You're probably not familiar with the signs of ovulation. According to a study by Monash University, 87% of women have no idea when they are at their most fertile or can recognise the signs of ovulation. So, if you do, kudos to you – you’re in the minority.
But, by knowing no more about your monthly cycle than simply when you need to next stock up on Tampax, you could be doing yourself a disservice.
Spanish and Austrian researchers found that women may be more susceptible to infection during ovulation – and that includes not just thrush but also sexually transmitted infections. Why? Because the body naturally dips its immune system at this point in your cycle to give any sperm an increased chance of survival. Plus, if you want to get pregnant, then being aware of when you're in your fertile window is key.
The good news is that getting to know your ovulation calendar and the signs of ovulation is pretty straightforward.
Here's how it's done.
Signs of ovulation: how to work out when you're ovulating
Ovulation calendar: Based on a 28-day cycle
Days 1 to 7
Menstruation – the body is shedding blood, endometrial tissue (ie the lining of the womb) and remnants of an unfertilised disintegrated egg. As follicles in the ovary start to mature, oestrogen levels rise.
The lining of the uterus thickens in preparation for a fertilised egg.
An egg is released from a follicle in the ovaries – aka ovulation.
If an egg is fertilised, it embeds itself in the thickened lining of the uterus; if it isn’t, it does not embed itself and the lining breaks down, triggering a period and the cycle begins again.
7 signs of ovulation
But what happens if you don’t have a regular 28-day cycle? Or, like your meditation practice, it's what you'd call sporadic? According to the experts, there are many subtle signs of ovulation that you can watch out for.
1. Your cervix will feel firm
Typically, your cervix (found at the top of the vagina; insert a clean middle finger to around the depth of your middle knuckle) will feel firm and smooth, kind of like the tip of your nose, but, just before ovulation, things will soften up to be similar in tone to your lips.
Other changes to feel for? At ovulation, your cervix will rise inside the vagina by 2-3cm and may feel wider, too. It’s good to touch.
2. Your discharge will look different
It’s time to get to know your discharge. Assuming everything is a-okay downstairs (read about what your discharge says about you, here), it's also one of the most reliable signs of ovulation.
Test yours by inserting a clean forefinger into the mouth of your vagina and seeing what comes out. ‘The main purpose of discharge is to provide something for the sperm to swim through to reach the fallopian tube,’ says Dr Geetha Venkat, director of the Harley Street Fertility Clinic.
‘The cervix acts as a big filter and obstruction for sperm, so only the strong, fast-moving ones will get through.’ It’s the baby-making equivalent of Tough Mudder. ‘But not all discharge is good for transporting sperm and it will vary, depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle.’
So, what you should you look for if you're planning for a small human? ‘When it is stretchy and slimy, like raw egg whites, you are in your fertile period – this is the best time to try,’ Dr Venkat says. ‘Sperm can live inside the body for around three days, so it is better that the sperm are there waiting before ovulation occurs.’
Discharge not quite at that stage? An excuse to sex it up unprotected this is not. Research suggests that sperm can swim through even cloudy discharge from around day nine of your cycle. It’s only after ovulation has occurred that things become more clear-cut.
'Once ovulation has happened, the discharge thickens and curds, which is not helpful for transporting sperm. But it doesn’t need to be. With no egg to fertilise (eggs live for about 12-14 hours), what’s the point? They’ve missed the boat,’ Dr Venkat says. Meaning can you get pregnant 12 days before your period? Quite simply? It’s pretty unlikely. But if kids aren’t top of your ‘to do’ list, are you sure you’re ready to take that risk?
3. Your temperature will dip
Another tell-tale sign of ovulation is your basal body temperature. ‘Before ovulation it will dip,’ Dr Venkat says. ‘This will likely be by less than a degree, though – say 37.2 degrees is normal, then it’ll drop to 36.8 degrees – so it’s a very subtle shift.’
Keen to check all bases? Then track yours by taking your temperature at the same time every day, on waking. .
4. You might feel some discomfort
Like to think you’re pretty in-tune with what’s going on with your body? Well put your sensitivity to the ultimate test by seeing if you can actually feel when you ovulate.
‘During ovulation, the follicle ruptures, releases fluid and an egg into the pelvic cavity,’ Dr Venkat says. ‘The pelvic cavity is lined by peritoneum, a very sensitive membrane. When anything touches this, it can cause pain.’
5. You could experience spotting
‘Some women might also notice a bit of blood-stained discharge or spotting around the time of ovulation,’ Dr Venkat says. Boring, but nothing to worry about.
6. You might sound high-pitched
Researchers at the University of California – Los Angeles have found that the nearer a woman is to ovulation, the higher pitched her voice will become. It’s that same whole evolution spiel – high pitch tones are considered more attractive and feminine to prospective mates. Believe it.
7. You may feel anxious
According to Condordia University, the hormones oestrogen and progesterone don’t only determine whether you’re likely to sob it out but they also control how well your memory will function from one part of your cycle to the next.
Got to give a presentation at work? You’ll perform better with verbal memory tasks if you’re ovulating. Leading a team run around the park? Best enlist Google maps or jog on.
Still not sure if you're ovulating?
Take the guesswork out of your ovulation calendar with an ovulation predictor kit.
These monitor the hormones in your urine so are a far more accurate (and mess-free) alternative to identifying your high fertility days than reading your discharge or fingering your cervix.
They work by tracking levels of the luteinising hormone (LH), which is released by the pituitary gland and triggers ovulation, and, in some cases, also estrone-3-glucuronide (E3G), which is produced around the time of ovulation to make your discharge more sperm-friendly.
Evidence has shown that most women only have around six super fertile days a month to play with – namely the five days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. Sex 24-36 hours before the latter, when LH levels surge, is most likely to result in pregnancy.
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