So you’re ready to take the plunge into parenthood—congratulations! You’re probably finding the prospect super-exciting and super-scary, in almost equal measures. But how do you know when the time is ripe for conception? You're going to have to get your timing right. The five days leading up to and including ovulation are your most fertile – sperm can live for a few days and will hang around waiting for an egg to be released; by contrast, your egg will only last for 24 hours, so once you’ve ovulated the window of opportunity is smaller. But what are the actual signs of ovulation? Here’s how to tell:
You ovulate about 14 days before the start of your period. Counting the first day of your period as day 1, women with regular 28-day cycles ovulate on day 14. But if you have, say, a 32-day cycle, it’s going to be more like day 18. And if your cycles are really irregular, the calendar is not going to be much help at all. Want a shortcut? Try an online ovulation predictor.
For some women this is a reliable, simple sign. As you get close to ovulation, your cervical mucus will become copious, clear and slippery—like egg whites. It stretches between your fingers. Once your discharge becomes scant and sticky again, ovulation is over.
This is a bit fussy, but can be useful to figure out your own unique cycle. You need to take your temperature before getting out of bed each morning with a basal thermometer and then note it on a chart or regular piece of paper (more on that here). Changing hormone levels lead to a spike in temperature as you approach ovulation. You are most fertile on the day of the spike and the days leading up to it. The obvious problem: You don’t know you’ve peaked until you see the drop, and by then time is running out. The records you keep this month will help you identify your ovulation pattern plan for your next cycle.
About one in five women have pelvic discomfort when they ovulate—anything from a dull ache that lasts a day or two to a sharp twinge.
Still can’t tell? Drugstore kits use urine or your saliva to identify hormone surges that signal ovulation.