ovulatory issues and irregular cycles such as PCOS, those whose fertility journeys are extended, those who work shifts and have irregular sleep patterns and who need wake in the night occasionally.
I personally used the OvuSense in the past due to working shift patterns and found it much more user friendly than basal body temperature and learned a lot about my cycle and I would highly recommend it for anyone on a more complex TTC journey who wants to understand their cycles in an easy convenient way. See an example of one of my OvuSense charts here.
Unfortunately, this can be an expensive option and may not suit those with a smaller TTC budget. We wouldn’t recommend it for those early on in their journey unless they are already aware of fertility issues such as PCOS.
However, we have also recently started working with OvuSense who have kindly provided us with a discount code you can use at checkout to get 20% off. You can find more information about OvuSense at their website here.
Just enter the code “INEEDIVF” at the checkout for your 20% discount.
Any OvuSense user can also get 24/7 support from their technical team, access to a private online support group and an hours free online consultation with one of their Fertility Nurse Specialists after 3 months/cycles of use.
How should I record my cycle information?
The choice on how to record your information is yours. You may want to just keep track in your diary or use a paper chart if you are tracking temperatures. I have linked free paper charts for both Celsius and Fahrenheit.
I personally used apps to track my data as this was more portable and I could enter information on symptoms, cervical mucus, OPKs, days I had sex and temperatures all in one place. The best way to track ovulation is to use several methods after all. See my example chart for how I did this in Kindara. You can see in the chart that I could pinpoint my fertile window by the change in cervical mucous from watery to egg white (see black circle), I then got a positive OPK the day before I ovulated (green circle) and had cramps, bloating and back pain the same day (purple circle) and then I was able to confirm ovulation with a temperature rise which was 0.1 degrees Celsius higher than the previous 6 days the day after ovulation (red circle) which then sustained for three consecutive days.
There are many apps most of which are free, some may have premium features which you can pay for although I always found the free version sufficient. Examples include Kindara, Glow, Ovuview, Fertility Friend and Clue.
Will tracking my cycle and monitoring for information improve my chances of getting pregnant?
If you have sex every 2-3 days, you should almost always hit your fertile period and therefore tracking your cycles may not directly improve your chances from this point of view. Also, it is important to note that men should ejaculate at least every 2 days to keep the quality of their sperm up.
However, for those of us who have been on the fertility struggle train for a while, we know how exhausting keeping up sex every two to three days for months or even years can be. The guilt about missing a ‘sex day’ because you were tired, not in mood, felt unwell etc is hell. So, knowing when the best time to get pregnant is can help relieve this a little or at the least let you focus your efforts on the follicular and ovulation phases and not worry about sex during the luteal phase as much. Nathan and I certainly found this over the 2.5 years we struggled to conceive. Particularly with my shift patterns, we could often pass each other for days at a time and this way we could narrow down a week or so when we needed to make more of an effort rather than stressing the whole cycle about when we wouldn’t see each other.
Ovulation tracking can also help early on is to understand if you are ovulating or if there is anything else in your cycle which may cause an issue. Some women, for a multitude of reasons may not actually ovulate (anovulation) and by tracking your cycles you would be able to see this. If you don’t ovulate at all, unfortunately you won’t be able to get pregnant, or if your ovulation is irregular (not every cycle) this would make getting pregnant very challenging. It should be noted here it is normal for a woman to have the very occasional anovulatory cycle.
By tracking ovulation, you would also pick up problems such as short luteal phase (9 days or less) known as luteal phase defect. Luteal phase defect can mean that an embryo does not have enough time to implant before your hormone levels drop and stimulate your period to start.
All this knowledge allows you to seek assistance from a medical professional earlier if necessary or provide a level of reassurance if you can see that you are ovulating regularly.
Are there any downsides of tracking ovulation?
Ovulation tracking in my opinion is generally a positive thing, however, it must be noted that there can be some downsides. For some women the added complication of cycle tracking into their daily lives can cause stress and anxiety. If this is you, then it may be time to stop cycle tracking or at least take a break and get some respite. It can be very time consuming especially as the best way to track is to use several methods in combination.
Some clinicians can also look very poorly on cycle tracking during TTC journeys. Why you ask? Well as previously mentioned, for most couples having sex every 2-3 days will lead to a pregnancy so some clinicians feel ovulation tracking adds stress which can be detrimental to chance of conception. It also can encourage couples to focus their efforts onto a very short window of time which can lessen their chances especially if they are not tracking effectively and focus on sex at the wrong times. Equally, as mentioned above, men should be ejaculating every 2 days at least to maintain sperm quality so focusing sex into only a few days means the quality of sperm may be less than if sex was had regularly throughout the entire cycle.
Finally, if you do use ovulation tracking to focus sex into a very short window, this could lead to sex becoming very transactional and goal driven rather than the more intimate moment most of us hope for. This is all very dependent on you and your relationship, but it is worth considering the above before you embark on an ovulation tracking journey.
PCOS and ovulation tracking
As mentioned throughout this article, PCOS or other hormone-based fertility issues can make ovulation tracking more difficult. Cycles tend to be irregular; some women don’t ovulate or very irregularly and hormones tend to be imbalanced. For this reason, OPKs or hormone-based testing is likely to give inaccurate readings, and trackers that rely on cycles being in a ‘normal’ range will also be ineffective (such as the Ava bracelet). For these women, I would recommend them doing their own research on what might work best from them. From what we have found a core-body temperature monitor such as OvuSense would be best as it is the only monitor designed for women with PCOS or other complex ovulation and hormone issues.
Remember you can get 20% off your OvuSense Starter Pack with the code ‘INEEDIVF’ at checkout.
Closing thoughts on Ovulation tracking
Firstly, well done on getting through this article! I know it’s a long one, but I really wanted to give you a clear idea on how ovulation tracking could work for you. Overall, although it can be complex initially, I hope that over time it may help you to get to know your body better and ultimately on your journey to the baby you desire. I would encourage you to always way up the pros and cons for you and your journey before embarking on ovulation tracking. If you have any questions or thoughts on ovulation tracking don’t hesitate to get in touch through the comments at the bottom of this page or directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you found this interesting, you might also be interested in these articles.
A guide to luteinising hormone – For those considering OPK testing
A guide to menstrual cycles – How do your menstrual cycles work? What do all your hormones do? Want to know more, then check this article out. Helpful for those considering temperature tracking (basal or core).
Everything you need to know about cervical mucous – Want to start tracking your cervical mucous? Look no further, check out our complete guide to cervical mucous.
A quick guide to key infertility diagnoses – Concerned that something may not be right or just curious about what can be a barrier to pregnancy, this is the article for you.
How can you improve your egg quality – Tracking ovulation can help you know if your ovulating and when, but it can’t tell you about your egg quality, found out how to improve your egg quality in 90 days here.
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