When you're trying to get pregnant, understanding the stages of your monthly cycle can help you identify the days when you're most likely to conceive. You're at your most fertile in the days around ovulation. If your cycle is regular, it's possible to calculate when you're most likely to ovulate. You can also use an ovulation test to help point out your most fertile days.
You don’t need to time sex only around ovulation, as having regular sex (every two to three days) throughout the month gives the best chance of getting pregnant.
What is ovulation?
Ovulation is a short window of time when a surge of hormones causes the release of one or more eggs from the ovaries.
Each ovary contains thousands of eggs. At the beginning of your cycle, some eggs start ripening.
Around 24 to 36 hours before ovulation, your luteinising hormone (LH) quickly reaches high levels, causing the most mature of the eggs to leave the ovary and travel down to the uterus. If the egg doesn't meet a sperm during its journey, you should get your period within two weeks of ovulation.
When does ovulation happen?
Ovulation usually occurs once in each monthly cycle.
A woman's cycle usually ranges anywhere from 21 to 40 days, but the average is 28 days. Many women have regular cycles and can predict the first day of their period within a few days of accuracy. Others have irregular periods, with cycles varying in length by a number of days or a few weeks.
If you have a regular cycle, you can identify the days when you're likely to ovulate by counting back 10 to 16 days from when your next period is due. For women with irregular cycles, pinpointing ovulation this way can be more difficult.
When can I get pregnant?
Your fertile period starts a few days before ovulation. An egg can be fertilised for 12 to 24 hours after it's released, so it needs to meet a sperm during this time.
Sperm can survive for up to seven days in the uterus and tubes. This means that you don't have to have sex on the exact day of ovulation to become pregnant.
What are ovulation test kits?
Ovulation test kits are tests that let you know the days when you're most fertile and likely to conceive. They're particularly useful for women who have erratic cycles.
The most common type of ovulation tests measures levels of certain hormones in your urine. You can buy these from pharmacies and some supermarkets. Your pharmacist can offer advice if you’re unsure how to use them.
How do I use an ovulation test?
You can choose from a range of different kits. They include a stick or card that needs to be moistened with urine. Some have bands that change colour to give your results. Others are digital and use symbols or a smiley face to show that you'll be ovulating.
To make sure you get an accurate result, you should follow the manufacturer's instructions carefully. These will also give you guidance on when to start testing. Normally, the steps you'll follow are:
- Take the test around the same time of the day. You may find it convenient to test first thing in the morning
- Collect your urine in a cup and put the tip of the stick in the sample or hold the stick in your urine stream
- Results are ready to read after few minutes
What if I keep getting negative results?
If your test repeatedly gives a negative result, you should:
- Make sure you're taking the test consistently, at the same time
- Speak to your pharmacist to check that you're using the test correctly
- When taking a urine test, don't drink too much water for four hours before the test as your urine may be too diluted
- Carry out the tests for a few cycles. You may have either missed ovulation, or you may have had a cycle without ovulation (which can sometimes happen)
Some women get monthly periods but don't ovulate, which makes it difficult to conceive. If you think you're not ovulating, speak to your Doctor.
- Understand how your cycle works and when you're most likely to be ovulating
- If you use ovulation tests, follow the instructions carefully
- If you keep getting negative results, check with your pharmacist that you're carrying out the test correctly
- Speak to your Doctor if you think you're not ovulating