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Trying to get pregnant? Tracking your ovulation may help

By The Health News Team | June 5, 2023
Woman filling out a calendar

Getting pregnant isn’t always as simple as your high school health teacher warned you it might be. For some people hoping to get pregnant through intercourse, conceiving a baby can be emotionally and physically challenging.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 10% of women in the U.S. have difficulty getting pregnant. But there are a few methods that might help increase your chance of pregnancy.

According to Dr. Wendy Shelly, a reproductive endocrinology and infertility doctor affiliated with Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns, the first step for those trying to conceive is having regular intercourse.

“If a couple is trying to get pregnant, and the female partner has regular menstrual cycles every 26 to 32 days, I recommend having intercourse every other day or every third day,” Dr. Shelly says. “This should occur from around cycle day 10 to cycle day 20, with cycle day 1 being the first day of full menstrual flow.”

Dr. Shelly also recommends tracking your ovulation, which is the release of an egg, or ovum, from one of the ovaries. This can be done by using ovulation predictor kits or apps; or tracking your periods, temperature and cervical mucous (vaginal discharge).

Ovulation typically occurs about 12 to 16 days before your period starts. Your vaginal discharge will likely be wetter, clearer and more slippery during ovulation. And your body temperature may also be a little higher.

Top 3 methods to track fertility

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women's Health explains the top three ways to know when you are most fertile:


Basal body temperature method

Your basal body temperature is your temperature when you are at rest and as soon as you wake in the morning. It is different for every woman, but your basal body temperature rises slightly with ovulation, averaging 96º F to 98º F before ovulation and 97º F to 99º F after ovulation.

You are most likely to get pregnant:

  • Two to three days before your temperature hits the highest point, indicating ovulation occurred

  • 12 to 24 hours after ovulation

To accurately track your basal body temperature, use a basal body thermometer, which is more sensitive than a general thermometer, and take your temperature orally at the same time every day.

It is important to recognize there are things that can affect your basal body temperature, including:

  • Drinking alcohol or smoking cigarettes the night before

  • Not getting enough sleep

  • Having a fever due to unrelated reasons, such as sickness

  • Doing anything in the morning before you take your temperature, including going to the bathroom


Calendar method

Record your menstrual cycle on a calendar for eight to 12 months. Track the first day of your period and the total number of days it lasts every month.

To determine the first day you are most fertile:

  • Subtract 18 from the total number of days in your shortest cycle over those eight to 12 months.

  • Take that number and count ahead that same number of days from the first day of your next period.

  • Mark this date — the first day you're likely to be fertile — on your calendar.

To find out the last day when you are most fertile:

  • Subtract 11 from the total number of days in your longest cycle over those eight to 12 months.

  • Take that number and count ahead that same number of days from the first day of your next period.

  • Mark this date on your calendar.

The time between the two dates is your most fertile window. For more precise tracking, always use other fertility tracking methods along with the calendar method, especially if the length of your cycle varies.


Cervical mucus method

Monitor the changes in your cervical mucus throughout the month and describe each change on a calendar:

  • Immediately following your period, there are usually a few "dry days" when no mucus is present.

  • As the egg begins to mature, white or yellow, cloudy and sticky mucus increases in the vagina.

  • Right before ovulation — the “wet days”— the mucus becomes clear and slippery. This is when you are most fertile.

  • About four days after the wet days begin, the mucus decreases and becomes sticky and cloudy.

  • You will likely have a few more dry days before your next period begins.

You are most fertile a day or two before or during the wet days. However, women who are breastfeeding; taking hormonal birth control, such as the pill; using feminine hygiene products; have vaginitis or sexually transmitted infections; or have had surgery on the cervix should not rely on this method, as cervical mucus can be affected.

“While these methods can be helpful to reassure yourself that you are ovulating, it is important to remember not to focus too much on that ‘one day,’” Dr. Shelly says. “Remember, a broader time frame for sperm and egg to meet is best. These methods can also be frustrating and unreliable, so don’t be afraid to try different ovulation monitoring options.”

Additionally, Dr. Shelly recommends couples try to avoid stress when attempting to get pregnant. “Stress associated with trying to conceive can reduce sexual esteem, satisfaction and frequency of intercourse,” she says. “What’s more, a couple’s stress worsens when trying to time intercourse based on ovulation predictor methods or a strict schedule.”

Talk with your doctor about any concerns you have about getting pregnant. While intercourse is the most common way to get pregnant, pregnancy can also be achieved through procedures that don’t require intercourse. These include donor insemination, putting donated sperm directly into the uterus, and in vitro fertilization, joining a female’s egg and male’s sperm in a laboratory and transferring the resulting embryo into the uterus.

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