Trying to conceive (TTC) centers around one key event in a woman’s menstrual cycle each month: ovulation! Ovulation occurs when an egg releases from an ovary. The egg then moves into the fallopian tube and is available for fertilization. Since experts believe sperm can live inside the female reproductive tract for up to five days, timing intercourse in the few days before ovulation is thought to give you the best chance of conceiving in a given month. The goal is for sperm to be ready and waiting when the egg is released. But how on earth do you know when that will be?
In this post, we’re going to explore the first two steps you should take to help better understand your body and when you might be ovulating: the calendar method and the cervical mucus method. Once you’ve gotten comfortable with these two methods, there are two additional tools I would recommend you consider incorporating as well: ovulation predictor kits (OPK’s) and basal body temperature (BBT). (I will be covering these in a separate post soon, so stay tuned!) These additional methods are a bit more involved, so let’s start with the basics for now which will give you a fantastic starting point!
Why is Tracking Ovulation Important?
If you are TTC, identifying your fertile window (the few days each month you are most fertile) is key because it can be very easy to accidentally miss it. According to experts, the fertile window is comprised of the five days prior to ovulation and the day of ovulation itself. With such a small window to aim for each month, it is very helpful to gather as much information as possible that could provide hints of when you may be ovulating. You can then adjust the timing of intercourse to align with your fertile window. Doing so will help optimize your chances of becoming pregnant!
Things to Keep in Mind
Before we get started, I want to point out that I am not a doctor. My advice is based on extensive research as well as my own personal experience. It’s also important to note that these ovulation tracking methods are clues to help you estimate when ovulation might occur but are not a surefire way to pinpoint the exact timing of ovulation.
According to experts, the exact timing of ovulation can only be confirmed via ultrasound. But, yikes… that would get expensive! These two methods I am about to discuss are completely free and can be done from the comfort of your own home while still helping you gain some helpful insight into the possible timing of ovulation.
I have personally used both of the ovulation tracking methods discussed below, and my goodness… They have done wonders for helping me better understand my body, fertile window, and potential ovulation timing. Let’s explore them together and track that egg!
Period Tracking / Calendar Method
If you’re not sure where to begin, period tracking is the place to start! When you take note of the first day of your period each month, you can then determine how long your cycles are. When measuring cycle length, keep in mind that the first day of your period is Day 1, and the last day before your next period starts is the last day of the cycle.
For example, counting the first day of your period in the current cycle as Day 1, let’s assume you start your next period on Day 29. That would mean your cycle length that month was 28 days, and “Day 29” becomes Day 1 of your next cycle. See below for a visual representation of what this would look like on a calendar. In this instance, one period started on the 3rd of the month, and the next period started on the 31st of the month, resulting in a cycle length of 28 days. After a few months of tracking your periods, you will get an idea of your average cycle length.
“Isn’t the average cycle length 28 days? Why can’t I just go with that?” I would highly advise against doing this, and here’s why: While the average cycle length across all women may be 28 days, actual cycle lengths vary widely between women. Experts typically say that most women have a cycle length between 21-35 days, but it could even be shorter or longer than that. Think about it; 21-35 days is a difference of two weeks… If you are guessing your ovulation timing based on a generalized average instead of identifying your personalized cycle length, you could end up completely missing your entire fertile window!
Calendar Method Calculation
Okay, that’s great and all, but how is your average cycle length supposed to help you estimate the general timing of ovulation? This is where the calendar method comes into play, which is really just some basic math. The general idea behind the calendar method is that, ON AVERAGE, women will ovulate about 14 days before their cycle ends. Since you now know your average cycle length, you can take that number and subtract 14 days to get the AVERAGE day someone with your cycle length might be ovulating.
Why do I keep putting AVERAGE in all caps, you might ask? Just like cycle lengths themselves, the length of time between ovulation and the first day of your next period (also known as the luteal phase), varies between women. One person may typically ovulate 12 days before their next period while another may typically ovulate 16 days before.
Since the calendar method assumes an average luteal phase of 14 days, your estimated ovulation date may vary slightly from this depending on your typical luteal phase length. The additional ovulation tracking tools discussed below and in my upcoming post on OPK’s and BBT will build off of this method and help you better understand your average luteal phase length. For this first one, however, we will have to stick to the average luteal phase length.
