Fertility knowledge may be the key to conception, so why don’t people know more about it? Here's how to find your fertile window.
It makes sense that when trying to conceive (TTC), you need to concentrate on having sex during the fertile window. Here’s the problem, though:
most people don’t actually know when they’re fertile!
This lack of understanding about fertility has very real effects on someone’s chances of conceiving. It’s about time we clear up this confusion about fertility tracking. This clarity may even lead to more successful conceptions.
What does the research say about fertility awareness?
In 2012, a
study on fertility awareness asked women who had been trying to conceive for over a year to identify their fertility window. This study found that only 12.7% of women surveyed could accurately pinpoint their fertile window.
study of fertility knowledge in women aged 18-45 had similar findings, concluding that the majority of women are not actually aware of when their fertile window falls. In fact, the study found that women attempting to conceive for a longer period of time had significantly less knowledge about how fertility works.
According to the 2022 study, “Only 1 in 4 women [surveyed] recognized the week before ovulation as being associated with peak fertility.” The majority of the women surveyed knew they didn’t need to have sex on the exact day of ovulation in order to conceive, but 72% of women surveyed could not identify the period of their menstrual cycle during which it was most likely for them to conceive.
What’s the difference between ovulation and the fertile window?
Here’s what some women in this study didn’t fully understand: your period of ovulation is different from your fertile window. Ovulation is the stage of your menstrual cycle when an egg leaves the ovaries and heads down the fallopian tubes. This process can last anywhere from 12 to 48 hours.
On the other hand, your fertile window is when your body is most primed for sperm to fertilize an egg, i.e., for you to get pregnant. That means the fertile window includes the moment of ovulation but spans a period of time longer than ovulation.
The approximate time frame varies from body to body, but the fertile window generally begins about five days before ovulation and ends within 24 hours after ovulation. The two days right before you begin ovulating are the days when you are most likely to be able to conceive but they aren’t necessarily the only days when you can conceive.
Why is it important to know when you’re fertile?
Knowing exactly when you’re fertile is important because it significantly increases your chances of conceiving.
Of course, there are medical ways to increase your chances, too, such as in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and
intrauterine insemination (IUI). However, these treatments are costly—IUI, which is often the first step doctors recommend for couples struggling to conceive, costs up to $1000, while a single cycle of IVF can cost anywhere between $15,000 and $30,000.
These procedures are also emotionally draining. A Swedish
study from 2004, found that when 450 couples were offered government-funded IVF, 54% of them didn’t complete all three treatments, with the majority citing issues of “psychological burden.”
Tracking your fertility can help you avoid these more costly, intensive solutions.
How to identify your fertile window
One solution for identifying your fertile window is using
an ovulation predictor test. Ovulation predictor tests like Oova’s Test Kit are designed to sense a luteinizing hormone (LH) surge, a hormonal shift that generally happens right before you begin to ovulate (between 12 and 36 hours prior).
Unlike traditional ovulation predictor kits (OPKs) that just measure LH, Oova’s cartridges measure LH and progesterone at the same time and give you actual, quantitative measurements.
Most tracking tools work off of an outdated assumption that the menstrual cycle is 28-days long, for everyone. If you don’t have a 28-day cycle, or if you ovulate on a day other than Cycle Day 14, these kits may not be able to accurately capture your ovulation. Oova is able to deliver insights personalized to your unique hormone levels rather than based on the estimate of a “normal” cycle.
There are also many other methods for tracking ovulation, all of which are worth mentioning, but none are guaranteed to get you pregnant on their own. If you’re TTC, here are some actions you can take to
help you figure out when you’re fertile: Track changes in your cervical mucus. Your cervical mucus—the fluid that comes out of your cervix—changes regularly during the course of your cycle. Before ovulation, it often becomes glassy and stretchy to ease sperm transportation. You can track the changes in cervical mucus by keeping track of the color and texture of your discharge. Try basal body temperature (BBT) monitoring. Your BBT is the natural temperature at which your body rests, which you can track with the use of special basal body thermometers. After you’ve begun ovulating, your BBT rises significantly because your body is releasing progesterone. This is your sign that you’ve reached the end of the fertile window. Use saliva monitoring kits. This is a more involved way to track ovulation that involves examining the microscopic patterns your saliva forms when you put it on a glass slide and let it rest for a few minutes. When you’re in the fertile window, your saliva makes a different type of pattern, referred to as “ ferning.” Do the math. Tracking your cycle is also important because it gives you the information to calculate an estimate for when your fertile window falls—look back at your longest and shortest recent cycles and then use some simple math to pinpoint the time when you’re likely fertile. This strategy is less reliable if your period is irregular. The bottom line
At the end of the day, knowing about how fertility works is essential to figuring out your own fertile window. If you’re looking to avoid costly interventions like IUI or IVF, try monitoring ovulation on your own first.
Armed with this knowledge about how fertility actually works, you’ll be better prepared to get to work—or to bed—at the perfect point of your cycle.