Roughly 1 in 5 married women in the United States is grappling with infertility, and almost as many continue struggling to conceive after a year of trying, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition, about 1 in 4 women in this group have trouble carrying a pregnancy to term, a condition called impaired fecundity.
Understanding ovulation is crucial for couples who are eager to start a family. Detecting signs of ovulation can significantly increase the odds of conception. This article will explain how to recognize the most common signs.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is a crucial process in a woman's menstrual cycle, involving the release of a mature egg from the ovary, according to the American Pregnancy Association. Roughly once a month, one of the ovaries nurtures an egg until it reaches maturity. Once matured, the egg is released from the ovary and travels through the fallopian tube, awaiting fertilization by sperm.
At the same time, the lining of the uterus thickens in preparation for the potential arrival of a fertilized egg. If no conception occurs, the uterine lining and the unfertilized egg are shed during menstruation, marking the end of the cycle.
What are the signs of ovulation?
Every person's body functions uniquely, and while ovulation is a regular occurrence in the menstrual cycle, not everyone experiences noticeable signs. However, in those who do, the Cleveland Clinic points to several common signs that may mean ovulation is underway:
- Tender breasts: Some individuals may experience breast tenderness or sensitivity during ovulation. This discomfort is often caused by hormonal changes related to the release of the egg.
- Bloating: Ovulation can also lead to mild bloating or a feeling of fullness in the abdomen. This sensation owes to hormonal fluctuations affecting the digestive system.
- Minor pelvic or abdominal pain: Ovulation can be accompanied by minor pelvic or abdominal pain, commonly known as mittelschmerz. This pain is typically brief and occurs on one side of the lower abdomen, corresponding to the ovary that released the egg.
- Light bleeding or spotting: Some individuals may notice light spotting or bleeding around the time of ovulation. This phenomenon, known as ovulation bleeding, is relatively uncommon and is thought to result from hormonal changes influencing the uterine lining.
- Changes in the position and firmness of your cervix: During ovulation, the cervix tends to become higher, softer and more open to facilitate sperm penetration.
- Increased sex drive: A surge in estrogen levels during ovulation can lead to an increased sex drive for some individuals. This heightened libido is nature's way of promoting procreation during the most fertile phase of the menstrual cycle.
- Heightened sense of smell, taste or sight: Some women may experience heightened senses, such as an improved sense of smell, taste or sight, during ovulation. These sensory changes are believed to be influenced by hormonal fluctuations.
- Mood changes: Hormonal fluctuations can also lead to mood swings or emotional changes in some individuals. Some may feel more energized and positive, while others might experience temporary irritability.
- Appetite changes: Ovulation can also influence the appetite. Some women notice increased cravings or changes in eating patterns during this time.
Monitoring these signs can be helpful for those trying to conceive, but for a more accurate determination of ovulation, tracking basal body temperature or using ovulation predictor kits is recommended.
How to detect ovulation
Popular methods include ovulation tests, home test kits, the calendar method and tracking basal body temperature. Here's an overview of these techniques to help you pinpoint your most fertile days.
Home ovulation predictor test kits
Dr. James Stelling, medical director of Stony Brook Medicine's Island Fertility at Advanced Specialty Care in Commack, N.Y., is a big proponent of home ovulation kits.
“These tests work by identifying an increase in luteinizing hormone [LH] levels in the urine," he said. "A surge in LH signals the ovary to release the egg, making it a valuable tool for women seeking to predict the timing of ovulation.”
Basal body temperature
The Mayo Clinic notes that the basal body temperature method, a fertility awareness-based technique, falls under natural family planning. It involves monitoring your temperature at complete rest. Ovulation can cause a slight rise in basal body temperature, making a woman most fertile two to three days before this increase. Tracking basal body temperature daily can aid in predicting ovulation and boost the odds of conception.
However, Stelling offered a caveat. While basal body temperature indicates ovulation, it may be a lagging indicator.
“By the time it shows your temperature has gone up, you probably should have had sex yesterday,” he said.
The calendar method
The calendar or rhythm method relies on tracking the menstrual cycle on a calendar to anticipate ovulation. By identifying fertile days, individuals can either abstain from sexual activity or use alternative birth control methods during that phase of the cycle. The Cleveland Clinic says that this method can serve as a useful guide for couples aiming to increase their chances of conception by knowing the optimal time for intercourse.
How many days after your period do you ovulate? Understanding ovulation signs
In an average 28-day menstrual cycle, ovulation typically occurs about 14 days before the start of the next menstrual period, the Mayo Clinic says. Recognizing ovulation signs, such as tender breasts, abdominal pain or changes in cervical position, can assist individuals in identifying their most fertile days and optimizing their chances of conception.
With use of methods like ovulation tests, the calendar and tracking body temperature, individuals can better predict ovulation, paving the way for better family planning and reproductive health management.
SOURCE: James Stelling, MD, medical director, Stony Brook Medicine Island Fertility at Advanced Specialty Care, Commack, N.Y.