Dr. Kim Foster: Wicked Health


How Do I Know When I am Ovulating?

And Other Important Baby-Making Questions

It’s supposed to be completely natural. It’s supposed to just…happen. At least, that’s what you might have always thought. But for many of us, getting pregnant is anything but easy. And it’s anything but stress free.

Trying to conceive can be an incredibly anxiety-provoking time for many couples. And it’s a vicious cycle, because stress itself may be a hindrance to achieving that sought-after pregnancy.

I’ve written about stress many times in the past (its effects on pregnancy, its effects on your body in general...) and this is yet another sphere of life in which stress is not your friend. The scientific connection between stress and difficulty conceiving or infertility has not been fully established yet—it’s an emerging area of research. It's well recognized that the consequences of stress can include irregular menstrual cycles and skipped periods.

There are many sources of overwhelm and apprehension when you’re trying to conceive: What’s going to happen to my career? Do we need a bigger house? Do we have enough money? Not to mention…are we even going to be able to conceive at all?

Well, I can’t help you with the house or the finances, but I can help clear up some of the myths and misinformation about fertility and conception, and hopefully help increase your chances.

First, some facts about cycles and ovulation. It’s important to understand that conception is most likely to happen when intercourse is timed to the day before ovulation and the day of ovulation. And when couples intentionally time intercourse this way, their success rates after three months, six months, and twelve months of “trying” are likely much higher than couples who are just having sex any old time.

So, it sounds simple: if you want to have a baby, you need to get busy just before you ovulate.

Except…how do you know if you’re ovulating? And furthermore, how do you predict the day before you ovulate?

Well, it’s not easy. Primarily because our bodies ovulate in stealth mode. Some women experience brief pelvic cramping at the time of ovulation (which already misses a peak fertile day) but most of us don’t get any obvious signs whatsoever. Not sure whose evolutionary idea this was, but there it is.

As a result, we have to get kind of sneaky if we want to detect that ovulation. But I will get to that in a bit. First, I want to clear up some myths about fertility.

Myth: 40 is the new 30

This may be true when it comes to some things (I hope, anyway)….but sadly, not when it comes to making babies. A woman’s fertility starts a gradual decline as early as 28. And, FYI, it’s not just a woman’s age that matters—Paul McCartney and Clint Eastwood notwithstanding—a man’s age can also play a role.

Myth: If you've been pregnant once, it'll be no problem to get pregnant again

Nope. We call it secondary infertility, and it’s a source of great frustration and bewilderment for many couples.

Myth: Ovulation happens in the middle of your cycle, right between two periods

Well, this is only true if you have nice, regular, textbook menstrual cycles—which many of us don’t have. A textbook cycle is 28 days long, in which case ovulation occurs at day 14. But throw in a little cycle variability and you could be ovulating all over the map. The time from ovulation to first day of your period is pretty predictable—most women will have a period about two weeks after ovulation. But you don’t need to know when you’re going to have a period. You need to know when you’re going to ovulate. And it’s that first phase of your cycle—the time before ovulation—that can be hugely variable.

Myth: Basal body temperature is the best way to know when you’re ovulating

In fact, this is not a terribly accurate method. The temperature rise associated with ovulation occurs too late to be truly useful. More accurate is monitoring for cervical mucus changes (during ovulation the cervical mucus becomes increased in volume and slippery/stretchy). But, frankly, I’ve not met too many women interested in checking their cervical mucus on a regular basis. Funny, that. 

So, how can you accurately detect your best days to conceive?

Well, there is another physiologic sign, and it’s the surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH). The rise in LH in the bloodstream occurs about 36 hours before ovulation, and it continues to appear in the urine about 12 hours after that—so it can accurately predict your two most fertile days. A kit to detect the rise in LH in the urine—like the Clearblue Digital Ovulation Test—is thus an easy and accurate method of knowing your two best days to try and conceive.

Knowing for certain when you’re fertile can go a long way to relieving all that pent up stress surrounding conception.

And if you can relieve some of that stress...well, heck, you just might have a little fun trying to make that baby.