Choosing to start a family is a very exciting and often romantic time for parents-to-be. However, doing so can often take more than just romance and excitement. For many couples, especially those who need a little extra help conceiving, science and biology will also need to factor in to their conception efforts.

Knowing when to try for a baby is crucial in successful conception. For mothers-to-be, this means that understanding and working along with their natural fertility cycle will be one of the best ways to optimize their chances of successfully starting a family. Tracking this cycle may take a little work, but by understanding what is occurring within her body, a mother-to-be will have a better chance of conceiving sooner, and without invasive assistance.

Understanding The Ovulation Cycle

When trying for a baby, a woman looking to track her natural fertility cycle will need to focus on when she ovulates. The term “ovulation” specifically refers to when an egg is released from a woman’s ovary. Once released, the egg will move down a woman’s fallopian tube, waiting to be fertilized. However, this egg will only be viable for roughly 12 to 24 hours after ovulation – this is why timing is so crucial for couples that want to become parents.

If an egg is fertilized, it will then need to successfully implant in a woman’s uterus, where a thickened lining along the uterine wall will provide a good environment for the fertilized egg to grow from a single cell into a child. If an egg is not fertilized, however, the lining of a woman’s uterus will be shed via her monthly period. From there, her natural fertility cycle will begin again, and another egg will be released in several weeks’ time, give or take. (However, in some cases a woman may ovulate again even if she hasn’t had her monthly menstrual cycle yet.)

Due to the nature of the ovulation cycle, and the limited window of time in which an egg can be fertilized, engaging in sexual intercourse on specific days of the month will greatly increase a woman’s chances of getting pregnant. Since timing is such a key part of successful conception, many women will find that monitoring their cycle and tracking their ovulation date can help them in their conception efforts.

How To Track The Ovulation Cycle

A big part of tracking ovulation is understanding exactly when it occurs during a woman’s monthly cycle overall. The monthly cycle is measured from the first day of a woman’s menstrual period until the first day of her next period. The average woman’s cycle is between 28-32 days. Many women, however, have much shorter or much longer cycles, and can’t use statistics on the average cycle to narrow down their ovulation date.

There are, however, several ways a woman can begin to track her cycle and narrow down her likely date of ovulation; the following methods and tools are the most common and effective options for ovulation-tracking for mothers-to-be:

  • Natural Family Planning (NFP) Method(s): This term refers to several methods that can help a woman naturally track her likely ovulation date, and determine which days she should have sex with her partner. There are three key methods under this category that women can use to track their ovulation date:
    • Calendar/Rhythm method: When using this method, women use a calendar to chart their fertility patterns. By tracking their previous fertility cycles, women can more accurately predict when they’ll be fertile and plan to engage with their partners accordingly.
    • Basal body temperature method: The basal body temperature method measures a rise in body temperature that occurs after ovulation. This temperature then remains elevated until a woman’s period begins. By charting her temperature for a few cycles, a woman may be able to discern a pattern that will help her predict her next ovulation date.
    • Cervical mucus method: The consistency of a woman’s cervical mucus changes during her menstrual cycle. By using the cervical mucus method, a woman can more accurately predict her ovulation date.
  • Ovulation Predictor Kit: Ovulation predictor kits (OPK) are “pee-on-a-stick” tests that return a “positive result” a day or two before a woman ovulates. OPKs work by telling a woman when luteinizing hormone (LH) levels have risen – a sign that one of her ovaries will soon release an egg. This method can be very beneficial in helping women who are having trouble with, or who are uncomfortable using, NFP methods. However, while quick and easy to use, with repeated use, the cost of OPKs can add up quickly.
  • Apps: For tech savvy family planners, there are several apps available that can help women track their cycles and predict their most fertile dates. While not necessarily as accurate as other methods, they do offer a convenient supplementary tool for parents-to-be that want to keep their planning and health information in one place.

It’s important to note that these fertility awareness methods, particularly the NFP methods, are all best used in combination with additional tracking methods. By using several methods at once, a woman can successfully gather important information that will help her put together a more complete picture of her cycle and her fertility.

The Benefit Of Tracking Ovulation

Fertility tracking is one of the best ways potential parents can increase their chances of getting pregnant. These efforts admittedly take some work. However, when fertility awareness methods are used correctly and consistently, their effectiveness rates can reach as high as 90%. These methods are also (mostly) very low cost. Because of their effectiveness rates and their low cost overall, we invite those trying for a baby to use these more natural tracking methods before rushing to a doctor for help. The right combination of them, along with the right aids and tools, may be all that’s needed to start a family.

Want more information about each of these listed tracking methods? Stay tuned for our next few blog posts, in which we’ll explain more about the different ways women can track their ovulation date.