Ovulation tracking is the most common topic I cover during an initial intake with a new patient. If you’re trying to conceive, the timing of ovulation is of primary importance. Most couples turn to ovulation apps to keep track and alert them at midcycle, but as convenient as these apps may be, they predict ovulation based on cycle length and averages, not on your specific cycle. Here are a few ways that you can track your cycle and use the signs in your body for information about your ovulation.
Cycle Length: To understand your own fertility, it’s important to know the basics of how the menstrual cycle works. Although there are averages (around 28 days) each cycle is unique and can range anywhere from 21-35 days. The length can also vary a small amount (less than 7 days), and this variation is considered normal as well. As an aside, from a Traditional Chinese Medicine point of view, these slight variations tell me something about your constitution, and thus help to direct treatment.
The menstrual cycle is divided in several different ways, but for clarity, I’ll talk about the basics. The follicular phase, during which the follicle grows and develops, begins at the onset of menses and ends at ovulation. Next is the luteal phase, when the egg travels through the uterine tubes and into the uterus for implantation and pregnancy (if fertilized). This phase begins after ovulation and ends with the first signs of bleeding.
Ovulation: When the follicle has grown to the appropriate size, a series of complex hormonal processes culminates in the rupture of the follicular sac and the subsequent release of the fully mature egg. As this day approaches several changes happen in your body that can indicate you’re about to ovulate.
Cervical fluid: There are 4 distinct types of discharge you may notice throughout your cycle. The most fertile type is called egg white, named for obvious reasons: it is very slippery and slimy, and if you get it between your fingers, it should create a strand. As you approach ovulation, this egg white cervical fluid will become more abundant.
Libido: While everyone is different, many women find that their sex drive increases as they become more fertile. This experience is profoundly subjective, however, and is the most vulnerable to changes in your environment such as work stress, lack of sleep, or challenges in your relationship.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) chart: Every morning before you sit, talk, or even stretch and yawn, slowly reach for your digital thermometer and take your temperature orally. If you do this every day, a pattern will begin to emerge that shows the trajectory of your hormones during the different parts of your cycle. During the follicular phase, your BBT will be low; after ovulation, it spikes up and should stay up until the onset of menses. If you’re pregnant, it will stay up and even rise a bit.
Luteinizing Hormone (LH) strips: Another way to determine the day of ovulation is to use the urinary LH strips. This product (which we sell here at Acubalance and are also available at most drug stores) is easy to use; simply dip the strip into your urine and it will indicate if Luteinizing Hormone (which stimulates ovulation) is present or not. If you have LH in your urine, the egg will typically release within 24-36 hours. While the sperm can live for up to 6 days, the egg will only be viable for a maximum of 24 hours. For this reason, timed intercourse should take place for several days before ovulation to ensure that lots of sperm are there to meet the egg when it appears.
Day 21 blood test: This serum progesterone test is available with a requisition from your family or fertility doctor. After ovulation, the follicle which held the egg transforms into a gland called the corpus luteum, which produces progesterone. If you have released an egg, there should be progesterone in your blood stream, therefore this test is considered the gold standard to determine ovulation. However, the timing of the test is based on the assumption of a 28 day cycle, thus the blood is drawn 7 days after the assumed ovulation date. More appropriately termed the “7 days past ovulation” test, it will not give an accurate read if you ovulated on, for example, day 17.
Getting to know your specific ovulatory picture is a combination of observing symptoms in your body, and getting objective signs from blood work and urinary stips. Some women even track it by observing sensations like twinging, cramping or pinching in their ovaries, or sore breasts after ovulation. However, these symptoms are subjective and can be misleading.
If you have any further questions, or want to talk about your specific fertility picture, feel free to call the clinic and book in for a 15 minute consultation.