Knowing ovulation involves three basic principles: the knowledge of what to look for, the daily awareness of the body, and recording observations.
Let’s first discover what ovulation even looks like, then we’ll see how to track YOUR ovulation. These skills will help you with whatever goal you may have: trying to conceive, avoiding pregnancy, or helping your doctor solve any hormonal imbalances.
What does Ovulation Look Like?
Many of us were told that we could get pregnant on every single day of our cycles – that there was no ‘safe’ days – but that’s simply not true.
Ovulation is the release of an egg from the ovary. Ovulation happens on only 1 day and once the egg is released, it disintegrates within 12-24 hours if not fertilized.
However, your cervical fluid begins to appear before ovulation and extends the 1-day fertility window to about 6 days. Cervical fluid, as we’ll discover next, increases fertility. Outside of this window, pregnancy is not possible.
Let’s back up a bit and talk about what cervical fluid.
Cervical fluid is considered a PRIMARY FERTILITY sign. Meaning it’s something your body shows you that tells you you are fertile. You produce cervical fluid on the days leading up to ovulation as your estrogen levels rise. Understanding your cervical fluid helps you understand your fertility, the importance of regular ovulation, and at the most basic level, lets you know when your period is coming.
The other primary fertility sign is basal body temperature.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
BBT is a measure of your resting (baseline) metabolism. When you measure your BBT each morning and plot it on a graph, you’ll notice a clear distinction between your pre-ovulation (follicular) phase and your post ovulation (luteal) phase. The reason this occurs is because once you ovulate, the body beings to produce progesterone from the corpus luteum and stays elevated until your period (or throughout your pregnancy if the egg is fertilized). Progesterone has a direct effect on your basal body temperature which is why you see temp rise with progesterone levels. The shift in temperature is one of the ways your body prepares for pregnancy.
How to Track Ovulation
You may have heard us talk about Fertility Awareness Method as a form of natural birth control, but have you tried it yourself? Fertility Awareness (FA) allows you to determine which days of your cycle are fertile and infertile. It involves tracking your PRIMARY FERTILE signs: cervical fluid and BBT. Together, these 2 signs can help you identify your fertile window.
Many doctors refrain from teaching their patients about FAM because they don’t believe us women can handle the responsibility. Well excuse me, but it’s not rocket science! Yes there are some complexities, but most women can learn to chart their cycles within 2-3 months.
Learning this method is a form of empowerment over your own body – it’s worth learning and embracing! To put it another way, “the global market for oral contraceptives is expected to rise to over $22.9 billion by the end of 2023. Ladies, there’s a multi-billion dollar industry the depends on keeping us in the dark about our bodies,” writes Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, author of The Fifth Vital Sign. Not to mention it’s a perfect sagway into expensive fertility treatments as well.
Besides aiding in birth control, FAM allows you to maintain your natural menstrual cycle of the course of your entire reproductive life and enjoy all the health benefits of regular ovulation. When you go off track with diet, exercise, and stress, you’ll see how your cycles respond in real time. You just don’t get that benefit when you are always on a drug, pill, IUD, or implant.
Still not convinced? “Consider this,” says Lisa, “FAM was proven to show a 99.4% efficacy rate in preventing pregnancy when looking at 900 women over a length of 17,638 cycles worth of data. These women were taught FAM by a qualified instructor. So if you’re serious about using FAM for birth control, it’s possible to prevent pregnancies by tuning into your body daily and taking the necessary action.”
Tracking Cervical Fluid
Cervical fluid is the primary sign to watch for. The presence or absence of it helps you identify your fertile window. Cervical fluid is the slippery secretion you notice when you wipe. You may also notice it in your underwear. If you touch it, it will feel like raw egg whites and will stretch if you pull it apart.
The purpose of it is to help sperm survive and swim up through the cervix to meet the egg. ALL CERVICAL MUCOUS IS CONSIDERED FERTILE. Meaning, whenever you notice it, you have the potential of getting pregnant if you were to have unprotected sex. Sperm are able to survive up to 5 days in cervical mucous, so if you notice cervical mucous on day 12, have unprotected sex and don’t ovulate until day 17 (5 days later), you could very well get pregnant.
You’ll want to know the difference between a dry day and a mucous day.
- Dry day refers to the feeling you get when you wipe front to back and there’s nothing in your underwear or on the toilet paper.
- A mucous day, on the other hand is when you feel a wet/slippery sensation when you wipe and/or notice cervical fluid in your underwear or on the toilet paper.
Not all women have a large enough amount of cervical fluid to see onthe toilet paper or in their underwear, but the slippery sensation of wiping is enough to indicate your fertile window.
Fertility awareness method only works if you make DAILY observations and then record them. Simply observing your cervical fluid won’t be good enough, you need a system of charting it daily. Think about it, you can barely remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday, recording is essential.
There are a lot of different charting apps available, many of which use an algorithm to predict your fertile window based on previous cycles. “When you rely on an app to tell you when you are fertile, you’re using a modern-day version of the rhythm method,” explains Lisa Hendrickson-Jack, founder of Fertility Friday Podcast and author of The Fifth Vital Sign. To listen more about the flaws of the rhythm method, click here to listen to her podcast. If you can turn off the ‘prediction’ settings of your app, that’s even better. To listen to her podcast about the pros and cons of fertility apps, click here.
