Fertile signs – Dr. Linda Farahani
A common misconception is that ovulation occurs at the midpoint of the menstrual cycle, and many women with a monthly cycle therefore believe they ovulate on day 14. In fact, cycle length and time of ovulation varies hugely between women, within each individual woman. After ovulation, the egg only lives for 12-24 hours and so it is important that sperm are already present when the egg is released. A woman is usually at her most fertile a day or two before ovulation and on the day of ovulation itself (but as sperm can live inside the womb for up to 7 days, the whole fertile period can be longer).
The standard advice is that couples trying for a baby should be having sex every two to three days. This is great advice as by following this routine, there should always be sperm present to catch the egg after ovulation.
However, for various reasons, this is not always possible which I’m sure many couples can identify with. Particularly if you’ve been trying for a while, it’s not unusual that one or both of you may not be in the mood! Some women would benefit from having an understanding of their fertile period so they can concentrate their efforts during this time.
You may have come across lots of different apps that promise to let you know when you are fertile. But the reality is that most of these apps are basing their determination of your fertile period on a textbook menstrual cycle. But you’re an individual, and you won’t necessarily follow those rules. They are also predicting your fertile period based on your previous cycles, and that just isn’t accurate.
But there are signs you can look for each day to tell if you are fertile right now. The most important signs that any woman can identify during their monthly cycle are the cervical mucus, waking temperature, and the position of the cervix.
It doesn’t have the nicest sounding name, but it’s a pretty great way of telling when you’re about to ovulate. What’s the science behind it? As your menstrual cycle progresses, your ovaries will be busy growing one follicle. This follicle will contain an egg, and when it has grown to the right size this egg will be released (ovulation). This growing follicle produces the hormone oestrogen that peaks in the days leading up to ovulation. Oestrogen is very important, and one way in which it helps us conceive is by making the mucus produced by your cervix wet and slippery. It’s also been described as egg-white mucus because it has the exact same look and feel of egg whites. It will be clear, slippery and stretchy. Sperm love this type of mucus as it is easy to swim through.
The best way to tell if you are producing egg-white mucus is to bear down when you’re next in the toilet and feel for any discharge. Discharge can vary from sticky and dry, to thin and wet. If you can stretch out the mucus between your thumb and forefinger without it breaking then you are in your fertile period! You may notice this sign for 1-2 days.
The great thing about this sign is that you can check it discreetly without the aid of ovulation testing kits and so you can turn on the romance without putting additional pressure on your partner that you have to do the deed now! It also acts as a natural lubricant. Once you have ovulated, the oestrogen levels drop, and the egg-white mucus disappears to be replaced by a drier sticky discharge.
This sign doesn’t actually tell you when you are fertile. So why are we telling you to check this? The egg-white cervical fluid we have talked about tells you that your follicle is growing, but it doesn’t actually confirm that the egg has been released, but a rise in your waking temperature does.
After ovulation a cyst is left behind in the ovary, called a corpus luteum; this cyst produces a hormone called progesterone. Progesterone is incredibly important to support a developing pregnancy. It also causes our temperature to rise.
The best way to determine this temperature rise is to take your basal body temperature (BBT). The basal body temperature is your lowest body temperature in a 24-hour period. This will be when you wake up in the morning, before you do anything else (even before you sit up in bed!). The most accurate way to do this is to use a specific BBT thermometer and keep it on your bedside table.
The temperature before ovulation is usually between 36.1- 36.4oC. After ovulation, within a day or two, there is a persistent temperature rise of at least 0.2oC. The easiest way to interpret this sign is by plotting your daily temperature on graph paper, and you will be able to identify the shift in temperature that will confirm that ovulation has taken place. Factors that can affect and increase your usual waking temperature include a fever, drinking alcohol the night before and having less than three hours of consecutive sleep before taking your temperature.
Some women however won’t have this temperature shift and therefore this sign will not be useful.
The usefulness of this sign is that it can help inform you that you have indeed ovulated. It can be something you track every month, or every once in a while. In combination with the cervical fluid sign, it can give you a lot of information about your menstrual cycle and fertile period.
So this sign might be a little trickier for some, and for others it may be a no go. It does require putting fingers inside the vagina to assess the cervix. The cervix sits between your womb and the vagina, and can be felt at the top of the vagina. The cervix changes during the menstrual cycle, in response to oestrogen. Before and after your fertile period the cervix will feel low and firm; it will also be closed (you might just feel a dimple) and won’t feel wet.
During your fertile period the cervix is positioned higher and is soft. It will also feel open and wet.
Although you may feel that this sign isn’t something you are keen to get to grips with, you may have already noticed it. Have you ever felt that a particular sex position is painful at certain times of the month, but not at others? This could be because of the differing positions of the cervix.
Once you become more attuned to your body and understand the changes taking place you may notice some other signs that are an indication to turn up the heat.
These signs include lower abdominal pain/aches on one side or the other, mid-cycle spotting or breast tenderness in the middle of your cycle. Interestingly, there is evidence that a woman’s sexual desire increases in the mid-cycle (around the time of ovulation), so make sure you take advantage of those feelings!
Every woman is different and understanding your individual fertile signs is one way of taking charge of your body and your fertility, and we feel that education is key. However, it is also true that tracking these changes may not be helpful for everybody and could cause stress.
Be mindful of this and if it all gets too much, then the best thing to do is to take it back to basics, and make some time for yourself!
If you’re in a relationship, it’s also important to enjoy your time together. We’ve included some tips on relationship and sexual health in your emotional health dashboard which you may want to take a look at for tips.