If you are new to the trying to conceive (TTC) world, you are probably learning more than you ever thought you would need to know about how your reproductive system works. Things like how long sperm can survive inside the female reproductive tract or how long an egg is viable after it is released from the ovary may have once seemed trivial or inconsequential, but this information takes on a deeper significance now that you are actively trying to conceive.
As you may already know, in order for conception to take place, at least one healthy and vigorous sperm must be waiting in the fallopian tube at the moment ovulation occurs and must be able to fertilize the egg within 12-24 hours of the egg being released from the ovary.
Since sperm can only live for a maximum of 5 days in the female reproductive tract, only a small number of sperm will even survive the long journey through the female reproductive tract. Therefore, couples trying to conceive should plan to have intercourse a number of times in the days just prior to ovulation.
To do this means you must be able to predict when you will ovulate, a task that is sometimes more difficult than you might think. Fortunately, for those of us who need help, there are several reliable ways to predict when your most fertile days will occur during each cycle.
Before we embark on a discussion of how to pinpoint your fertile window, it might be helpful to briefly review the stages of your menstrual cycle, as hormonal changes that occur during the different phases set the stage for ovulation and provide clues as to when ovulation is coming.
In the first several days of the menstrual cycle (called the follicular phase), certain hormones, specifically follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), begin the maturation process of follicles (the sacs that hold the egg) in the ovaries. In the second week of your cycle, FSH levels begin to decline and a single dominant follicle continues to develop.
This growing follicle produces increasing amounts of estrogen, which initiates the ovulatory phase. Estrogen plays a key role in the ovulatory process and helps to prepare the body for pregnancy. This hormone helps build the lining of the endometrium, facilitates the secretion of fertile-quality cervical mucus (which helps to protect and transport sperm through the reproductive tract) and triggers the production of the luteinizing hormone (LH).
By paying close attention to how your body responds to increased estrogen in the first couple weeks of your menstrual cycle, you can begin to predict ovulation. For example, many women know ovulation is just around the corner when they see an increase in production of fertile-quality cervical mucus.
Tools for predicting ovulation
Modern technology has provided present day TTCers with several reliable and convenient tools for predicting ovulation. Here is a brief introduction to some of the available tests and devices that can be used to help you pinpoint your fertile window.
- Ovulation Kits (OPKs) are a popular method for predicting ovulation. OPKs detect the presence of the luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. In many women, the amount of LH in the body surges approximately 12-36 hours before ovulation occurs. By testing with OPKs, you can identify this LH surge, which allows you to know that ovulation is just around the corner and that you are in your fertile window.
- Ovulation Microscopes or saliva ferning scopes, allow women to identify their most fertile days by observing the visual changes that take place in saliva throughout the monthly cycle. Just prior to ovulation, women experience an “estrogen surge,” and a distinct fern-like pattern in the saliva becomes visible under the microscope due to increased estrogen levels.
Because the estrogen surge typically precedes the luteinizing hormone surge (the luteinizing hormone is the hormone detected by urine-based ovulation tests), ovulation microscopes can often provide more advanced notice of ovulation, giving trying to conceive women more time to appropriately plan their “baby dancing”.
- Electronic fertility monitors, like the OvaCue, provide a higher degree of accuracy and more advanced warning of impending ovulation than other ovulation prediction methods. The OvaCue fertility monitor is a hand-held electronic monitor with a color screen, a spoon-sized oral sensor, and a vaginal sensor. A mobile version of the OvaCue monitor is now available so that users can track their fertility directly on their iPhone or other iOS compatible device.
- The OvaCue provides 5-7 day advance notice of peak fertility and confirms ovulation by using the patented Electrolyte MethodTM to measure and track changes in the electrolyte levels in the saliva and cervical mucus. As a woman moves through her menstrual cycle, the levels of various hormones circulating in her body go up and down, and these hormonal fluctuations produce changes in the electrolyte characteristics of her saliva and cervical mucus.
Using measurements obtained from the oral and vaginal sensors, the OvaCue produces a numerical reading that reveals the relative trends in electrolyte levels. This allows the OvaCue to identify the hormonal changes that occur during the ovulatory process, thereby allowing it to predict and confirm ovulation. There are a few different electronic fertility monitors available, the OvaCue is manufactured by Fairhaven Health, LLC.
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Taking the time and effort to determine your fertile window can help take some of the stress and frustration out of your TTC journey. So, while there are many different ways to predict ovulation, the most important thing is to choose a method that works for you!
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