7 Things You May Not Know (But Should!) About Ovulation

Couple hugging along Seine River, Paris, France - during ovulation, sexual attraction is higher
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If you want to get pregnant, it’s important to know everything you can about ovulation. Misinformation on ovulation can decrease your odds of conception.

When researchers surveyed 1,000 women ages 18 to 40 about basic female reproduction, more than half the respondents were confused or missing essential information on getting pregnant and female fertility.

So if you’re unclear on ovulation and conception, you are not alone. Here is what you need to know about ovulation to help you make informed decisions on starting your family

What Is Ovulation?

During the menstrual cycle, reproductive hormones work together to stimulate the ovaries, which causes follicles to grow in the ovaries. Inside each follicle is an immature egg, also known as an oocyte.

When an egg, or ovum, is released from the ovaries, this is called ovulation. Even though there are several oocytes developing at the beginning of a cycle, usually only one egg will be released.

After ovulation, the egg travels through the fallopian tubes to the uterus. If the timing is right, sperm will meet with the egg and conception may take place.

You Need to Have Sex Before Ovulation

If you’re trying to get pregnant, you need to time sex for before you ovulate—and not after. Although sperm remain viable for up to 5 days, the ovulated egg must be fertilized within the first 12 to 24 hours after it is released.

Ideally, you want to have sperm ready and waiting for the egg. This is why most ovulation signs appear in the days before the egg is released. The two to four days before you ovulate are your most fertile time.

There Are Specific Signs of Ovulation

If you are trying to start a family, it helps to know when you're most fertile and ovulation is approaching. These methods of detecting upcoming ovulation can help you increase your chances of conception.

Fertile Quality Vaginal Discharge

Characteristics of your vaginal discharge can let you know if you're approaching ovulation. The increase in estrogen before ovulation leads to increased production of cervical mucus. Cervical mucus also changes in form and goes from a stickier, clumpy texture to looking more like raw egg whites.

You can figure out when you're most likely to get pregnant by paying attention to the discharge on your underwear, on the toilet paper, or by actually checking your cervical mucus manually yourself.

Ovulation Predictor Test Strips

You also can buy tests that will let you know when ovulation is approaching. They work a lot like pregnancy tests, in that you urinate on the test (or dip a test strip into a cup of urine) to get a result.

Ovulation predictor test strips work by detecting luteinizing hormone (LH). As your body gets closer to ovulation, LH levels spike in order to help the egg reach the final stages of maturity. Approximately 36 hours after the LH surge, ovulation occurs. Measuring your LH levels helps you know how to time sex.

Although knowing when the LH surge occurs can be helpful, there are pros and cons to ovulation test kits, and they are not for everyone. They can also get expensive over time.

Ovulation Monitor

An ovulation monitor is a fancier form of ovulation test strips. The biggest benefit of using an ovulation monitor over using test strips is the monitor will tell you if you're likely fertile. With the test strips, you will need to interpret the results yourself, which isn't always easy to do.

Some digital ovulation monitors measure hormone levels using urine test strips while others use saliva, cervical fluids, or temperature to predict ovulation. These monitors also can be expensive, costing anywhere from $100 to $300.

Cervical Opening

You also can check your own cervix as your cervical opening changes throughout your cycle. When ovulation is getting close, the cervix moves higher up, becomes softer to the touch, and opens slightly. When you're not fertile, the cervix is lower, harder, and closed.

Basal Body Temperature

You can figure out when you ovulated each month by taking your basal body temperature. If you input your temperatures into fertility charting software, it will predict your fertile days based on previous months. This method really only works well if you have regular periods.

Typical Cycle Length

You can use an ovulation calendar or calculator online to guess your most fertile dates. These work by considering your average cycle length, and then guess when you'd be most likely to ovulate based on previous months. This isn't by any means accurate, but if you have regular cycles, the results are good enough.

Ovulation Increases Desire for Sex

You can use ovulation predictor tests to help pinpoint your most fertile days. Some studies have found this can help you get pregnant faster. But behind the scenes, your hormones are also increasing your desire for sex. And remember, you want to have sex before you ovulate, so never underestimate biology!

When you are most fertile, your libido rises. If you ever wondered why your desire for sex waxes and wanes throughout the month, this is one big reason why. Use this information to your advantage and listen to your body. If you’re in the mood for sex, go for it—no matter what your ovulation test strips say.

