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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.

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The average woman’s’ cycle is 28 days, but your cycle can be anything from 22 to 36 days long. Ovulation normally happens about two weeks before your next period, so if your cycle is 28 days, you will ovulate around day 14. Work out when you are ovulating by using our ovulation calculator. 
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Your egg lives for up to 24 hours after leaving your ovary, so if you are having sex around your most fertile days, you’ll have the best chance of conceiving. 
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That said, your partner’s sperm can live for up to five days, so it’s a good idea to also have sex before ovulation occurs if you are trying to conceive. 
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Your partner will release around 250 million sperm during ejaculation, however only around 400 of these sperm will make the ten-hour journey from your vagina, through your cervix and up the fallopian tube, where it can penetrate the egg. Only one can burrow through your eggs outer membrane. 
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Ovulation can be affected by a number of different things including stress and illness. If you’ve been trying for a baby for a while, it might be time to take a look at your job stresses, or workout routine. 
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The sex of your baby is actually determined from the moment your partner’s sperm meets your egg – if the sperm is carrying a Y chromosome, you’ll have conceived a boy and if it’s an X chromosome, it’ll be a girl. 
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Every woman is born with millions of immature eggs – half of these will be absorbed by your ovaries before you reach adolescence, the other half will sit waiting for your ovulation cycle to begin. Only 300 to 500 of these eggs (medically referred to as oocytes) will become mature eggs in your lifetime.  
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You can have a period even if you haven’t ovulated and you can ovulate without having a period. 
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Some women experience some bleeding as their fertilised egg burrows into the lining of their womb, this is called implantation bleeding and can often be confused with a period. Here's how to tell the difference between implantation bleeding and a period
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If an egg is not fertilised by a sperm during the ovulation period, it will disintegrate and be absorbed into the lining of the uterus or pass out with the menstrual flow. 
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Ovulation happens thanks to two different hormones – during the most fertile week of your cycle, your levels of lutenising hormones (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) will rise. This stimulates the production of follicles in your ovary. 
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Each month, one follicle will become larger than the others and produce an egg. Usually only one egg will be released during each cycle. This follicle will also start to produce oestrogen, which tells your body to start thickening the lining of the womb for implantation. 
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Once the egg has been released, the same (now empty) follicle will produce another hormone – progesterone, which prevents the release of any more eggs this cycle. The empty follicle is medically referred to as corpus luteum. This level of progesterone remains high enough to prevent any more eggs from being released for the next 12 to 16 days, after which your cycle will start again. This is the same horomone that is in birth control pills. 
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Your egg is smaller than the head of a pin when it is released during ovulation. 
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Although a lot of women do not experience any physical signs of ovulating, one in five will experience lower abdominal pain, known as mittelschmerz – a German word meaning ‘middle pain’. 
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Another physical sign you are ovulating is a clear, somewhat elastic discharge in the days leading up to ovulation. It might sound gross, but try stretching it between two fingers so you know what to look out for each month. 
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If you want to be really sure when you are ovulating, monitoring your basal body temperature (BBT) is a good indicator. Your basal body temperature averages around 36.1-36.4°C before ovulation, and rises to between 36.4-37°C after ovulation. The downside to this method is that your body temperature changes 12 to 24 hours after ovulation has actually occurred, meaning there can be little time left to conceive. 
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Research has proved your sense of smell increases when you are ovulating. Science tells us you also look more attractive to your partner when you’re ovulating. 
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Home pregnancy tests work by checking your urine for the hormone hCG, that your body starts to make once a fertilised egg has been implanted in your uterus. However, this process can take several days, so if you take a test straight away, you might want to re-take it nearer to when your period is due. Find out more about when to take a pregnancy test here. 

 

 
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