If you google “how long is a woman fertile each month”, you’ll see reports that it’s about 7 days per month. Sure, it’s possible to get pregnant generally a few days before and after ovulation. But, this is assuming sperm is readily available at all times (another example of cis/het advice).
For queer people here’s the more appropriate TTC guidance – the illusive fertile window only lasts a couple of days. In fact, the ovum is only viable for about 1 day each month.
If you are trying to conceive using at home insemination or unmedicated IUIs, arguably the most important thing you can do to get pregnant is to track ovulation.
Other ways to prepare your body for being pregnant include taking prenatal vitamins, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, getting acupuncture, the list goes on. All of those suggestions can help. Do any that feel right for you. But even if you take all the fertility advice under the sun, if you don’t time insemination properly around ovulation, the sperm won’t make it to the egg.
It’s ideal to start tracking ovulation for a few months before TTC. Better to get the hang of tracking before the added excitement and stress around obtaining sperm and doing insemination. Plus you’ll be gaining information each month on which day(s) will be best to attempt insemination.
This post overviews different methods for tracking ovulation.
Tracking Menstrual Cycles
One of the first things to do in preparation for trying to conceive is to track your menstrual cycle. Since Roe was overturned, tracking apps may add understandable anxiety. You can totally stick with pen and paper. Designating a monthly calendar would be fine.
Or check out this free printable chart from Put A Cup In It, which also includes places to track OPK results and BBT.
Details to record:
- The first day of your period (this is Day 1)
- Note any changes you feel throughout the month (e.g. cramping that may indicate cycle shifts). The goal is to discover any physical signals that your body sends close to ovulation. It also helps to get in tune with your cycle overall. Don’t be discouraged if you don’t notice anything specific. The other tools will help pin down when ovulation occurs.
- If you also use an OPK, check cervical mucus or take BBT, note those findings.
- Be sure to write down when your next period starts to calculate the total days per cycle.
You can buy ovulation predictor kits over-the-counter at a pharmacy or order them online. OPKs measure changes in your LH (luteinizing hormone), which shifts as your body approaches ovulation.
Each kit comes with instructions. Basically you pee on the stick each morning starting around Day 7. The idea is to give the OPK time to read your LH before it shifts to establish the baseline. Then somewhere between days 11 – 16 (whenever your LH changes), the OPK indicates that hormonal increase (meaning you’re getting closer to ovulation). Then it gives you a specific signal when the LH peak occurs.
OPKs are not fail-safe. They may give false or confusing readings, but they still are one of the best tools available.
Ovulation will occur between 12 – 48 hours after the LH peak. For most people with ovarian anatomy, ovulation occurs between 24 – 36 hours after the peak.
Another reason it’s great to start using OPKs before pregnancy attempts is variation. Just like a menstrual cycle varies, ovulation also doesn’t happen on the exact same day each month. For some people it may be similar days or you may discover a pattern. But especially if you have an irregular cycle, the more info you have going into TTC the better.
For this tracking method, whoever is getting pregnant (or their partner) should get familiar with the birth parent’s cervix. Not the sexiest of reproductive parts, however the cervix is instrumental in this whole process. If you are planning to do at home insemination or IUI, the cervix is where the party’s at.
Before jumping into TTC, get comfortable finding, feeling, and (gently) swabbing your cervix. Some fertility experts encourage inspecting the appearance and positioning of your cervix to gauge ovulation. That can be useful and also quite challenging (to see and observe changes), which is why I recommend checking cervical mucus.
It’s valuable to do this every day that you are using the OPK. Do this right after waking in the morning and peeing on the stick, ideally.
Once you’ve located your cervix, use one or two fingers to gently collect some of the surrounding vaginal fluids. Bring your fingers out and together with your thumb, then spread your fingers apart. Note the color, consistency, and appearance of the mucus. White, sticky or tacky is not fertile. Egg white consistency, transparent, long and stringy is optimal. If the mucus doesn’t break when you spread your fingers apart but just kinda stretches and bends like overcooked spaghetti, that’s a great indication of fertility.
This info in combination with positive OPK results, gives you a simple way to routinely check your fertility levels.
Basal Body Temp
Another ovulation tracking method is to track your basal body temperature. You can use a regular household thermometer. But it’s better to use a basal thermometer as those show an extra degree on the temperature reading (2 digits past the decimal). Basal thermometers are available at most pharmacies or online.
The process is simple. You want to take your temperature each morning right after you wake up. Before eating or drinking, even before leaving bed. That provides the most undisturbed reading. Ideally take BBT around the same time of day.
Although you can technically take your temperature vaginally or rectally, oral readings are just fine and are the most suggested method. Since the basal thermometer provides a more accurate reading than typical thermometers, you will likely notice the shift if you’re recording all readings.
If you start taking BBT on Day 1 of your monthly cycle, you will likely notice a slight rise in temperature readings when you ovulate (approximately ½ a degree Fahrenheit). If that temperature remains slightly increased for a few days, it’s a good sign that ovulation occurred.
Taking BBT gives more of a hindsight view into ovulation, since it’s the sustained rise in temperature that signals ovulation occurred. And by that point – it is over. But if you want the clearest picture of ovulation, this is another tool you can use. Especially if you track BBT for several months before TTC, you’ll have more info on your overall cycle.
At this point OPKs are generally regarded as more accurate than tracking BBT. There’s nothing wrong with tracking BBT, but it would be best to do as a supplement to using OPKs and checking cervical mucus.
Ok, so you’ve tracked ovulation. Maybe even with multiple tools. But the big question remains: when is the best time to inseminate?
The general recommendation provided by most sperm banks is to inseminate between 12 and 48 hours after the OPK shows a peak reading. Again, checking cervical mucus can provide additional information on the best timing.