Methods For Working Out Your Fertile Window

Fertile Window

So you ditched the contraception months ago with the expectation that pregnancy would happen relatively quickly. Maybe not the first month or so, but surely within six months, right? However, it has now been a year of trying and for some reason it doesn’t seem to be working.

There can be many reasons you are not getting pregnant and not all of them have to do with infertility. The first thing you need to be aware of is that there is only a certain period of time in the month that fertilization can happen. Once you ovulate, the egg only has a lifespan of between 12 to 24 hours and so fertilization must happen in this time. Luckily sperm can live for up to five days. This means that the optimal time to have sex in order to get pregnant is two or three days before ovulation. Usually ovulation happens on day 12 or 13 of your cycle, but it can happen as early as on day 10 or as late on day 20. Luckily there are several methods for tracking ovulation.1

These include:

  • Tracking your cervical mucous – your vaginal discharge changes constantly over the month and it takes on a particular consistency around ovulation. It should be clear, mucus-like and very stretchy. You are very fertile once it starts having the texture of an egg white.
  • Basal body temperature counting – your hormone levels affect your basal body temperature (your temperature at complete rest) and just after ovulation your progesterone levels rise and remain high for several days. Consequently, once you know when this temperature rise occurs, you can assume that you ovulated the day before the rise.1
  • Saliva ferning test – the saliva ferning test uses a tiny microscope to examine your saliva once a day, from the last day of your period to when a fern-like pattern emerges. The fern pattern is a signal that ovulation is about to happen and is due to a surge in the hormone estrogen before ovulation.2
  • Ovulation predictor test – if you’re not comfortable with charting your body’s physical signs of ovulation, another option is an ovulation predictor test. These tests are similar to pregnancy tests, although they tell you when you’re ovulating (and not when your pregnant). They come as either test strips (that you need to place in a container of fresh urine) or as test sticks (like a pregnancy test). Digital ovulation tests are also available. Ovulation predictor tests measure the levels of a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. LH greatly increases just before ovulation so if you get a positive results, this indicates your body is trying to trigger the release of the egg from the ovary. The best time to get pregnant is when LH is surging.
  • The latest in ovulation prediction tests are fertility calendar apps, which can be accessed online or downloaded to your smartphone. The more accurate apps require information about your basal body temperature or cervical mucus changes but even a simple app can aid you in working out your most fertile days. In this case, all you need to do is tell the app when you get your period and over several months, the app will learn your cycle and tell you the best time to have sex.1

Cervical mucus may be the best physical indicator of ovulation

A study performed at the University of North Carolina assessed two different methods of ovulation prediction and looked at which method was a better predictor of conception success. The methods examined were changes in cervical mucus consistency or basal body temperature charting. The study found that regardless of which day ovulation actually occurred on, pregnancy was more likely to occur if couples had sex on days where fertile cervical mucus was present. This might have been because fertile cervical mucus helps sperm to survive and also helps them swim to the egg.3

Sperm matters

If your male partner’s sperm count is a little on the low side, the standard recommendation is to have sex every other day during the fertile period. If you have sex every day that may mean that the sperm supply isn’t replenished which might reduce your chances of pregnancy. In addition, if you have sex twice a day, this may reduce the number of healthy sperm. This also goes for males with a healthy sperm count.

In addition, make sure that you are using a sperm-friendly lubricant.1

In conclusion, the main thing is not to get too stressed about ovulation or to overcomplicate matters. It can be fun to track your cycles but it can also result in you feeling unnecessary pressure. Do whatever works for you and your partner. Moreover, if you haven’t gotten pregnant within a year, or within 6 months if you are aged 35 years or older, it might be time to schedule an appointment with a specialist.

References:

  1. When and how often to have sex to get pregnant
  2. Saliva ferning test for ovulation prediction
  3. Mucus observations in the fertile window: A better predictor of conception than timing of intercourse
Melody Watson
Melody Watson holds Bachelors degrees in Biochemistry and Microbiology. She works as a medical writer for a medical communications agency in Berlin, Germany, where her work ranges from medical translation to writing publications for medical journals. Melody is passionate about promoting science, including evidence-based medicine, and debunking pseudoscience.

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