I was so overwhelmed when I started learning about ways to track ovulation. Information overload set in, and seriously, how do you choose between ALL the options? I decided not to track ovulation at all.But the heartbreak of negative pregnancy tests each month led me to wonder–what is the best way to track ovulation? The answer is different for everyone, so in this article gives you all the information in one place so you can choose the best way to track ovulation for YOU!
When ovulation test strips didn’t work for me, I started asking ALL the questions.
- How do you track ovulation? How do I track my LH surge?
- What is the best ovulation tracker?
- How can cervical mucus help me track ovulation?
- How long after a positive ovulation test are you fertile?
In this article, I get down and dirty about everything you need to know about the best ways to track ovulation.
Plus, I’ve created this awesome comparison chart of all the different methods to help you decide what’s best for you. Because I’m serious: the best option is different for everyone!
How Do You Track Ovulation?
Ovulation tracking is a great fertility awareness method.
If you have a regular cycle, it can allow you to take control of a largely uncontrollable situation.
If you have irregular cycles, there are still options available for knowing when you release an egg, but there are fewer of them.
While the average cycle lasts 28 days, many of us aren’t average.
If you have the perfect menstrual cycle, then ovulation tracking and natural family planning may be easy for you.
But how many of us really have it that easy?
I learned after a-year-and-a-half of not getting pregnant that I don’t ovulate between the usual Cycle Days (CD) 12-14. I ovulate between CDs 15-18. I hadn’t gotten pregnant because I kept missing my window!
But it took a lot of trial and error, and eventually a pricey (but worth it!) fertility monitor, to figure this out.
Why Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs) Didn’t Work for Me
A major factor in much ovulation tracking is the Luteinizing Hormone (LH). For a while, I tracked my LH surge using Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs).
Generally, this hormone peaks 24-48 hours prior to ovulation, so having sex as soon as you get a positive read on an OPK can increase your chances of pregnancy.
OPKs do try to give you a window of time when you know how to have sex, so that helps.
Side note: In TTC (trying to conceive) groups, sex is generally referred to with the acronym BD. It stands for Baby Dance! Never, in all my time trying to conceive, did I stop finding that ludicrously funny. I am only imagining this when I hear that phrase…
Anyway. LH tracking didn’t work for me, and here’s why.
An LH surge does not guarantee ovulation. Your hormones are constantly changing for so many different reasons. The OPK would tell me I was going to ovulate, but then I didn’t. Had I kept ovulation tracking throughout the month, I might’ve realized that I actually ovulate later in my cycle.
But once an ovulation test is positive, you’re told to stop.
So when that didn’t work, I moved on to other methods.
Ways to Track Ovulation
Track ovulation by charting your cycle, but there are so many ways to do that. Here’s a basic rundown of all the ways you can track ovulation:
- Using apps (like Fertility Friend)
- Tracking Cervical Mucus
- Testing Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
- Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs)
- Fertility Monitors
Charting Your Cycle
Charting your cycle is essential for tracking ovulation, but there are so many different ways to do it. First, we have to understand what that even means.
Your “cycle” refers to your fertility cycle. Specifically:
- How many days do you have between the beginning of two periods?
- When, during those days, do you ovulate?
Understanding this information is key to taking control of your fertility, and for understanding whether or not you need to see a fertility specialist.
Dr. Samantha Butts of Penn Medicine recommends talking to your doctor if you’re unsuccessful in your attempts to conceive after
- 1 year trying to conceive for women under the age of 35
- 6 months trying to conceive for women 35 or older
If you have unique circumstances, like fibroids, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or very irregular periods, Dr. Butts says, you can talk to your doctor immediately to determine whether you need to see a fertility specialist.
Why Does Ovulation Matter?
Let’s go back to my story.
Husband and I had been trying to conceive for a-year-and-a-half. Yet, while we did ultimately need to see a fertility specialist for recurrent pregnancy loss, we did not actually have any problem conceiving!
The guidelines suggest that, after a year of trying to conceive in your early thirties, you should consult a doctor.
But we hadn’t been tracking ovulation for much of that time, though we had used the occasional ovulation predictor kit, and I was tracking my cycle using apps.
I didn’t do any of that for the first 6 months, though, so I decided to wait to talk to my doctor until I’d been tracking for a year. This means we’d been “trying” for a year-and-a-half.