Ok so how does tracking cervical mucous help us determine ovulation?
You produce cervical mucous as you approach ovulation (2-5 days before), but AFTER you ovulate progesterone levels rise and suppress further mucous production. So to confirm ovulation, you must first identify your peak day (or the last day of cervical mucous you notice) and you won’t be able to identify it until the day afterwards when you notice a dry sensation after wiping. To be sure you ovulated, wait 3 consecutive days after the peak day to make sure all the cervical mucous has dried up. And that’s it – the transition from slippery mucous to dry mucous confirms ovulation.
With that said, you’ll benefit from cross-checking your mucous change with the BBT.
The simplest way to measure your BBT is to take your temperature each morning before you get out of bed. You’ll want a basal body thermometer that reads two decimal points. You can get a basic digital thermometer for $20 or all the way up to $300 – it’s really your preference. I’ve had great experience with this one for $30, I honestly don’t think the DAYSY fertility tracker is worth the price, but it’s certainly up to you!
Tips to have an accurate temperature reading:
- Take temperature first thing in the morning BEFORE you get out of bed each day, after a MINIMUM of 5 hours of consecutive sleep. If you jump out of bed to go to the bathroom or drink a glass of water first, you won’t get an accurate reading. I leave my thermometer on my night stand and after I set my alarm on my phone, I set the thermometer right on top of it.
- Leave your thermometer in place for 10 whole minutes before pushing the button. Ouch, that’s right, 10 minutes folks! GO ahead and test this for yourself. Stick the thermometer in your mouth, test at 1 minute, 5 minutes and 10 minutes, you’ll likely get different readings at all 3 times. Abiding =by this rule will give you a really pretty and consistent temperature reading through the month. It’s worth it!
- Take our temperature at the same time every morning, even on the weekends. This gets really relly tricky for those of you that are shift workers or always traveling across time zones (if you have questions about this and want specific guidlines, reach out to us). But let’s assume you wakeup to go to work at the same time every morning, you’ll want to set your alarm 10 minutes earlier than normal and plan to take your tep at that time. I set my alarm for the weekend at the same time too. If I want to sleep in, I take my temperature and then go back to bed. If you have to take your temp at a different time, then you’ll need to note that in your app or paper chart.
- Just remember that you’ll always have at least one questionable temperature in your chart each month, by making detailed notes, you’ll be able to rule it out as obsolete or not. It’s better to always track your temp even if you know it’s not going to be accurate, just make notes and you’ll be able to rule it out later.
Factors that may affect my temperature reading:
- illness / fever / infection
- restless sleeping
- travel / time zone changes / daylight savings
- allergies (food / seasonal) or food sensitivities
- getting out of bed or drinking a bevarage before taking temperature
- having sex in the morning
- switching thermometers
Ok so how does tracking BBT help us determine ovulation?
You are looking for a clear and obvious temperature shift from low to high. Typically I see anywhere from 0.5 degrees Fahrenheit to 1.0 degrees. I the picture below, you can see the red highlighted days indicate her period and the green highlighted days indicate her fertile days.
The baseline, or cover-line (blue horizontal line seen in the picture below) refers the the line that divides the low and high temperatures. You draw this line AFTER your temperature shift. Similar to confirming ovulation with cervical fluid, you can confirm ovulation with BBT by logging 3 consecutive days of higher temperature than the previous 6 pre-ovulatory days.
So do you know if you ovulate?
The benefits of tracking BBT is that it confirms ovulation and also helps predict when the next period is coming (because the luteal phase stays very consistent from month to month lasting 12-14 days for a healthy woman). Make note, BBT can only CONFIRM ovulation, it cannot PREDICT ovulation.
“Tracking BBT and cervical fluid together increase the effectiveness of Fertility Awareness. You can only confirm ovulation when these signs line up,” reassures Lisa. This is why fertility prediction is impossible…cycles vary every month for every woman and you can ONLY confirm ovulation AFTER it happened.
A Word of Caution When Using Fertility Awareness Method
“It’s easy to get into the trap of trying to predict your fertile window (what’s called the rhythm method) where you use your past cycle length and days of ovulation to predict what is going to happen this cycle.,” warns Lisa. This method is faulty because it assumes your cycle will be the same as the ones in the past. However, menstrual cycle variability is the on thing all women have in common, so using the rhythm method is extremely ineffective in both becoming pregnant and also preventing pregnancy.
As soon as you start thinking, “I usually ovulate around day 17 so I know I won’t be fertile the following week after my period,” or “I can’t be fertile today because I always ovulate on day 14…” is when you’ve jumped into the rhythm way of thinking. This doesn’t mean that Fertility Awareness won’t work for you it just means that you have to observe and track on a daily basis and let YOUR BODY tell you when you are fertile, not an app and not your past cycles. Fertility Awareness is like a mindfulness meditation, the whole point of it is to bring awareness and attention back to the present moment, and you can’t do that when you are wrapped up in predictions of the future.
Still have questions? Check out Lisa’s Podcast Fertility Friday or pick up her first book The Fifth Vital Sign.