Trying to get pregnant? Tuning into your body’s subtle signals to know when you’re ovulating can boost your chances of conceiving.
When you’re trying to have a baby, a lot comes down to timing. After all, nature gives us a brief window each month to conceive. While it’s possible to get pregnant any day of the month (due to fluctuations in your cycle), you’re much more likely to score a fertilized egg (and get the good news that you’re expecting) if you work with your body’s regular reproductive rhythm. Wondering when it’s the best time to get pregnant? Here are the ways to know exactly when to spring into (bedroom) action for the greatest chances of conception success.
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Track your menstrual cycle to get pregnant
Okay, here’s a quick biology refresher on how you really get pregnant: When you ovulate, your ovary releases a ripe egg into the fallopian tube that’s ready to be fertilized by a sperm. That egg has only 12 to 24 hours to meet that sperm. Luckily, sperm stick around in the fallopian tubes for longer (up to several days). That means that while it’s ideal to have sex on the day you ovulate, you may also get pregnant if you do the deed a few days before ovulation. Viable sperm should still be in your fallopian tubes when that egg arrives.
So how do you pinpoint when you’ll be ovulating? First, determine the length of your average monthly cycle. To do this, count the days between your periods, starting at the first day of your period. While 28 days is average, there’s a wide range of normal. Yours may be 21 days, 35 days or somewhere in between — and that’s completely fine, fertility-wise.
Now, time for some math. The first half of the cycle (the follicular phase) varies from woman to woman. But the second half (the luteal phase) is usually the same for all of us: 14 days, though it can be 12 days. That means if you get your period 28 days after the last one began, for example, then you’ll likely ovulate on day 14 or 16. The more regular your periods are, the more helpful this method will be. But what if you have irregular periods? You’ll want to be more alert to additional signs of ovulation, which are described below.
Take stock of your cervical mucus to get pregnant
When is the last time you checked your underwear? Or, ahem, felt your down-there discharge? It may sound odd, but your cervical mucus (CM) can provide a tip-off to when sex will be most fruitful. You’re looking for discharge that feels like egg whites, which indicates your body’s in ovulation mode.
Once you start monitoring your CM all month, you’ll see a pattern: You’ll likely be dry for several days to a week after your period. Next, your CM may get sticky for a day or two. Then, on around day eight, it will amp up and turn creamy; it could be white or pale yellow. The next stage is the biggie: ovulation mucus. Your discharge will not only be plentiful but slippery and stretchy (so much so that if you pull it between two fingers, it will stretch up to a few inches!). This egg-white stage is a clue that you’re ovulating — and you and your partner may want to skip dinner and a movie and get busy being intimate. Incidentally, that CM texture is nature’s way of ensuring sperm make their way to the egg. Finally, after ovulation day, you may become drier down there.
Get to know your cervix
You can check your own cervix for signs of fertility (no stirrups or speculum necessary). The cervix changes over the course of a monthly cycle, going from firm, closed and low in the vagina to higher up, soft and open (thanks to estrogen) around ovulation. These changes make it more welcoming to swimming sperm. And you can actually feel the difference — if you’re willing to get hands-on. Here’s how you feel yourself up. Sitting on the toilet or squatting, insert a clean finger with a short fingernail into your vagina. Record what you feel over the month. You can keep track on paper or — easier yet! — by using a fertility app on your smartphone.
Get to know your vagina, as well
Throughout the month, also pay attention to your vaginal lips. You may notice they’re more swollen or full when you’re ovulating.
Take note of crampy aches
Another clue that you’re at your most fertile point is mid-cycle abdominal pain. Called mittelschmerz (it means “middle pain” in German), this cramping may be mild or painful; it often happens on one side, by the ovary that’s releasing an egg. But it also can be an allover ache. Don’t worry if you never feel a thing, though — only about one in five women have mittelschmerz.
Take your temperature
Changes in your body temperature can be another heads-up that you’re ready to roll. As your hormones fluctuate over the month, your basal body temperature (BBT) — the reading you get right when you wake up after at least three to five hours of sleep — changes too. In the first part of your cycle up until the day you ovulate, estrogen is high and your morning baseline temperature is lower. A day or two after you ovulate, though, your temperature ticks up by a half-degree. This happens as progesterone rises to prepare your uterus for conception.
By this point, you’re actually a little late to make a baby. But by knowing when your reading rises, you can time your sex going forward. To monitor your BBT, you’ll need either a digital thermometer or a wearable BBT temperature reader. Take a reading first thing each morning (before you do anything, including sit up or talk), keeping track on paper or using a fertility app on your smartphone. What you’re aiming for is the overall pattern over at least two months. You may see that your BBT goes up on day 16 so you’re likely releasing an egg on day 14 or 15, which means you’ll want to plan your bedroom action for several days before then.
Get an ovulation predictor kit
If you’re looking for a higher-tech method for knowing when you should have sex to get pregnant, pick up an ovulation tester online or at a drugstore. There are a few types to consider. Ovulation predictor kits test your level of luteinizing hormone (LH) to suss out your O day. All you do is pee on a stick and wait for it to reveal if your level of luteinizing hormone (LH) is high, suggesting ovulation. You’ll see a line that is the same or darker than the control line.
A next-level option is a fertility monitor. This device lets you check LH and estrogen levels in your urine. You turn on the monitor when you get your period and it alerts you when it’s time to start using the urine strips. Then you pee on a strip and insert it into the monitor to find out whether you’re having a low, high or peak fertility day.
There are also saliva tests that check electrolytes in your spit to predict when your estrogen is high. First thing in the morning, you put saliva on a lens. Then, five minutes later, you play scientist and look at it under an eyepiece. Most of the month you’ll just see random dots, but a day to three days before you ovulate, you should notice a pattern like a fern or frost on a window. The downside to saliva tests: Some women have trouble distinguishing the patterns.
Finally, there are wearables. A fertility watch works by analyzing the salts in your sweat. About four to six days before ovulation, it picks up a chloride ion surge — your sign to get busy. A fertility tracker bracelet works with your smartphone to chart key measures like skin temperature, breathing and resting pulse. It tips you off as soon as you’re in your fertile zone — and whether it’s time to try to conceive.
Check with your gynecologist if you think you’re not ovulating to get pregnant
You’ve been checking for CM and charting your BBT, but for some reason, it seems that you’re not ovulating every month — or not at all. Up to 15 percent of women can get their period, but not release an egg. And without that egg, you can’t get pregnant. There are many common reasons why a healthy woman may not ovulate in a particular month, including illness, extreme stress, or weight gain or loss. If you think you’re not ovulating, check with your gynecologist. Your doctor can recommend options for inducing ovulation — and getting you closer to the hearing the good news that you’re going to have a baby.