I found out I was pregnant the night before the appointment to talk to my doctor about fertility testing. Ah, irony.
What I’ve since learned is not only that Husband and I have no problem conceiving, but we actually conceive very easily.
So why did it take a year-and-a-half for us to get pregnant for the first time?
Because I didn’t understand my cycle!
You Cannot Get Pregnant Outside of Your Ovulation Window
Let me shout that again for those in the back. You cannot get pregnant outside of your ovulation window!
The problem is that most of us don’t have perfect cycles, so we don’t know when our ovulation window occurs.
That’s why tracking your cycle is such a game changer when trying to conceive!
What’s An Ovulation Window?
When you ovulate, meaning an ovary releases a mature egg, you’re only fertile for 12-24 hours after ovulation. Time to have some sex, y’all!
And here’s the kicker, which is what makes ovulation tracking so important: It takes time for the sperm to travel to the egg.
In other words, you need to have sex (or artificially inceminate) 3-5 days BEFORE you ovulate. Sperm can live in the fallopian tube for a maximum of 5 days.
As USC fertility puts it, this means “the sperm should be waiting for the egg.”
So, beginning 5 days before ovulation, you want to get to baby dancing (that will never stop being funny) 5 days before ovulation, 3 days before, 1 day before.
I also recommend again the day after, just in case you’re off on your charting. That’s not based on research, and I have no idea if it works. I just know that sometimes cycles are off and even charting can be confusing, so I like to allow room for error.
Sort of side note: I actually really like the absurd euphemism for sex (calling it baby dance) here, because it brings some fun into what can be a stressful thing (TTC). I do hope for your sake that “adding fun to sex” seems weird and unnecessary.
But full disclosure here, friends. As much as IT SUCKS, tracking ovulation kind of turns sex into a chore. More on that in another post. For now, try not to let it be a chore. Just do your Luda-dance.
(1) Fertility Apps for Tracking Ovulation
There are tons of fertility apps out there to track ovulation. Glow, Fertility Friend, Ovia, and Period Tracker are the apps I’ve seen most people use. I used Ovia and Period Tracker.
The way these apps work is that you chart your cycle in the app, telling it when you start each period, as well as when you have different symptoms throughout your cycle.
Fertility apps compile all of this information to help you determine your fertile window. The more information you give it, the better the app can learn about your specific cycle.
It also takes them time to learn, so unless your cycle is that 28-day robot thing, the first few months won’t be as accurate.
If you’re just starting your trying to conceive (TTC) journey, this is a great beginning way to track ovulation. If you’ve been TTC for a while and want to start tracking because you’re frustrated, I recommend a more reliable, quicker method, which for me meant a fertility monitor.
Fertility App Pros and Cons
- Pros: Cost (free or inexpensive), easy-to-use, integrates into daily life
- Cons: Accuracy (the more information you input, the more accurate it will be), requires time to learn your cycles, no proof of ovulation
Can My Sex Drive Predict Ovulation?
Well, sort of. But I certainly wouldn’t use that as your guide post.
One really cool thing about ovulation is that it’s proof our bodies are hardwired to help us reproduce. You know, evolution and survival of our species and all.
Why, then, is it so hard for so many of us? Probably because we’re waiting longer to have children these days. And maybe also because we’re not all totally in tune with our bodies.
But a few things happen to your body leading up to ovulation that might help you predict it.
Much research indicates that the female body experiences an increased libido during its fertile window. In other words, your sex drive is higher just before ovulation, when you’re at your most fertile point.
But remember that thing I said about sex feeling like a chore when you’re trying to conceive? If you’re feeling stressed about the conception process, as many of us are, then you’re less likely to notice or experience this increase in sex drive.
That’s just one reason you can’t track ovulation solely based on sex drive. With the high usage of antidepressants and other medications known to decrease libido, not all women experience a noticeably increased sex drive around ovulation.
Also, to be blunt, sometimes you’re just horny, and it doesn’t always mean you’re ovulating.
(2) Using Cervical Mucus as a Way to Track Ovulation
Increased sex drive during ovulation is, I would guess, a necessary part of evolution. But it isn’t a good way to track ovulation. A more reliable natural method for tracking ovulation is cervical mucus.
According to the American Pregnancy Association, cervical mucus is “a fluid secreted by the cervix, the production of which is stimulated by the hormone estrogen.”
