If you are trying to conceive, one of the best ways to increase your chances of getting pregnant is to monitor your ovulation cycle. If your periods are regular, keeping track of your ovulation cycle is a fairly straightforward process, but if your menstrual cycle varies from month to month, it can be difficult to know when your body is at its most fertile. Ovulation calculators that record your fertility each calendar month, and ovulation predictor kits that measure your hormone levels, can be useful aids in the quest to conceive.
What is Ovulation?
Every month, an egg cell matures in an ovary. When the egg is mature, it is released into the fallopian tube and guided into the uterus where it can be fertilized by sperm. Once the egg is in the uterus, it is available for fertilization for about a day. This brief window is the only time in a given month when it is possible become pregnant. However, since sperm can remain active and viable inside the female body for between three and five days, a couple increases their chances of conceiving if they have intercourse in the days just prior to and following ovulation.
Understanding Your Ovulation Cycle
There are three main phases of a woman’s menstrual cycle: the follicular phase (pre-ovulation), ovulation, and the Luetal phase (post-ovulation). These are the different stages you are trying to track when monitoring your ovulation.
1. Follicular Phase
The follicular, or pre-ovulation phase, is indicated by the first day of your period and lasts up until the point of ovulation. An average period lasts for between four and six days and during this time the ovaries respond to a hormone released in the brain called follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), and begin to mature one or more egg cell. As the egg develops, estrogen levels in the body rise which causes cervical mucus to increase.
Once the egg has matured during the follicular phase, the brain releases a chemical called Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which causes the ovary to release the fertilized egg. During this time, you may experience abdominal cramping, breast tenderness, and the cervical opening softens and the mucus becomes clearer and thinner. This is the most important part of your cycle to keep careful track of since it is the only time in a given month in which it is possible to become pregnant.
3. Luteal Phase
The last stage of ovulation is the Luteal phase and it starts on the day immediately following ovulation and lasts until the first day of the menstrual cycle, which is usually between 10 and 16 days for most women. During the Luteal phase the body releases the hormone progesterone, which prepares the lining of the uterus to receive a fertilized egg. Progesterone causes a very slight but detectable rise in body temperature, between 0.4 and 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit, and if you are taking a precise measure of your temperature every day it is possible to know when your body has ovulated and is in the Luetal phase.
If the egg is fertilized by the sperm during ovulation, it will attach to the thickened lining of the uterus at the Luetal phase and you will become pregnant. If the egg is not fertilized, the progesterone levels will decrease, the lining will be shed, you will get your period, and the ovulation cycle will start over.
Keeping Track: Ovulation Calculators and Kits
There are different ways to monitor your ovulation cycle no matter how variable it might be. Firstly, if you pay careful attention to the biological indicators your body produces during the different phases of ovulation such as cervical mucus, increases in body temperature, the average length of your menstrual cycle, and the physical symptoms that accompany it, you will have a better idea of when you are a most likely to become pregnant. However, calculators and ovulation kits offer more sophisticated methods of pinpointing when you ovulate in a given month.
Online Ovulation Calculators
Some ovulation calculators can be found and used for free online. These calculators can be good organizing and record-keeping tools that can help you understand your individual cycle and how it tracks from month to month.
Over-the-Counter Ovulation Predictor Kits
Ovulation predictor kits that are available for purchase over the counter at your local pharmacy can further maximize your chances of conceiving. These kits are designed to be used at home and they utilize urine or saliva samples to measure hormone levels in the body that indicate the brief two or three-day window of time each month when you are most like to get pregnant. They are risk-free and painless.
Since fertility is complicated and can change from month to month due to personal, biological, or environmental factors, calculating your ovulation cycle with a calendar and/or a kit cannot guarantee that you become pregnant. (If you are concerned you may be struggling with infertility challenges, please contact your obstetrician at Kansas City ObGyn.)
Not Effective Birth Control
For the same reason, monitoring your cycle through these methods as a form of birth control is less precise than other forms of contraception. However, if your goal is to get pregnant, ovulation kits and calculators can be great aids in helping you to understand your ovulation cycle and improve your likelihood of conceiving.