When you’re trying to make a baby, timing is everything. There are just a few days each month when your body is ready to conceive. That’s why it’s important — whether you’ve been trying to get pregnant for a few months or you’re just starting out — to learn how to track this short window of opportunity.
Ovulation tracking, or cycle tracking, helps you find the days of your cycle that you’re most fertile. There are lots of different ways to do it, and what works for one person isn’t necessarily the right way for you. Some ovulation tracking methods teach you to read your body's subtle signals. Some use tech to take the guesswork out or give better answers if you have irregular cycles. And, as you might have guessed, some ways are less budget-friendly than others.
Most importantly, only a few tracking methods give you the heads-up that you’re ovulatingbefore it happens — and that information is key.
With so many choices, figuring out which one is right for you can feel overwhelming. (Am I supposed to do all of these together or go in a certain order?) So, we’ve gathered the most reliable and accurate methods in one place to help make your decision a little easier.
Your Fertile Window
Before we talk about the different ways to track ovulation, let’s back things up a bit so you understandwhat you’re tracking.
Ovulation is when a mature egg is released from the ovarian follicle and travels down the fallopian tube. This process is driven by four different hormones: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), luteinizing hormone (LH), estradiol, and progesterone.Your fertile windowbegins about five days before ovulation and continues approximately one day after.
Why are there so many days in the fertile window?
Sperm can live about 5 days in the fallopian tube. An ovum, or egg, however, can only survive for 12-24 hoursafter being released from the ovary. What this means is that you’ll want to have intercourse or inseminatebefore you ovulate, so the sperm are waiting for the egg or timed to arrive shortly after its release.
Why is it important to track your cycle?
For years, we’ve been told that the average number of days in a menstrual cycle is 28 — with ovulation occurring around day 14. However, studies have shown that using an average number doesn’t prove very accurate when it comes to tracking ovulation.
To make things even more complicated, ovulation doesn’t always occur on a schedule and can change from cycle to cycle.
So, if you want to get pregnant — especially if you’ve been struggling — the first step is to learn more about your cycle to figure out whenyou ovulate.
There are three main ways to track ovulation:
Fertility awareness-based methods
Ovulation predictor kits
Let’s take a look at each of them in more depth.
Fertility Awareness-based Methods
Fertility Awareness-based Methods (FABM) have been used for hundreds of years as a natural way to prevent pregnancy and increase the likelihood of conception. While some of the techniques used here may feel a bit “hands-on,” they’re also way more effective than you’d think — especially when combined with others.
The calendar method (standard days method)
The calendar methodfollows the idea that the average cycle is between 26-32 days long, with your most fertile days landing between days 8-19.
To try to get pregnant using this method, it’s recommended that you have intercourse every day or every other day during that time. While this method may work for people who have just started trying to conceive — and those who have a cycle that falls into the average range — it’s not for everyone. You’re not alone if you feel like trying to make a baby every day for 12 days in a row kills the vibe and moves things into a repetitive, or even stressful, space.
Another thing you might be wondering is how this method might affect the quality and amount of sperm your partner may be able to provide.
Here’s the long and short of it: we’re still trying to understand how many days, if any, you should wait between attempts to conceive. What we do know is that semen volume and sperm countincrease with longer periods of abstinence. However, peak motilityis seen after one day of abstinence. So, we recommend trying at least twice during your fertile window or every other day.
Basal body temperature (BBT) method
The basal body temperature method measures your body’s temperature to detect when ovulation has occurred. To use this method, you’ll need to take and record your temperature with a basal thermometer every morning right after waking up but before you get out of bed or have anything to eat or drink.
For most people, what you’ll see after tracking for a while is that your temperature will increase slightly following ovulation, going from around96-98° F to 97-99° F. It will remain high until the end of the menstrual cycle.
The challenge with using just the BBT method is that your most fertile days are the 2–3 daysbefore this increase in temperature. Since we know that cycles can vary, this leaves a lot of guesswork when you’re trying to predict your fertile window.
Cervical Mucus Method
In case you didn’t know, the white stuff you occasionally (or always) see in your underwear is called cervical mucous. And while you may cringe thinking about the word — or using it to track ovulation— this is actually one of the easiest and most effective methods!
