Here’s the thing—regardless of what your eighth grade gym teacher told you during sex ed, if you don’t have sex when you’re ovulating, you’re not going to get pregnant. Period.
So how do you determine when you’re ovulating and so you can have sex at the right time to maximize your chance of conceiving?
I actually did a live workshop a couple of months ago all about ovulation and the myriad and sundry ways to chart your cycle and predict the most fertile phase of your cycle. In case you missed it, here it is:
While there are lots of ways to track your cycles and predict ovulation, some definitely work better than others. And if your hormones are out of whack, what works for one person might not work for you.
One prime example is PCOS. Did you know that even though they’re considered one of the most reliable indicators of impending ovulation, ovulation prediction kits (OPKs) are useless for women with PCOS?
Since OPKs measure levels of luteinizing hormone (LH), women with elevated LH throughout their cycles (like many with PCOS) can end up getting false positives. Electronic fertility monitors are a much better option in this case.
Since sperm can live in the body for up to five days, predicting ovulation in advance is key. The best time to have sex is in the days leading up to ovulation (this time is also known as your fertile window), so you have some swimmers hanging out and eagerly awaiting the main event!
Here are a few of my favorite methods for predicting ovulation, ranked from least reliable to most:
How it works: The high estrogen levels that occur prior to ovulation cause changes in saliva that can be detected with a saliva microscope.
How to: Place a drop of saliva on the lens of a saliva microscope, let dry for at least five minutes, replace the lens, focus, and view. During the most fertile phase of your cycle your dried saliva will crystallize, creating a distinct “fern” pattern.
Equipment needed: A saliva microscope.
Benefits – Saliva Ferning can predict when ovulation is approaching, and it predicts ovulation earlier since it relies on elevated estrogen, which precedes the LH surge that triggers ovulation.
Drawbacks – It doesn’t work well for everyone, especially for women with high or low estrogen levels. It can be kind of complicated to learn, and difficult to know what you’re looking for.
Temping / BBT Charting
How it works: BBT stands for basal body temperature, so BBT charting is the process of taking your body temperature at rest everyday and charting the results. Progesterone rises immediately after ovulation, causing a rise in BBT that can be measured and tracked. Ovulation has occurred on the last day BEFORE the temperature jump.
How to: At the same time every morning, set an alarm and your take temperature with a digital BBT thermometer upon waking, before getting out of bed. I recommend using an app to keep track of your temperatures. There are tons available, but my personal favorite is Kindara (it’s free).
Equipment needed: A digital BBT thermometer.
Benefits – It’s cheap and easy, and proves that ovulation has occurred. It can also be one of the first indicators of pregnancy if your temperature rises, rather than dips, at the end of your cycle.
Drawbacks – It’s not 100% reliable, can be easy to forget, and can only tell you that ovulation has already occurred, not that it’s imminent. Most people use this method as confirmation that ovulation has occurred, along with looking for changes in cervical mucus and/or the cervix itself to predict when ovulation is on its way.
How it works: Your cervix becomes soft, opens, and moves higher in the vaginal canal due to the rise in estrogen that occurs just before ovulation. Tracking these changes can tell you when ovulation is imminent.
How to: Squat or put your foot up on the toilet, insert a finger into your vagina and feel for the cervix’s position (high, medium, or low), softness (soft, medium, or firm), and openness (open, medium, closed). Check at the same time everyday and chart your results to monitor changes over time.
Equipment needed: Your fingers and your hoo-ha.
Benefits – Like BBT charting, it’s cheap and easy, but it can also tell you when ovulation is imminent.
Drawbacks – You need to be pretty comfortable with your anatomy for this one. It can take a couple of months to become familiar with the way your cervix changes throughout your cycle.
How it works: Cervical mucus thins and becomes more profuse due to the rise in estrogen that occurs just before ovulation. Fertile cervical mucus is one of the most reliable indicators of approaching ovulation.
How to: Check everyday (or more than once a day, but never after doing the deed), either by viewing the mucus on your toilet paper after wiping, or by inserting fingers into the vagina to collect it near the cervix. Look at the color and consistency, and test for stretchiness—you’re at your most fertile when your cervical mucus is clear and either watery or the consistency of egg white.
Equipment needed: Toilet paper or fingers, and your lady bits.
Benefits – Like checking your cervix itself, it’s cheap, easy, and can show when ovulation is imminent. It’s also one of the most reliable indicators of fertility. I recommend that all of my clients check their cervical mucus as a primary method of predicting ovulation.
Drawbacks – Again, you need to be pretty comfortable with your anatomy and not be grossed out at the idea of testing your vaginal secretions for things like stretchiness.
OPKs – Ovulation Prediction Kits (also known as LH test strip)
How it works: OPKs test LH levels in urine. LH surges just prior to ovulation and causes the rupture of the follicle and release of ovum. Ovulation usually occurs 30 hours after LH is first detectible.
How to: If your cycles are regular, you can start testing on a specific cycle day (usually day 10 for a 28 day cycle), or you can wait until you see fertile cervical mucus to and use the LH test strips to confirm you’re in your fertile window. It takes a few hours for LH to appear in urine after rising during the night, so test mid-day by urinating on the strip.
Equipment needed: LH test strips and a full bladder.
Benefits – OPKs are relatively cheap, easy to use, and very reliable if your hormone levels are normal.
Drawbacks – They’re not reliable for women who have PCOS or other hormonal dysfunctions
Different fertility monitors work in different ways. Here are a few of the most popular ones:
The Clearblue Fertility Monitor tracks both LH and estrogen to give a larger fertility window than OKPs alone, up to seven days advance notice of ovulation. Like OPKs, the Clearblue monitor isn’t accurate for women with PCOS or other hormonal imbalances that affect estrogen and/or LH levels.
The OvaCue monitor tests for electrolyte changes in saliva and vaginal secretions that occur prior to ovulation, giving five to seven days advance notice of ovulation. The OvaCue monitor is over 98% accurate according to clinical trials.
The OvuSense monitor tracks your BBT through a vaginal sensor that’s worn overnight and is 99% accurate according to clinical trials. It predicts ovulation early in your cycle and then refines that prediction as it gathers more information. Look for a full review of the OvuSense in an upcoming blog post. (Enter the code “KELLY” at checkout to receive a $50 discount on the OvuSense monitor.)
Benefits – The OvaCue and OvuSense are the most accurate way of predicting ovulation short of a ultrasound. Both give a larger fertile window and are ridiculously easy to use. They’re also the best method for tracking ovulation in women with PCOS or amenorrhea.
Drawbacks – Ovulation monitors are more expensive than other methods of ovulation prediction.
Ready to take it to the next level? Sign up for my FREE five day Empowered Charting course and learn how your BBT chart can be used for so much more than just predicting ovulation! Just enter your info below, check your email to confirm your address, and Day One will be on its way, instantly!