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How can I tell if I’m ovulating? What if I have problems ovulating?

How can I tell if I’m ovulating? What if I have problems ovulating?

Kindara | December 16, 2020 | Fertility Awareness
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Getting pregnant all comes down to timing intercourse each month. But that only works if (and it’s a pretty important if) everything’s working right. Since getting pregnant isn’t possible without ovulation, let’s take a look at how you can tell whether you’re ovulating each cycle and go over some potential problems that may keep you from ovulating regularly.

What happens during ovulation?

When we talk about ovulation, we’re referring to the moment your ovary releases a mature egg. Ovulation usually happens around the halfway point between each period. However, the exact timing is different for everyone, so you’ll need more than a calendar to figure out when — or if — you’re ovulating (1). 

If you want to start tracking your ovulation patterns, it’ll help to have a clear idea of what goes on inside your body when you ovulate. Each cycle starts on the first day of your period. At this point, estrogen levels are low. Your body starts making follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which helps the follicles in your ovaries start maturing the eggs that are inside them. One of the follicles will keep growing until an egg is matured and then it will release the egg; the others will be absorbed back into your ovary (1, 2). 

As these follicles grow, they create more and more estrogen, which causes your uterine lining to grow and thicken with nutrients and blood in preparation for a potential pregnancy. It also causes your cervical mucus to get more watery, creating a more friendly environment for any sperm trying to make their way to an egg (2).

When your estrogen level gets high enough, it triggers a sharp increase in luteinizing hormone (LH). This is called an LH surge, and it’s what causes the follicle to release the mature egg so it can start making its way towards your uterus. Right after the egg is released, the now-empty follicle becomes the corpus luteum and releases progesterone, which works alongside the estrogen to get your uterine lining ready for implantation (1).

Your egg only lives for 12 to 24 hours after it’s released. If there’s sperm in the fallopian tubes during that period, the egg may get fertilized. If not, the egg breaks apart, and your estrogen and progesterone levels start to drop again. This leads to shedding your uterine lining and getting your period (2).

While these hormone changes cause some pretty major things to happen inside your body, their effects aren’t always easy to observe from the outside. Fortunately, your body does give you some signs that can help you tell when or if you’re ovulating. You just have to know where to look.

How can I tell if I’m ovulating?

When you’re trying to figure out if you’re ovulating, the first thing you’ll want to do is start charting your menstrual cycles. Tracking your periods is a great start, but paying attention to things like cervical mucus and position can help give you an even better idea of when you ovulate. 

Cervical mucus is a natural substance produced by your cervix that helps give sperm a boost around the time you ovulate. Right after your period, your CM will seem pretty dry, and it might even feel like you don’t have any at all. As you get closer to ovulation, your CM gets more slippery and wet. The more watery your CM is, the more fertile you are (3).

Want to learn more about CM? We answer your top cervical mucus questions here.

You can also track the changes in your cervical position throughout your cycle. Right after your period, the opening to your cervix, called the os, will feel closed and firm. As you get closer to ovulation, the os starts feeling softer and more open as it rises higher in your vagina (4). Track cervical position every day for a few cycles to get a good feel for your unique normal. Especially if given birth vaginally, your cervix may never feel fully closed, so establishing that baseline during the infertile times of your cycle is especially important in distinguishing the changes (3).

Don’t worry if you feel a little out of your element at first. It takes a few cycles to get the hang of tracking your fertility. If you need a hand, consider using a period or fertility tracking app to help you record your daily observations. The award winning Kindara App, is free to use. And, most importantly, don’t give up!

Download for FREE App Store  

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Temperature and ovulation

CM and cervical position can help you tell when your body is getting ready to ovulate. Your basal body temperature (BBT), on the other hand, can show you that you’ve ovulated after it happens. We mentioned earlier that the corpus luteum releases progesterone right after you ovulate. Well, that surge of progesterone causes a slight increase to your BBT that can confirm that you’ve actually ovulated (5).

