The journey to parenthood is different for everyone, and for those trying to conceive, the process can be challenging — and often costly. With so many variables at play, however, learning about key factors that play a role in conception — like your ovulation cycle — can give hopeful parents-to-be a better understanding of the path to pregnancy.
A woman ovulates when an egg is released from the ovary and travels down the fallopian tube for possible fertilization. The exact timing of ovulation varies, but generally occurs approximately 7–10 days post-menstruation (or about 14 days from the first day of your period — also considered the first day of that particular menstrual cycle). While it all sounds pretty systematic, this cycle can be quite complex. While you can invest in monthly ovulation test strips to pinpoint the exact day to try for a baby, these can be quite costly. Luckily, by learning to recognize the signs and symptoms of ovulation, people who are trying to conceive can be better prepared to seize their window of opportunity to improve their chances of conception.
To help you figure out if you’re ovulating — as well as if you aren’t — we’ve rounded up some of the most common symptoms of ovulation to look for.
Sign you’re ovulating: you have tender breasts
According to the Fertility Centers of Illinois, tender breasts are a common and easy-to-spot sign of ovulation. What causes this feeling? During the ovulation cycle, the body’s increased levels of estrogen can trigger tender breasts.
See also: Debunking the most common pregnancy myths.
Sign you’re ovulating: changes to your basal body temperature
Your basal body temperature (BBT), can be tracked with a special thermometer that reads your lowest body temperature, AKA your baseline, taken when you first wake up. According to WhatToExpect.com, your BBT reading changes throughout your cycle as a result of fluctuations in hormone levels. By monitoring and charting changes to your BBT — that is, the subtle rises and drops in temperature — you can learn to identify your ovulation cycle over time when you spot changes; specifically, when nearing ovulation, you will see a subtle drop in this temperature and an immediate spike of approximately 0.4 to 1 degrees Fahrenheit after ovulation, signalling your “window” to conceive.
Sign you’re ovulating: you see it in your menstrual chart
TheBump.com suggests menstrual charting as an inexpensive and simple way to identify your best time to conceive (there are also apps for that). This strategy is especially effective for those lucky enough to have consistent menstrual cycles. This is typically indicative of routine ovulation, which means you can track your cycle to pinpoint ovulation, which generally occurs 14 days before your period begins (typically mid-cycle, from the first day of your period).
Sign you’re ovulating: changes in cervical mucus
The Mayo Clinic cites variations in vaginal secretions (cervical mucus) as one of the indicators of ovulation. Specifically, an increase in “clear, wet and stretchy” secretions tend to occur just before ovulation (think egg white in consistency). After ovulation, these secretions will change — you’ll notice a decrease in the cervical mucus, and it will also shift to being cloudier and thicker.
Sign you’re ovulating: that classic “gut feeling”
While it may be the most challenging form of tracking ovulation to capture, some women will also note physical “signs of ovulation” felt during this window. These signs and symptoms can include mild pelvic or lower abdominal pain, changes in libido (usually, feeling friskier than is normal for your personal sexual appetite) and light spotting or discharge, to name a few.
See also: 10 signs you’re having twins.
Sign you’re not ovulating: you have an irregular menstrual cycle
One of the most common early indicators of ovulation issues is an irregular menstrual cycle. Having a cycle that lasts more than 35 days (or, conversely, less than 21 days) or that is frequently irregular or absent (while not using hormonal birth control) are signs that could indicate a problematic cycle that may not be conducive to ovulation.
Sign you’re not ovulating: an absence of cycle-based body changes
Just as certain physical symptoms and indicators will be present as ovulation approaches and ends, the absence of these symptoms may also signal that ovulation is not happening. For example, if you note that your cervical mucus is dry with no change in consistency and secretion amount throughout your cycle, this may be an indicator that you are not ovulating.
See also: Should I freeze my eggs?
Sign you’re not ovulating: low progesterone levels
According to this post from Dr. Angela Potter, low progesterone levels — which can be checked via a monthly blood test — can indicate that you are not ovulating. A low reading could suggest a lack of ovulation for that particular month.
It’s important to remember that while some signs and methods of testing are helpful when it comes to ovulation, every body is different, and everyone’s pre-pregnancy journey is unique. So be kind to yourself, be patient with your body and find some comfort in the knowledge that whatever you are facing along the way, you are not alone, and you have options.