Some fertility gurus will tell you that if you are having sex around 3 times a week, every 2 or 3 days or so, you do not need to worry about tracking or tests for ovulation. But ask anyone who is trying to get pregnant. For most, such a laid-back approach just is not enough. Once the decision is made and you have decided the time is right to start or grow your family, it is only natural to want to know precisely the best time to optimize your chances of pregnancy. After all, there is nothing to stop you from having sex at other times of the month as well.
In this IVI blog article, we are looking at ovulation tests. Why do we need them? What are the different ways that you can monitor your cycle to predict when you will ovulate? How do ovulation tests work?
Fertility 101: why do we need ovulation tests?
To become pregnant, a sperm needs to meet and fertilize an egg. So far so basic, but what makes understanding your cycle of ovulation so crucial when you are trying to conceive is the different nature of a sperm and an egg. After ovulation, which is when the egg is released from the ovary and starts its journey down the fallopian tube, the egg survives less than 24 hours. In fact, the highest rates of conception are reported when egg and sperm join within 4 to 6 hours of ovulation.
Happily, the time you can conceive is not limited to these few hours in any one month. This is because the sperm can survive for up to 5 days inside the human body. It follows that your best chance of conceiving comes when the sperm is already present when you ovulate, ‘waiting’ to meet the egg. Therefore knowing you have already ovulated after the event is not nearly so useful as being able to predict a few days in advance when the event will take place.
How do ovulation tests work?
There are several different methods that women can use to predict the time of ovulation. These include:
- The calendar method
- Monitoring basal body temperature
- Using an ovulation predictor kit
The calendar method
Using the calendar method, you track your periods, with day one of your period being day one of the cycle. If your cycle is the same month by month, it is highly likely that you ovulate around 14 days before the start of your next cycle. For example, if your cycle is 35 days, you could expect to ovulate around day 21. This method is not so helpful if you have an irregular cycle. But for regular cycles of between 26 and 32 days, you will stand the best chance of conceiving if you focus on having sex during days 8 to 19 of the cycle.
Basal body temperature
This method can be quite fiddly and time-consuming. However it works because your temperature is raised slightly after ovulation until the end of your cycle. You need to use an accurate thermometer. You have to take your temperature preferably at the same time daily, before getting up. After you have tracked your temperature over a few months, you should be able to see a pattern in the raised temperature part of your cycle. This will tell you when ovulation has occurred, thus enabling you to predict when it will occur for future cycles.
Using an ovulation predictor kit
This is the most easily used method by far. The kit allows you to read the results as you would with a pregnancy test. They work because along with the more outward signs of ovulation, such as those we have looked at above, ovulation is also registered by the chemistry of your urine.
Ovulation predictor kits measure the amount of luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine. LH is made by the pituitary gland, situated just below the brain. It plays an important part in sexual development and regulating the ovulatory and menstrual cycle. A surge in levels of LH is the signal to your ovaries to prepare to release a mature egg. Measuring this surge gives you a very good indication that you will ovulate within the next 24 to 36 hours.
The test sticks usually come in a pack of 5 to 7 sticks, so you can test over several days. When you start to check will depend on your normal cycle. For example, with a 28-day cycle you would need to start monitoring on day 11, because you would expect to ovulate around day 14.
How do you have to read the results?
Here is what you need to do and how the read the test results:
- To take the test, just hold a testing stick in your flow of urine, or possibly collect some urine in a container. Place the stick in the container. Results are normally shown in about 5 minutes.
- When results appear, they will show two lines. The first is the control line and is simply to confirm that the test is functioning correctly. The second line is your result. It will be darker or lighter than the control line, depending on your LH levels. The darker it is, the more LH in your body, and the higher the indication that you are about to ovulate.
For most people, it is as simple as that, and you can monitor your ovulation, and therefore your fertility, with a remarkable degree of accuracy. Do remember that having sex at the time of ovulation is no guarantee of conception. The chances in any one month for a healthy woman with no fertility problems are only around 25%. So, if at first you do not succeed, don’t give up.
Contacting us at IVI
If you have any reason for concern about your fertility, or if monitoring your cycle has made you suspect you have ovulation issues, there are all sorts of ways that we can help. You could have a look at the diagnostic tests and treatments available to familiarize yourself with what to expect, examine our independently audited success rates, or just go ahead and get in touch with us at IVI via our online contact form.