In today’s world, many women practice family planning and knowing when they ovulate is an important part of planning your pregnancy, or even avoiding it. Ovulation symptoms are often very subtle and some women either do not experience any symptoms or notice the indicators. In most females, ovulation occurs in the middle of their menstrual cycle, generally between the 12th and 16th day of a 28-day cycle, and women will be fertile for two days before and one day after ovulation. There are some common signs of ovulation, such as cramping, back pain, vaginal discharge or mucus, spotting, breast tenderness or soreness, changing hormones, and increased body temperature, that women can identify to determine the days when they are most fertile.
Cramping and Lower Abdominal Pain
Mid-month cramping and abdominal pain are experienced by about 50% of women and are the most common ovulation signs. The pain is mild to moderate and can last anywhere from a few hours to two days. Generally, the pain is more noticeable on one side of the lower abdomen and ovulation cramps are usually not as painful as menstrual cramps. Severe abdominal pain accompanied by fever, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, which are not ovulation symptoms, should be seen by a doctor immediately since this may indicate a serious medical condition or even pregnancy.
Cervical Mucus and Vaginal Discharge
As the time of ovulation approaches, the cervical mucus becomes thinner and more slippery to facilitate fertilization. Some women may notice an increase vaginal discharge that is creamy white or clear in color in the two days prior to ovulation. Another of the common ovulation signs, increased vaginal discharge is often overlooked or ascribed to other causes. Increased vaginal discharge that is yellowish in color, has an odor and which continues post ovulation should be tested by a doctor since it may be a sign of infection.
When an ovarian follicle releases a mature ovum, it ruptures and a slight amount of bleeding is present. While many women do not experience mid-month spotting, a very slight amount of spotting or a pinkish brown vaginal discharge is one of the ovulation symptoms. Since this discharge occurs after ovulation is complete, it signals the end of a woman’s fertile period since the ovum is only viable for 12 to 24 hours after it is released. The rupture of the follicle may be responsible for mid-month abdominal discomfort since the release of fluids may irritate surrounding tissue.
Breast Tenderness, Soreness
Some women have increased sensitivity or soreness in the breasts at the time of ovulation. Like most signs of ovulation, this is attributed to an increase in the production of the hormone progesterone. Progesterone levels peak during ovulation and then return to normal unless fertilization and implantation occur. The tenderness usually only lasts a day or two, but since tenderness in the breasts is also a sign of pregnancy, soreness that lasts for more than a week may call for a pregnancy test.
Changes In Taste and Smell
A few women report that ovulation results in a heightened sense of taste or smell. This is an ovulation symptom which is so subtle and it may go unnoticed. Changes in the senses of taste and smell are common during pregnancy, but these are usually accompanied by nausea, an aversion to certain foods and cravings for unusual foods. Changes in the senses of taste and smell are caused by increased hormone levels which occur during pregnancy and to a lesser degree, during ovulation.
Changes in Basal Body Temperature
The most universal and reliable of all ovulation symptoms is changes in the basal body temperature. In the two days before ovulation, there is a slight drop in basal body temperature and a sudden spike when ovulation occurs. Women using basal body temperature as an indicator of ovulation must take their temperature, with a special thermometer, every day at about the same time and note the temperature on a calendar. The drop in basal body temperature heralds the start of the most fertile days of the menstrual cycle. Using the basal body temperature as an indicator, women can create an ovulation calendar to track their daily readings and eventually be able to calculate the exact day they are ovulating.
Other less common forms of symptoms can include night sweats, hot flashes, migraines, dizziness and nausea, and an increased sex drive. Generally speaking, most signs of ovulation can be attributed to early pregnancy as well, and the only differentiation is the length of time and severity of which these symptoms persist. If you can identify patterns in your menstrual cycle and compare any inconsistencies, you may be able to distinguish between signs of ovulation versus symptoms of implantation or pregnancy.
Ovulation Test Kits
Ovulation test kits are another effective method of determining when ovulation has occurred. These kits are available over-the-counter in pharmacies and department stores that sell home pregnancy test kits. They use saliva or urine to test for the presence of hormones that signal ovulation is about to happen. Like home pregnancy tests, these tests are extremely sensitive and can detect trace amounts of hormones. The tests are most accurate when used in combination with an ovulation calendar to confirm your prediction.
Sperm are viable for between 24 and 48 hours after intercourse, but an ovum is only viable for 12 to 24 hours after it is released. Since sperm are viable for a longer period of time, fertilization is most likely to occur if sperm are already present when the ovum is released. The most fertile period of a woman’s monthly cycle is the two days before ovulation occurs, since once the egg is released, it begins to degrade quickly and usually disintegrates in less than one day.
Causes of Infertility
Even though a woman has signs of ovulation, there may be problems which prevent an egg from being fertilized. Scar tissue in the fallopian tubes may prevent the egg from traveling to the uterus. There are also some medical conditions, like PID and uterine fibroids that may prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining. Another cause of infertility is having a low sperm count or low sperm motility in the male partner. Ovulation is not a sign of fertility; it is simply a part of the normal menstrual cycle.
Women with regular menstrual periods usually ovulate on the same day of their cycle each month. As a rule, ovulation occurs about halfway through the cycle or on about the 12th to 14th day following the first day of the last menstrual period in a 28 day cycle. The best way to predict the next ovulation date is to keep an ovulation calendar that charts daily basal body temperature and other ovulation symptoms. It typically takes information from two to three cycles to accurately predict the date of ovulation.
Setting Up An Ovulation Calendar
For most women, a simple paper calendar with boxes large enough to make daily notations will work quite well. For those who prefer a more modern and convenient approach, many smart phones have an app that includes an ovulation calendar and calculator. This app uses the data from the calendar to calculate the next ovulation date. Check out our articles on ovulation calendars and calculators to learn more about tracking your symptoms and establishing your dates of ovulation.
Irregular Monthly Cycles
If a woman has difficulty predicting her ovulation date due to irregular menstrual cycles, there may be a medical problem that can be corrected. Obesity, anorexia, excessive physical exercise, stress, poor diet, certain medications and sleep deprivation can all contribute to irregular menstrual cycles. Medical conditions like endometriosis or hormone imbalances can make it difficult to determine when the next ovulation date will occur. Women with irregular menses should consult a physician to see if the problem can be resolved.
While keeping an ovulation calendar that notes symptoms is not a foolproof method of birth control, it can help women who ovulate avoid unwanted pregnancy. Women who are not on oral or other hormone based contraceptives ovulate every month. While barrier contraceptives are highly effective, they do have a small failure rate and avoiding sexual intercourse during the four days when conception is most likely to occur increases the effectiveness of these contraceptives.
Women who are planning a pregnancy or those that want to avoid pregnancy can benefit from knowing in advance when they are most likely to be fertile. Signs of ovulation are one way to determine when the fertile period of the monthly cycle is likely to occur.