Prior to having children, I would never have been able to tell you when I was ovulating. Whether I was too busy being a young professional working long hours to notice any subtle twinges or moments of discomfort, or if my body did its thing more quietly pre-pregnancy, I couldn’t say. But after my second daughter, Juliette, was born, ovulation became a completely different (much louder!) story.
Two weeks after I finished weaning Juliette, I woke up on a random weekday with a dull ache on one side of my pelvis. I didn’t think much of it. It got a little sharper as I went about my morning, but it disappeared by lunchtime. My period arrived a couple of weeks later. The next month, the same thing happened at the exact same point in my cycle. I texted my best friend and asked her to google it for me (as a self-proclaimed cyberchondriac, I can’t google anything for myself or I end up in a tailspin, contemplating would-be illnesses). She told me it sounded like mittelschmerz (German for “middle pain”), mid-cycle pain related to ovulation. I was skeptical, but since then, it’s happened every single month, two weeks into my cycle, and about 12 to 14 days before Aunt Flo shows up.
This makes total sense. Your body spends the first 14 days (give or take) of your cycle in the follicular phase, which means a follicle in your ovary readies itself to release an egg. Mittelschmerz happens right around ovulation, which then leads into the luteal phase of your cycle, when the uterine lining thickens, and your period arrives about 14 days after.
“Women may notice the pain switches sides from month to month, depending on which ovary is producing the egg,” says Katrina Sawatsky, a family physician in Calgary who also practises low-risk obstetrics. “It’s also possible that the pain will stay on the same side for a few months. This would hint that one ovary is producing an egg more often than the other.” Regardless, the discomfort should be brief, lasting only a day or so at most, and should be easily managed with over-the-counter pain relievers. If the pain is severe or prolonged, or accompanied by nausea or fever, it’s time to see the doc.
Sawatsky says women who are very dialed in to their bodies, or those who feel mittelschmerz, are more likely to recognize when they’re ovulating, which can be useful if you’re trying to get pregnant. Though charting mittelschmerz along with other indicators of ovulation may help with conception, it’s not reliable on its own because you don’t know if you’re feeling the pain pre- or post-ovulation. (If it’s the latter, you may have already missed your chance to conceive, but you can journal the symptoms over a few months to predict when ovulation is going to occur.) And, of course, it’s easier for women with regular cycles to track a pattern of symptoms.
If you don’t experience mittelschmerz, fortunately, there are other clues to look for when you’re trying to get pregnant. “There are other physical indicators of ovulation, including breast tenderness and stretchy, egg-white cervical mucus, which can be useful for timing intercourse for conception,” says Sawatsky. Other proven signs include heightened sense of smell, increased libido, light discharge or spotting, and a shift of the cervix’s position slightly higher in the body. Of course, says Sawatsky, nothing will be as accurate at predicting ovulation as an ovulation predictor kit.