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Ovulation - everything you need to know

When's the best time to get pregnant?

When's the best time to get pregnant? When you’re trying to conceive, leaving everything to chance can be fun, but if you’re determined to make it happen - and fast - getting to grips with how and when ovulation occurs could dramatically improve your chances.

What is ovulation?

Did you know that a woman is born with all the eggs (follicles) she will ever produce over her lifetime? Ovulation is when hormones trigger an ovary to release one or more of those eggs, which then travel down a fallopian tube towards the womb (uterus). This is part of the menstrual cycle and for most women, happens once every month.

Why ovulation is important for conception

For a pregnancy to occur, an egg must be fertilised and then successfully implant in the wall of the uterus, which has been thickening up in preparation. It can’t be fertilised in the ovary, so ovulation needs to happen before natural fertilisation is possible. If the egg isn’t fertilised, the body sheds the lining of the womb, along with the unfertilised egg and a period begins, along with a new cycle.

When are you most fertile?

The egg can survive for just 24 hours after release, but the more hardy sperm can survive in a woman’s body for five days. Added together, this leads to a ‘fertile window’ of six days each cycle when it’s possible to become pregnant. This ‘window’ varies from woman to woman, according to the length of her menstrual cycle, but two to three days before and the day of actual ovulation is the most fertile period. So, your fertile window is the best time to get pregnant. 

Signs of ovulation

Some women can spot physical signs of ovulation occurring. One is a change in the mucus discharged from your body. It’s best described as similar to egg white - slippery and clear. Another sign is that your your basal body temperature (BBT) rises about half a degree after ovulation has occurred. You can buy a special basal thermometer to help you chart when ovulation happens so you can predict your fertile window in the following months. You’ll need to take the reading before you get out of bed every day to ensure it’s as accurate as possible.

What is an ovulation calculator and how can it help?

As menstrual cycles vary from woman to woman, ovulation dates should be estimated based on individual dates. By putting the dates of your first and last period and average cycle length into an ovulation calculator, it will create a personalised estimation of the date you will ovulate and your most fertile days. Then you can make sure you’re having sex during your fertile window.

What is an ovulation predictor kit and how can it help?

One to two days before ovulation occurs, the body produces a surge of the luteinizing hormone (LH) which can be detected in urine. Ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) look for this surge and alert you to its presence - digital OPKs will display a symbol such as a smiley face. This means it is likely you’re about to ovulate, so it’s recommended you have sex on the day of the surge, as well as the two days after. Play it safe by adding one more day onto this, just in case you’ve ovulated a day later than expected.

For more information on ovulation and trying to conceive, see our Pregnancy Planning area.

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