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What is ovulation?Ovulation is when one or more eggs are released from one of your ovaries. This happens toward the end of the time you’re fertile between periods.
Each month, a surprisingly large range of between three and 30 eggs mature inside your ovaries (Knudtson and McLaughlin 2016). The ripest egg is released and swept into one of your fallopian tubes. Your fallopian tubes connect your ovaries to your womb (uterus).
Your ovaries do not necessarily take it in turns to release an egg. It happens quite randomly.
How does ovulation influence when I can get pregnant?To become pregnant naturally, one of your eggs and your partner’s sperm have to meet in your fallopian tube. Your egg survives no more than 24 hours after you’ve ovulated. So the meeting of egg and sperm has to occur within this time.
However, sperm can survive in your vagina, uterus or fallopian tubes for up to seven days (FPA 2014).
This means that you don’t have to time sex to the exact moment you ovulate to get pregnant. You actually have a fertile window of about six days (NICE 2013) .
This window includes the five days before and the day of ovulation itself (NICE 2013). If you have sex every two or three days during your fertile window, your freshly ovulated egg has the best chance of meeting live, healthy sperm and being fertilised (NICE 2013, FPA 2014).
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When does ovulation happen?Regardless of how long or short your cycle normally is, ovulation usually occurs about 14 days before your next period starts (FPA 2014, NHS Choices 2016a).
For example, say you have a regular 28-day menstrual cycle. Count the first day of your last period as day one. Your fertile window is likely to be around days 10 to 15.
However, a lot of women have an irregular cycle. If this applies to you, the time from the first day of your last period to ovulation can vary from one month to the next (FPA 2014).
What are the signs of ovulation?You can start to notice signs that you’re fertile about five days before you ovulate. Working out your fertile window using your cycle dates alone is not an exact science. This is why learning to spot your body’s fertile signs can help. The main signs and symptoms of ovulation include:
- changes to your cervical mucus
- increased body temperature
- an ache in your belly
- tender breasts
- feeling more sexy than usual (NHS Choices 2016a)
Changes in cervical mucus
Cervical mucus is the discharge that you see in your knickers or on toilet tissue when you go for a wee.
Changes in your cervical mucus can signal when you are fertile and close to ovulating. They are caused by the rising levels of the hormone oestrogen in your body (FPA 2014).
You're at your most fertile when your mucus becomes clear, slippery and stretchy (FPA 2014, NHS Choices 2016a). It’s a bit like raw egg white. This fertile mucus speeds the sperm on its way up through your uterus. It nourishes and protects the sperm as it travels towards your fallopian tubes to meet your egg.
After ovulation your cervical mucus gradually goes back to being thick and sticky (FPA 2014).
See our photo gallery to check what cervical mucus looks like.
An ache in your belly
About one in five women can actually feel something happening in their ovaries around ovulation (White 2015). This can range from mild achiness to twinges of pain. Some women feel ovulation as one-sided backache or a tender area. The condition, called mittelschmerz, may last anywhere from a few minutes to a few days (NHS Choices 2016b).
If you notice these sensations at roughly the same time each month, check your cervical mucus. Ovulatory pain can be a useful guide to when you’re fertile.
Feeling sexy, flirty and more sociable may all be signs that you’re at your most fertile (Cantú et al 2014).
You may notice a peak in sexual desire at this time (Suschinsky et al 2014). You may find your partner becomes a little more possessive and attentive as a result. There’s medical evidence for this (Fales et al 2014)!
You may not be aware of it, but you may be showing other signs that you are at your most fertile. Think back over your cycle and you may remember the following happening:
- Looking and feeling great: you’re likely to feel more physically attractive as you near ovulation (Suschinsky et al 2014). You may be more attractive to others, too (Gildersleeve et al 2012). Without realising it, you may choose clothes that flatter you (Zhuang and Wang 2014).
- Scent of a woman: you smell good at this time. Your body odour is more pleasant and sexy to men around the time you’re fertile (Gildersleeve et al 2012). You may think that nobody knows you’re ovulating, but those natural scents may give the game away.
Try our ovulation calculator to help you work out when your fertile window is likely to be.
Some women use ovulation kits to pinpoint their most fertile time. Most of these kits test for the peak of luteinising hormone, or LH, which is the actual trigger for egg release. You could use these to find out when you are most fertile during your cycle, although using them to time sex won’t necessarily increase your chances of getting pregnant naturally (NICE 2013).
How can I increase my chances of getting pregnant?Try to have sex every two to three days (NICE 2013). Then sperm with good motility will be in the right place whenever you ovulate. Regular sex throughout your cycle gives you the best chance of conceiving (NICE 2013).
Having sex when your cervical mucus is wet, slippery and most receptive to sperm will also increase your chances of conception (NHS Choices 2016a). And you’ll be happy to know that the odds are with you.
In normally fertile couples, there is between a 20 per cent and a 25 per cent chance of getting pregnant each cycle So it takes an average of three to six months to conceive, if you're having sex two to three times per week during your fertile time (FPA 2014).
More than eight out of ten women aged under 40 who have regular sex without using contraceptives will get pregnant within a year (NICE 2013). Of those women who don't become pregnant after a year, half will conceive within two years.
Visit our communityTrying to conceive? Discuss ovulation, sex positions for getting pregnant and more in our friendly community.
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Last reviewed: March 2017
ReferencesCantú SM, Simpson JA, Griskevicius V et al. 2014. Fertile and selectively flirty: women's behavior toward men changes across the ovulatory cycle. Psychol Sci 25(2): 431-8. [Accessed February 2017]
Fales MR, Gildersleeve KA, Haselton MG. 2014. Exposure to perceived male rivals raises men's testosterone on fertile relative to nonfertile days of their partner's ovulatory cycle. Horm Behav 65(5): 454-60. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov [Accessed February 2017]
FPA. 2014. Bodyworks. Your guide to understanding reproduction. London: Family Planning Association. fpa.org.uk [Accessed February 2017]
Gildersleeve KA, Haselton MG, Larson CM et al. 2012. Body odor attractiveness as a cue of impending ovulation in women: evidence from a study using hormone-confirmed ovulation. Horm Behav 61(2): 157-66. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov [Accessed February 2017]
Knudtson J, McLaughlin JE. 2016. Female reproductive endocrinology. MSD Manual, Professional. msdmanuals.com [Accessed February 2017]
NHS Choices. 2016a. How can I tell when I'm ovulating? Common Health Questions. nhs.uk [Accessed February 2017]
NHS Choices. 2016b. Ovulation pain Health A-Z. nhs.uk [Accessed February 2017]
NICE. 2013 . Fertility: assessment and treatment for people with fertility problems. National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. Clinical Guideline 156. London: NICE. nice.org.uk [Accessed February 2017]
Suschinsky KD, Bossio JA, Chivers ML. 2014. Women's genital sexual arousal to oral versus penetrative heterosexual sex varies with menstrual cycle phase at first exposure. Horm Behav 65(3): 319-27. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov [Accessed February 2017]
White CD. 2015. Mittelschmerz. medlineplus.gov [Accessed February 2017]
Zhuang JY, Wang JX. 2014. Women ornament themselves for intrasexual competition near ovulation, but for intersexual attraction in luteal phase. PLoS One 9(9): e106407. ncbi.nlm.nih.gov [Accessed February 2017]