Monitoring Your Ovulation at Home

Monitoring Your Ovulation at Home

I have always heard that there were women out there with regular-as-clockwork cycles, those who could set their calendars by their menstrual cycles. There are also those who can even pinpoint the moment of ovulation by the familiar aches of mittleshmirtz, or ovulation pain. Then there's me. I can go six, nine, and even 12 months without having a menstrual cycle. Because it happens so rarely, it is almost impossible for me to detect ovulation pain.

When you don't ovulate regularly, it can be more difficult to monitor your cycle and try to determine when and if you are ovulating. Even if you are taking fertility medications, often physicians will want you to keep track of your cycles and try to determine if ovulation is taking place. You may need to monitor your ovulation when you are just beginning to try to conceive, when you are taking some fertility medications (such as Clomid), when a new medication is added to your regimen, or if you are trying to conceive without the use of medications. With advanced reproductive techniques, it usually isn't as necessary because ultrasounds will be used frequently to look at your follicles.

There are several methods women can use to monitor ovulation, some of which are more reliable than others. Basically, there are two different ways to monitor ovulation at home - through observing your body's natural changes in cervical position, mucus, and basal body temperature, and by using testing instruments that measure the LH, or leutinizing hormone, in your system.

Observation Methods

Basal Body Temperature (BBT)

Basal body temperature (BBT) is your temperature when you first wake up in the morning. Before you even get out of bed to brush your teeth or start your day, pop a basal thermometer into your mouth. This thermometer shows the minute incremental degree changes that a regular one can't. Most basal thermometers come with a temperature-plotting chart. If not, your physician can give you one or you can print a copy off the Internet.

Your BBT should range from 97.0 to about 97.5 degrees before ovulation. When you ovulate, hormonal changes trigger a rise of between 0.5 and 1.6 degrees, which lasts at least until your next period. You'll probably notice your temperature spiking on other days, but unless it stays that way, you're probably not ovulating. You are most fertile the day of, and the few days preceding, the spike, although some fertility experts say you could still get pregnant if you have intercourse within 12 to 24 hours after the temperature shift. If you become pregnant, your temperature will stay elevated throughout your pregnancy.

It's helpful to chart your temperature for a few months so you can see whether there's a pattern to your cycle. If you're sick or fail to take your temperature immediately upon awakening, any pattern you find may be inaccurate. Thermometers that remember the last reading are helpful if you tend to go back to sleep after taking your temperature.

What is Cervical Mucus?

There are many different types of vaginal discharge, one of which is cervical mucus. The type of mucus your body produces provides clues to your fertility. You can check your cervical mucus using either your fingers or toilet paper. On days when you're not fertile, the mucus from your cervix is either light or sticky (about the same texture as sticky rice). During the few days leading up to ovulation, when you're most fertile, you'll have more discharge - clear and slippery with the consistency of raw egg white. It should also be stretchy. You are most fertile on the last day you notice cervical mucus of this kind. It usually happens either the day before, or the day of, ovulation.

The change in volume and texture of your cervical mucus is due to the increase in estrogen levels that accompanies ovulation. After ovulation, progesterone abruptly suppresses the peak mucus and the mucus pattern continues with sticky mucus for a day or two, and then returns to dryness. Clomid changes cervical mucus patterns on an individual basis, so you might have to get used to a new pattern in terms of buildup of mucus and interpretations of peak mucus.

How do I Check my Cervical Position?

This one was a little more intimidating for me. I had no idea what my cervix looked like or was supposed to feel like, much less where to find it. This may take some practice. What you are looking for is a little "knob" or protruding bit inside your vagina with a small opening or indentation at the tip.

To check, wash your hands and assume a suitable position for accessing the cervix. There are several such positions - you can stand with one foot on the floor and one foot up on the toilet seat (or other elevated surface) or you can squat or you can perch on the toilet seat with your knees spread apart. Once you're positioned, insert your index finger (gently!) into your vagina and locate the cervix. In general, if you insert your finger as far as it will go, the structure that stops it from going further is the cervix. Take note of how easy or difficult it is to reach, and how it feels to gentle touch.

The cervix is considered low if it is easy to reach with your index finger; it is considered high if it is more difficult to reach. It is considered hard if it feels like the tip of your nose; it is considered soft if it feels more like your lower lip. Also note whether the small opening seems tightly closed or if it is more open, allowing a fingertip just barely inside.

After your menstrual period, you will begin to start checking your cervical position. At this time, the position of your cervix will be low within your body and easily reached with your fingertips. The opening to your cervix will be closed - feeling like a small slit or a tiny hole. The feel of your cervix will be rather hard to the touch. It will feel almost like touching the tip of your nose. During this phase (the first phase of a cycle) a woman is considered infertile.

Right before ovulation occurs, the amount of estrogen increases within your body. This causes your cervix to rise. When checking your cervical position, you will notice that it will move from the lowest point to mid and then extremely high. At the highest point it may be difficult to reach your cervix with your fingertips. The opening of your cervix increases making the slit or tiny hole much larger. The feel of your cervix is much softer now almost like touching your bottom lip. This is an indication of your peak or most fertile time. The cervix will remain high until you ovulate - after which estrogen subsides and the hormone progesterone is released, causing your cervix to return to its low, closed and hard position.

Testing Methods

Urine-Based Ovulation Predictor Kits

A urine-based ovulation predictor kit (OPK) tests positive because it is sensitive to a surge of the LH hormone, which is the signal that you will ovulate in 12-40 hours. The kit should specify at what point in your cycle to begin testing. If you ovulate late, you may have to use more than one kit. Your most likely time to become pregnant is within the 36-hour period after your kit first tests positive. For most kits, you either urinate on the stick or into a cup and drop urine into a test hole. They are similar in use to home pregnancy tests.

Each brand varies in the amount of LH it measures. For women with elevated LH, it may give a false positive. For women with PCOS, for example, the tests may not be effective. However, a new product, the Clear Plan Easy Monitor is more expensive but gives you an exact number reading of your LH levels. It may be a much more effective tool for determining ovulation than the other types of kits.

Saliva Tests

Some research has indicated that there is also a change in the content of hormones and minerals in the saliva. Many years ago, samples of dried (crystallized) saliva during different stages of the menstrual cycle were observed under a microscope. During fertile days, a sample of saliva resembles "ferns" while during all other days only shapeless "dotted structures" can be seen.

The "fern" structure starts 3-4 days before ovulation and ends 2-3 days after ovulation ceases. Since the fertile period lasts less than one week, a woman wanting to conceive should concentrate on becoming pregnant during this time. In addition to clearly "dotted" or "fern-like" structures, a combination of the two images can be seen. This is called a "transition" pattern. During this period, it is also quite possible to conceive.

There are several different products on the market that may help view the saliva, but some women swear by a traditional microscope.

So Which Method is Best?

There isn't one right or wrong method for checking your ovulation. Decide what feels right for you and fits into your budget, schedule and comfort level. Your physician may ask you to do any one or combination of these. Whatever you decide, these methods can help you develop a better understanding of your menstrual cycle and how your body works.

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