You're Born With All Your Eggs

Each month, you release an egg. But these eggs aren’t created new monthly. You’re actually born with all the eggs you’ll ever have. With time, the number of eggs in the ovaries decreases.

At birth, a baby with ovaries has about 2 million eggs. By puberty, this number is down to around 500,000. As you age, the genetic stability of the eggs decrease. This is why women over age 35 are at a higher risk for infertility, miscarriage, and having a child with a genetic disease.

Because you are born with all the eggs you will ever have, some cancer treatments can cause permanent infertility. If the cancer treatments kill the eggs in your ovaries, you won’t be able to produce new ones later. Egg freezing can help preserve fertility for people facing cancer treatments.

People who want to delay parenting until after 35 also sometimes undergo this procedure. They freeze their eggs in their 20s in hopes of using their younger, healthier eggs later in life.

However, using egg freezing to beat the biological clock is controversial and does come with risks. It's also important to know that banking your frozen eggs does not guarantee a future successful pregnancy.

Your Overall Health Affects Fertility

You may not grow brand new eggs each month, but those eggs do mature into ovulation-ready eggs over several weeks before they are released. Before and during this maturation period, your health habits can make a difference in how healthy those eggs are. Your health habits before you conceive can have an effect on your ability to get pregnant, stay pregnant, and on your future baby’s health.

Diet during preconception can affect your fertility and your not-yet-conceived baby’s health. For example, folic acid is essential. Low folic acid levels can lead to problems with fertility, a higher risk of miscarriage, and a higher risk of birth defects.

All people of childbearing age, whether they are actively trying to conceive or not, should take 400 micrograms of folic acid daily. The recommended dosage during pregnancy is 600 micrograms daily. People at higher risk may need to take more.

Newer studies are finding that zinc may also be an essential mineral for healthy egg development. Speak to a healthcare provider about what supplements you should take when trying to conceive.

Your weight also matters. Obesity is one of the most common causes of preventable irregular ovulation. Even a 10% decrease in weight can improve your ability to conceive.

Another fertility health risk is cigarette smoking. Not only does it lower your fertility, but it also increases the rate at which eggs age. Your partner’s smoking can also have a negative impact on your fertility and your future baby’s health.

Menstruation Does Not Mean You're Ovulating

Some people mistakenly believe that if they are menstruating, then they’re ovulating. This actually isn’t true. People who experience anovulation or irregular ovulation may have irregular cycles, lighter or shorter than usual periods, or unusually heavy periods.

They may also go months without getting their period. But it's also possible to have regular, normal-looking periods and not be ovulating.

Just because you get a period doesn’t mean everything is OK with ovulation or your fertility. If your cycles are irregular, speak to a healthcare provider before you start trying to get pregnant.

Ovulation Is Not the Only Factor to Consider

Healthy ovulation is a key part of getting pregnant, but it takes more than a ready egg to conceive. Sperm must be able to reach the egg. This means the fallopian tubes must be unblocked and healthy.

A fertilized embryo needs a place to implant and develop. This means you also need a fertility-friendly uterine environment.

You also need healthy sperm to conceive. A third of heterosexual couples experiencing infertility will discover male infertility as the cause. Others will find that both male and female fertility problems are causing the trouble.

Also, you may have very regular cycles, but if you’re in your 40s, those eggs may be less than ideal for conception. Your ability to get pregnant ends before your periods stop.

If you or your partner ever been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted infection, even if it was treated, you may experience infertility. The infection can cause scarring in the reproductive tract. There are also couples who never find out why they can’t conceive. Between 15% and 30% of couples have unexplained infertility.

A Word From Verywell

Whether you have symptoms of infertility or not, if you can’t conceive after one year, talk to a healthcare provider. If you’re older than 35, see a healthcare provider after six months of trying to conceive. Delaying help can decrease your chances for a successful treatment.

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By Rachel Gurevich, RN
Rachel Gurevich is a fertility advocate, author, and recipient of The Hope Award for Achievement, from Resolve: The National Infertility Association. She is a professional member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and has been writing about women’s health since 2001. Rachel uses her own experiences with infertility to write compassionate, practical, and supportive articles.