Is mucus a sign of ovulation? Yes, yes, and yes.
I always struggled with the idea of using cervical mucus to track ovulation. Not because I was grossed out by sticking my finger in my vagina (an obvious requisite that I hope you do with good hygiene.)
Nope, that was fine.
My worry with cervical mucus as a way to track ovulation was my fear that I didn’t know what I was looking for.
But when I thought I was nearing ovulation, I did check my cervical mucus to see if it seemed fertile, according to the explanations I found online.
Time for some real talk, y’all.
What Does Cervical Mucus Do, Exactly?
You know when you go to the bathroom and notice your underwear is wet? There are limited possibilities here.
Either you peed yourself a little, or you have cervical mucus on your panties. I always like to hope it’s the second, though after having a baby, I’m never sure.
Cervical mucus changes throughout your monthly cycle, both in quantity and consistency. In other words, sometimes you produce more cervical mucus than other times.
And it doesn’t always look or feel the same.
In the days leading up to ovulation, hormonal changes in your body change your cervical mucus. To find your most fertile days, you’re looking for what is often called “egg white cervical mucus” or “EWCM.” Sounds fun, yes?
So if you find a watery substance on your panties, either you peed yourself a little (eh, it happens), or you’re not at all fertile. Watery cervical mucus is not fertile. Neither is mushy cervical mucus that looks like cottage cheese.
Why all the gross food references? Hey, I don’t come up with this stuff; I just tell you what I know.
So take a deep breath and keep reading, queasy readers, because you need to know this stuff. If it’s baby dance time, your cervical mucus will strongly resemble egg whites!
According to the American Pregnancy Association, eggwhite cervical mucus “is clear and stretchy, similar to the consistency of egg whites, and is the perfect protective medium for sperm in terms of texture and pH.”
How Do I Track My Cervical Mucus (CM)?
Oh, dear reader. This is so fun. You ready for this? Go step by step here.
- Thoroughly wash your hands. Nobody wants bacteria in their vagina. That’s how UTIs and kidney infections happen.
- Dry your hands well. No need to confuse yourself about the consistency of your CM by still having water on your hands.
- Insert your middle or index finger into your vagina. I recommend the middle finger because it’s the longest. And because it’s easy to show your anger to the world if you don’t see fertile mucus.
- Move your finger up your vagina as close to your cervix as possible, preferably touching cervix. I actually wondered what my cervix felt like and Googled to find out. Let me simplify it for you. If you hit something with your finger so it won’t go further, that’s your cervix.
- Note: Your cervix actually lowers around the time of ovulation, making it easier to collect mucus, and giving you another indication that it’s time for sex or insemination.
- Move your finger around to collect mucus. Gotta make it fun, right?
- Remove your finger from your vagina. Finally!
- Place the mucus-filled finger against your thumb and rub the two fingers together. This is where you start to learn about your fertility window!
- Slowly move your fingers apart, noticing the consistency of your cervical mucus. Watch to see if the mucus stretches, or if it stays on one finger.
Fertile cervical mucus will have a consistency much like that of an eggwhite. This means that, during your most fertile days, your cervical mucus should be relatively clear and should pull between your fingers, creating a line of mucus.
Is Testing Cervical Mucus Right for You?
As you can see, this form of ovulation prediction is very, eh hem, personal.
To really understand what fertile cervical mucus looks like for your body, it’s best to check your cervical mucus regularly throughout your cycle and notice the changes.
I had no problem with this. I actually loved Googling cervical mucus photos, learning all I could about different types of cervical mucus, and trying to match what I saw online. I’m a lifelong learner. What can I say?
But this method makes lots of other women totally squeamish, and I get that. If it’s not for you, that’s cool. You’ve probably scrolled down to the other methods by now anyway.
Tracking Cervical Mucus Pros and Cons
- Pros: Free, easy, reliable
- Cons: Invasive, involves learning, requires your discretion (there’s no tech support to help you here, folks. Although I have seen hundreds of cervical mucus photos on fertility forums with women desperate to know if they had the golden egg–egg white cervical mucus, that is.)
(3) Basal Body Temperature Charting (BBT)
Basal body temperature (BBT) refers to your body temperature when it is at rest. Ovulation generally causes a slight increase in BBT. People who talk about “temping” in reference to cycle tracking mean that they check their BBT each morning.