Example: Calendar Method Calculation
Let’s use me as an example for the calendar method calculation. After tracking my cycle for a few months, I learned that my cycle length varies between 26-30 days. Overall, I found that my average cycle length happens to line up with the general average of 28 days. (This is actually very rare, so do not worry if you are several days off from this!)
Using the calendar method, I determined that I could possibly be ovulating around Day 14 of my cycle (average cycle length of 28 days minus 14 days = Day 14). If you instead have 35-day cycles, your average ovulation timing would be Day 21 (average cycle length of 35 days minus 14 days = Day 21).
Let’s take another look at the calendar visual. With a 28-day cycle ending on the 30th of the month, your estimated ovulation date would be the 16th of the month.
Calendar Method Results
After you have identified your average ovulation day, you can then time intercourse around that day. If you are using period tracking and the calendar method alone, experts typically suggest that you still cast a wide net when it comes to the timing of intercourse. Since this method is relying on general averages for ovulation timing, it is typically recommended that you have intercourse every other day beginning a week prior to the average ovulation day through a week after the average ovulation day. By covering more ground, you will increase your chances of hitting your fertile window.
Period tracking and the calendar method are a wonderful first step to understanding your cycle and are great for giving you a general idea of when you might be ovulating based on your cycle length! However, every woman is different, and the timing of ovulation can even vary each month for a given person. If your goal is to get a bit more personalized and pinpoint your potential ovulation with a bit more precision, period tracking and the calendar method shouldn’t be the only tool you use. You will definitely want to build off of it and explore one or more of the other ovulation tracking tools discussed below and in my upcoming post on OPK’s and BBT. They will help you better estimate your individual luteal phase length and ovulation timing.
Period Tracking / Calendar Method Apps
To help keep things easy and organized, I would recommend using a period tracking app. When you enter the first day of each month’s period into the app, it will automatically calculate your cycle length as well as your estimated ovulation day based on the calendar method! Super simple, right?
There are many options when it comes to period tracking apps, but I personally use and highly recommend the Flo app. It is free and keeps period tracking easy and informative! Some other great options I looked into before choosing Flo that you may also want to look into are Glow, Ovia, Kindara, and Clue. Apple even offers period tracking via the Health app. I ended up going with Flo because, in my opinion, it provided the best mix of simplicity and insight.
Each app has a different layout, goes into a different level of detail on symptoms, and provides different resources. Each person has unique preferences on what they want in a period tracking app, so it is a very personalized decision. I encourage you to look at a few different options and choose the best one for you.
Cervical Mucus Method
“You want me to look at what?!” Yep, this one can be a bit “TMI” if you are turned off by bodily fluids. But, it is definitely worth getting past any hesitation because this method is a fantastic and free way to get a better idea of when you may be ovulating!
Cervical mucus is pretty much exactly what it sounds like – mucus produced by the cervix. You may have recognized cervical mucus as the discharge on your underwear or as a general feeling of wetness “down there.” You may also have found that you notice more cervical mucus during specific times of the month. This is because as your hormone levels fluctuate throughout your cycle, so do the consistency, quality, and amount of your cervical mucus.
Estrogen levels are known to increase leading up to ovulation. According to experts, this increase in estrogen during your follicular phase (the time between the first day of your period and ovulation) generally causes your cervical mucus to increase in quantity and wetness and become more thin, clear, slippery, and stretchy. Cervical mucus with these qualities is known as “fertile cervical mucus.” After ovulation, your cervical mucus tends to revert back to being more sticky or dry. With this in mind, you can learn a lot about the potential timing of your ovulation by paying close attention to the changes in your cervical mucus.
Checking Your Cervical Mucus
Okay, time to get up close and personal with your discharge! You will want to check your cervical mucus on a daily basis and make note of how fertile it looks based on appearance, consistency, and texture. If you’ve already downloaded an app for period tracking and the calendar method (discussed above), you can easily record your findings in that same app each day and look for trends over time as more months are observed. Let’s first talk about how to obtain a sample of your cervical mucus, and then we’ll discuss tips on how to determine how fertile it might be.