To use the cervical mucus method, you’ll track two things: volume and consistency. Every day, note the amount of cervical mucus you find in your underwear. You’ll notice that the amount noticeably increases just before ovulation.
You’ll also need to get a sample from inside your vagina, as close to your cervix as possible, every day except during your period. When you rub your fingers together, notice the consistency of your mucus. Just before ovulation, it will feel thin and slippery, close to the consistency of egg whites.
When you see these changes, you’ll want to try to conceive every other day. After ovulation, the amount of mucus will decrease and become thicker as you get closer to your period.
Cervix Position and Feeling
Another way you can use your cervix to track whether you’re ovulating is by noting its position in your vagina and whether it’s soft or hard. Using a clean middle finger, feel around the inside of your vagina. Your cervix will feel a little like your lips do when they’re puckered for a kiss — though a little firmer like the tip of your nose.
When you’re nearing ovulation, your cervix's position will be higher or farther away from your vaginal opening. It will also feel softer, wetter, and more open. After you ovulate, your cervix will feel lower, firmer, drier, and more closed.
Apps to Help You Track Using the Fertility Awareness Method
Tracking all of these bodily ovulation signs can feel time-consuming — but it’s necessary. Very few people remember their cervical mucus consistency or temperature to the decimal point from one day to the next. Luckily, there are a few apps that can help with this. Actually — there’s over 100.
Fertility apps help you digitally track all of the FABM signals. Some even use an algorithm to compile all this information and help you determine your fertile window.
As for apps, a recent study found that their prediction accuracy was just 21%.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK)
Fertility awareness-based methods are a great way to get to know your cycle — especially if you’ve never spent that much time thinking about it.
However, ovulation predictor kits are considered one of the most accurate methods ofpredicting ovulation.
Around 24-48 hours before ovulation, your body will release a luteinizing hormone (LH) surge. Luteinizing hormone is what triggers your ovaries to release an egg during ovulation. Using an OPKs, you can measure the level of LH in your urine in a similar way to a home pregnancy test. If your test predicts ovulation, you’ll want to try to conceive daily for the next two to three days.
One flaw with OPKs is that these tests aren’t able to tell you how far into the LH surge you are — simply that you have elevated levels in your urine.
Luteinizing hormone is released by your brain and is used to signal your ovary to release its mature egg. But sometimes, your ovary doesn’t listen, and an egg isn’t released. This is called anovulation. It’s also possible to have more than one LH surge per cycle with only one ovulation.
So, if you’ve been using an OPK to track your cycle and still haven’t conceived, you might want to check if you’re ovulating.
After you ovulate, your body produces progesterone to get your uterus ready to receive, implant, and support a fertilized egg during pregnancy. An easier way to see how much progesterone your body is making is by measuring the level of Pregnanediol Glucuronide (PdG) in your urine.The Proov Predict & Confirm™ Kit comes with tests that not only help you predict your fertile window but also help you confirm ovulation by measuring LH first and PdG after.
Looking for something that does it all? Your most comprehensive and, yes, expensive option is to use a fertility monitor to try to conceive.
A fertility monitor is a device that tracks FABM data or fertility hormone levels in your urine, saliva, or cervical fluid. They can help you learn more about your cycle, predict ovulation, and identify your fertile window.
If you have irregular periods or PCOS, a fertility monitor will offer more accurate and reliable insight into your cycle over traditional ovulation tracking methods and OPKs.
Since many fertility monitors use different methods to track fertility, the accuracy of the devices can vary, but, in general, fertility monitors are 99% effective in detecting ovulation and 88% effective at identifying the 3-day fertility window before ovulation.
Here are our top recommendations for the best fertility monitors:
Whether you want to lean toward the traditional methods, the ease of ovulation predictor kits, or prefer to dive into the science of your cycle with a fertility monitor, understanding your cycle is an important step in making a baby.
You have lots of options when it comes to tracking your fertility, and everyone’s journey is unique. So do what feels right to you and get the answers you need. We’re here for you every step of the way.