When I say the increase is slight, I mean EXTREMELY slight. It’s not something you can see on a regular thermometer.
To test your BBT, you need a special basal body temperature thermometer. Leave that thermometer on your night stand and test your temperature before getting out of bed each morning.
Once you have a reading, you can put it into a BBT tracker (there are tons of apps for that!) Or, you can keep it old school and have a paper chart.
Over time, you’ll notice a slight spike in temperature, which indicates ovulation. This is because the hormone progesterone, which increases at ovulation, causes a slight temperature rise.
Your temperature will stay slightly elevated throughout the rest of your cycle, which is why this is the best way to confirm ovulation.
A sustained temp spike = ovulation.
You continue to produce progesterone throughout pregnancy, so many women hope to see a sustained increase in BBT without getting their period, a potential indication of early pregnancy.
Note: There are also fancy BBT thermometers, like this one, which sync with your phone to save you the tracking hassle.
Oddly enough, tracking your basal body temperature is one of the cheapest, most reliable ways to track ovulation. It’s also one of the few where it’s easy to confirm ovulation. And yet, I never did it.
Why? 3 reasons.
- You have to do it first thing in the morning. Like, before you even move. And that is NOT where my head is when I wake up and need to go to the bathroom. It’s also best to test at the same time each day, and my schedule isn’t that consistent.
- Temping doesn’t give you as early notice of a fertile window, although if your cycles are regular, you’ll know when you’re fertile after a few months of temping.
- For this method to be accurate, it takes time. A few months of charting allows you to learn your cycles.
And by the time I decided I wanted to start tracking ovulation, I didn’t want to wait to learn my cycles.
Trying to conceive and being pregnant after miscarriage is hard, and I wanted it to happen as quickly as possible. Click here to learn more about pregnancy anxiety after miscarriage.
After losing my first pregnancy, I wanted to know immediately when I was ovulating. The only ways to do that are Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs), which had failed me before, and fertility monitors. We’ll get there.
BBT Pros and Cons
- Pros: Inexpensive, accurate, easy, confirms ovulation
- Cons: Requires time to learn your cycle; requires consistency immediately in the morning
Ovulation Predictor Kits (OPKs) are another cheap, easy way to track ovulation. You can buy a pack of 50, plus 20 pregnancy test strips, on Amazon for next to nothing.
To use an ovulation test, follow the instructions on the box, as each works differently. Generally, you start peeing on a stick (POAS–though that acronym is usually reserved for pregnancy tests) around 7 days into your cycle.
You’ll have a test line and a control line. Each day, using your first morning urine, you’ll wait for the test line to be as dark as the control line.
When that happens, you’re experiencing an LH surge, which suggests you’re in your most fertile window and will ovulate within the next 24-48 hours.
If you struggle with colors, there are digital OPKs, but that negates the whole inexpensive thing.
To most people, myself included at first, this sounds like the best bet.
Here’s what I don’t like about OPKs.
OPKs Weren’t Accurate for Me
They’re not as accurate as we’d like to think. They’re certainly more accurate than just using an app on your phone, but OPKs can be misleading.
Here’s what I mean.
It’s not uncommon, I learned, to experience an LH surge, but then not actually ovulate. So, to use OPKs effectively, you really want to keep using them for a few days past ovulation, which no boxes I ever purchased tell you to do.
My OPKs said I was ovulating around CD14, which is the ideal robot cycle. Only I didn’t have that cycle!
If I’d kept using them, I probably would’ve seen a second LH surge. This would’ve confused me, but it’d also have told me to go have sex again.
That’s the problem with OPKs. There’s no way to confirm ovulation. (You can only confirm ovulation with Basal Body Temperature testing and Fertility Monitors. BBT is the most reliable way to confirm ovulation.)
OPK Pros and Cons
Pros: Inexpensive, fits easily into daily life, easy-to-use
Cons: Cannot confirm ovulation; provides only moderately advanced notice of fertile window
(5) Fertility Monitors for Tracking Ovulation
Unlike every other way to track ovulation we’ve discussed so far, fertility monitors bring us into a whole new, high-tech ballgame.
This is the most expensive option, by far. If it’s out of your budget, there are tons of other ways to test.
But if you can swing it, this is by far my favorite method.
Here’s my experience. (Keep in mind, I had multiple miscarriages, so I had a lot of pregnancies to practice on.)