There are a couple options when it comes to getting a sample of your cervical mucus to inspect. The two most popular methods are:
- Using a sample of cervical mucus that has transferred to your underwear or to toilet paper after wiping – This is my personal preference as I tend to have enough cervical mucus in my underwear to be able to make a determination, and I personally prefer a less invasive approach.
- Inserting one or two fingers into your vagina to retrieve a sample of cervical mucus from up near your cervix – This is a great option if you don’t tend to see much cervical mucus outside of your body or if you prefer to get your sample straight from the source. If you choose to use this method, just make sure to wash your hands thoroughly before doing so.
Cervical Mucus Categories
Okay, now we have our sample! But what do we do with it, and how do we know if it’s fertile? By simply rubbing the cervical mucus between your thumb and forefinger, you will be able to determine its consistency and texture. Your findings will generally fall into one of the four categories listed below depending on how close to ovulation you are. These categories are listed from least fertile to most fertile, so you are likely getting closer to ovulation as you move from one category to the next.
To serve as an example, I have also included my cycle days that I personally see each type of cervical mucus. For reference, my cycles are generally 28 days long, and I typically ovulate around Day 14. Just remember that the days you see each type of cervical mucus could vary significantly from this based on your individual cycle! (Don’t make me throw out my all-caps “AVERAGE” again…)
- Dry: Resembles nothing at all (generally scant or non-existent) – I personally see this on Days 5-6
- Sticky: Resembles school glue (generally tacky and stiff) – I personally see this on Days 7-8
- Creamy: Resembles lotion (generally whitish and smooth) – I personally see this on Days 9-10
- Egg White / Wet: Resembles raw egg whites or slimy liquid (generally clear, thin, wet, slippery, stretchy, and abundant) – I personally see this on Days 11-14 – *This is the fertile cervical mucus you’re wanting!*
Cervical Mucus Method Results
After you track your cervical mucus for a few months and get a feel for which days of your cycle you typically see each type of cervical mucus, you can get a pretty good idea of when you might be ovulating. As a general rule of thumb, experts advise that the last day of fertile cervical mucus (before it begins thickening and drying up again) be considered the day of ovulation. So, if your last day of fertile cervical mucus is typically somewhere between Days 15-17, you can estimate that you typically ovulate around those days each month. How cool is that?
The goal here is to align the timing of intercourse with the days you have fertile cervical mucus because fertile cervical mucus is a sign of impending ovulation. In general, when you start seeing creamy cervical mucus, you are likely entering your fertile window and will want to begin having intercourse. When you see egg white / wet cervical mucus, it is full-on go time! You are thought to be at peak fertility during this time and will definitely want to prioritize having intercourse during these days in order to increase your chances of conception.
A Note on Lubricants
Where things can get tricky is if you don’t have much cervical mucus in general. If you tend to be on the dryer side or don’t produce much cervical mucus, you may be tempted to use a lubricant. If you must use a lubricant for sex to be enjoyable or successful, experts strongly advise against using traditional lubricants as they may contain ingredients that can hinder sperm from reaching the egg. They instead recommend that you use a fertility-friendly lubricant such as Pre-Seed Fertility Friendly Lubricant as it is thought to support sperm quality and mimic natural fertile cervical mucus. So, Pre-Seed is a great option if you struggle with having enough fertile cervical mucus and/or don’t want to forego lubrication!
When you are TTC, you naturally want to do everything you can to optimize your chances of becoming pregnant. One of the most helpful things you can do is align intercourse with your fertile window. If you have intercourse during the days leading up to ovulation and/or on the day of ovulation itself, you increase your chances of sperm being able to meet up with the egg and fertilize it.
Being able to optimize the timing of intercourse directly depends on estimating the potential timing of ovulation with as much accuracy as possible. By incorporating the calendar and cervical mucus methods, you can begin to gain some great insights into when your egg might be released each month.
Tracking your period and utilizing the calendar method will help you identify the average timing of ovulation based on the length of your cycles. You can then build off of that information by paying attention to your cervical mucus during that identified timeframe to help make your estimated ovulation a bit more precise and personalized.
I would love to hear about your experiences with ovulation tracking! If you have any questions or additional insights pertaining to the calendar or cervical mucus methods, please share them via the comment box below.
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