BBT is your lowest resting temperature and usually occurs between 3:00 and 6:00 in the morning (6). When you take your temperature immediately after you wake up, it is actually referred to as waking temperature and is not true BBT (3). The good news is that if you measure waking temperature consistently and track it daily, you will likely be able to see a rise in temperature after you ovulate. After ovulation, BBT typically rises by about 0.4 to 0.8 degrees Fahrenheit and stays elevated through the end of the cycle. Because these changes are so small, you need a special BBT thermometer to accurately measure them (5). Waking temperatures can only confirm ovulation and can not predict ovulation. In order to predict ovulation using temperature, you need to use a sensor that continuously collects core body temperature (7). 

Learn more about charting using continuous core body temperature, check out the Priya Personal Fertility System

Learn More About The Priya Fertility System

If you’re ovulating regularly, you’ll probably notice that each menstrual cycle has two temperature phases (if you’ve ever heard the term “biphasic” in charts, this is what they’re referring to): a lower temperatures leading up to ovulation and a slightly higher temperatures that last until your next period — or 18+ days if you’re pregnant (3). Tracking your BBT requires commitment, and things like waking up late, drinking alcohol, and getting sick can all throw off your measurement for the day (5). 

Ovulation predictor kits

At-home ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) work by testing your urine for signs of the LH surge that happens right before ovulation. To get the most use out of OPKs, you should start testing at least 2 days before you expect to ovulate. Once the test detects LH in your urine, that usually indicates that you’ll ovulate within the next 12 to 24 hours. OPKs are helpful for timing intercourse, but they can’t act as proof of ovulation because it’s possible to experience an LH surge without ovulating (8). Read more about How You Might Be Missing Your Fertile Window With OPKs

What could cause problems with ovulation?

Ovulation is controlled by an intricate system that involves the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, ovaries, and other glands, such as the adrenal glands and thyroid gland. Problems in any part of this system could interfere with ovulation by throwing off the hormonal processes that regulate the menstrual cycle (9). 

For example, ovulation can be affected if the pituitary gland produces too much prolactin or not enough LH or FSH. Likewise, you may have problems ovulating if your ovaries aren’t producing enough estrogen or if your adrenal glands are producing too much testosterone. Your thyroid can also interfere with ovulation if it makes too much or too little thyroid hormones (9, 10).

The most common cause of female infertility is polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS). PCOS is often associated with ovulation problems, as well as weight gain, high levels of male hormones, irregular periods, excess hair growth, and insulin resistance. (9, 11). 

Other causes of ovulation problems include (9, 10, 12):

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity or weight loss
  • Excessive exercise
  • Stress
  • Early menopause, also called premature ovarian failure or primary ovarian insufficiency (though this is rare)

Ovulation problems don’t always have obvious symptoms, other than the inability to get pregnant. However, irregular or absent periods, as well as menstrual cycles longer than 35 days or shorter than 21 days, may indicate that you’re not ovulating regularly (10).

What if I don’t think I’m ovulating? 

When it comes to seeing a doctor for infertility, the general rule is this: if you’re under 35, go after you’ve been trying to conceive for a year with no luck. If you’re between 35 and 40, you should only wait 6 months. If you’re over 40, you may want to have a fertility checkup when you start trying to conceive. But, if you’ve been charting your cycles and suspect you may not be ovulating, then it’s probably best to go ahead and schedule that appointment (10).

Your doctor will be able to help you confirm whether you’re ovulating or not. They may test your blood or urine for progesterone or its by-products or use an ultrasound machine to check your follicles for signs of ovulation (9). 

If it turns out that you’re not ovulating, your doctor’s next step will be to try to figure out why. Depending on what the reason is behind missed ovulation, your doctor may give you drugs such as clomiphene or letrozole, which can often stimulate ovulation. If your ovulation problems are due to lifestyle factors, such as smoking or weight reasons, then they can help you put together a plan to make healthy habit changes and start to ovulate naturally (9, 13). 

Learning to spot your body’s ovulation signs can be a huge help when you’re trying to get pregnant. When you know what ovulation should look like, you have a better chance of noticing when you’re not ovulating. Then, you can reach out to your doctor as soon as you realize you need help. The sooner you begin ovulating regularly, the sooner you can get back to expanding your family.

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