It is clearly much more satisfying to conceive a family naturally. We understand that. Therefore, your fertility specialist at the Ottawa Fertility Centre will explore any natural options that are available to you, especially if you have time on your side. Here are some things to consider if you are currently trying to conceive on your own.
There are two ways to go about answering this question. The first is to review the menstrual cycle so that you can understand the process of ovulation and how it can be predicted (Prediction Method). The second way is to detect ovulation (Detection Method) and there are a few ways to go about doing that.
Method 1: Predicting ovulation
The prediction method is the simplest method. Throw out your thermometers and quit peeing on sticks! If you are having a menstrual period every month, you really don’t need to be so scientific about it.
Start a menstrual calendar. Mark the days you have your period and from there you can figure out your cycle length and the day you are most likely to ovulate; do this just long enough to understand your own pattern. A normal cycle length is anywhere from 21-35 days long, from the first day of full flow (spotting doesn’t count), to the next first day. It doesn’t have to be exactly the same every month. “Regular menstrual cycles” means that your cycles are somewhere in this range. If you go longer than 35 days you may not be ovulating regularly, and you should see a doctor to figure out why. Your menstrual period arrives 14 days after ovulation. You can subtract 14 from your cycle length to determine your ovulation day. If you have 28 day cycles, you ovulate on day 14. If your cycles range from 26-30 days, you will ovulate somewhere between day 12-16. If your cycles are 32 days long, you ovulate on day 18.
You do not have to have sex at the exact moment that the egg is released. Sperm lives for 2-3 days in the genital tract. The egg lives for 24 hours. So if you start having sex a few days before you expect to be ovulating and continue until a few days past expected ovulation, egg and sperm will meet. Sperm counts are maximized when ejaculation occurs 48 hours apart, so I recommend being together every other day around the time of ovulation. For example, if you have 26-30 day cycles, and you have now figured out that you will likely ovulate somewhere between day 12 and 16, start having sex around day 10, every other day until day 18 just in case you ovulate later than day 16.
Method 2: Detection using ovulation kits
If you are having regular cycles every month then you are almost always ovulating, and timing sex to the very minute that you ovulate is not necessary. Here are three methods of ovulation detection.
Basal Body Temperature (BBT) Charting
After ovulation a hormone called progesterone rises, and this causes your body temperature to rise very slightly. To detect this rise, you should take your temperature first thing in the morning, before getting out of bed, or your readings will be inaccurate. You will need a special thermometer called a “basal body temperature thermometer” which will detect your temperature to a tenth of a degree Celsius (eg. 36.5 °C). Your temperature can be taken by mouth, rectum, axilla (arm pit) or vagina, but should be the same method every time. Your readings can then be plotted on a chart and you will notice a rise in your temperature for about a week to ten days after ovulation.
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPK)
You can buy ovulation predictor kits at the drug store in the same aisle as the pregnancy tests, condoms, lubricants, etc. These kits are created to detect a hormone in your urine called luteinizing hormone (LH). This is a hormone from your brain that tells your ovary to release an egg when it is ready. It spikes briefly (approximately 24-48 hours) and then goes back to normal levels. When this hormone rises, the egg takes about 35-40 hours to release. You should start testing your urine 3-4 days before your expected ovulation (refer to Prediction Method above).
This method is a little less reliable than the other methods because it is subject to interpretation. However, it is free. The cervix is the opening to the uterus and sperm must navigate through the cervix to meet the egg. As your egg gets closer to being ready to release, your estrogen levels will climb and this will change the amount and consistency of your discharge. During the first part of your cycle you may notice a small amount of sticky white discharge. As ovulation approaches this will change to a more watery, slippery consistency and this change helps sperm to get to where they need to go.
A word to the wise… Do not let your ovulations run your life. Be kind to yourself. If the first thought you have every morning when you wake up is to take your temperature because you are not pregnant yet, you will be starting every day on the wrong foot. Do it once or twice if you need evidence of ovulation but it is not necessary every month. If you think that you are not ovulating regularly you should consult your family doctor to start the process of figuring out why. There are many explanations, and it is a problem that is often easily remedied.