Tracking ovulation with an app or OPKs took me a year-and-a-half to get pregnant. After I lost that pregnancy, I was determined to get pregnant faster next time.
I bit the bullet and splurged on an Ovacue Fertility Monitor.
I was pregnant within 2 months (2 cycles). After that, I was always pregnant the first month of trying.
And while I can’t guarantee such results for you, I’m clearly sold. It’s also thanks to my Ovacue that I understand my cycle and know why apps and OPKs weren’t working for me. If you have a standard 28-day cycle, you may not need anything so high tech.
There are tons of different fertility monitors available now–they’ve surged even in the 3 years since I was trying to conceive (TTC). Ovacue, Mira, Ava, Daysy, Ovusense, and Clearblue all come up when I search for fertility monitors on Amazon.
What I love about the Ovacue monitor is that, well, it worked. Time, and time, and time again.
It contains two test pieces, plus a main unit. Or, some versions connect directly to your phone.
The round piece goes on the end of your tongue. You place it on the end of your tongue first thing each morning before talking or brushing your teeth. It reads hormone levels in your saliva to help determine ovulation.
The second piece looks like a wand, and it’s a vaginal probe. That’s the biggest downside to the OvaCue–a vaginal probe. It’s smaller than putting in a tampon, but still, it’s not everyone’s favorite way to start the day.
As you near your ovulation window (follow the instructions for the exact day), you use both the saliva probe and the vaginal probe first thing each morning. Measuring a combination of hormones, OvaCue alerts you ahead-of-time to your fertile window, marking a calendar with different colors to help you know which days are best for trying to conceive.
Even after ovulation, Ovacue encourages you to continue probing in case you have a unique cycle and it needs to shift and give you a second potential ovulation day.
Occasionally, you will show 2 different fertile days and possible ovulation days. These are unique readings that something like a simple OPK wouldn’t pick up. This was actually common for me, and was the reason I kept missing my ovulation window prior to OvaCue.
Once your readings reach a certain level, a day on your calendar will change colors again, confirming that’s the day when you ovulated. (My research, which is old and I cannot find, suggests that this reading is mostly accurate, but that no reading can guarantee that ovulation occurred as well as BBT.)
Ovacue Pros and Cons
- Pros: Accuracy, confirms ovulation, tech support to help you read your charts, early notification window for the baby dance
- Cons: Expensive, requires vaginal probe
The Ava Bracelet is EVERYWHERE now. And why wouldn’t it be? It’s a fertility monitor that you wear on your freakin’ wrist!
Talk about the easiest way to track ovulation–no vaginal probes or thermometers.
So here’s the thing. I can talk about OvaCue in so much detail because I used it. Ava came out when I already had my OvaCue and was having success with it. That is, I’ve never tried the Ava bracelet. Husband and I are still undecided on whether we want to try for another baby, but if we do, I have every intention of giving Ava a try.
Because, I repeat, it’s a bracelet that predicts ovulation! How is that even a thing?
Ava Pros and Cons
- Pros: Accuracy, confirms ovulation, tech support, non-invasive
- Cons: Expensive
So What Are The Best Ways to Track Ovulation?
I hope it’s clear by this point that the best way to track ovulation depends entirely on YOU!
But early in the process, when I wasn’t concerned about becoming pregnant quickly, fertility apps and OPKs were the way to go.
BBT testing is cheap and accurate, but I didn’t have the patience to learn to read my chart over time. Plenty of women do, and it’s budget friendly.
I used cervical mucus as a way to learn and confirm what my OvaCue said. Honestly, I could probably track ovulation accurately now using nothing but cervical mucus. That’s free, which is awesome, and totally natural. But I can understand a woman who doesn’t want to stick her finger in her vagina every day. Do your thing, girl.
Then again, if you’re trying to conceive, you might as well get used to things that make you queasy.
Still not sure what’s best for you, your circumstances, and your budget? Click here to download our super simple comparison chart of ovulation methods. It’s like your own personal pro-con list, but better!
What was your favorite method of ovulation tracking?
Katy Huie Harrison, PhD, is an author, toddler mom, and owner of Undefining Motherhood. She lives in Atlanta with her husband (affectionately known on the internet as “Husband,”) son (Jack), and dog (Charlotte). She believes our society has historically placed too many expectations on women, defining womanhood and motherhood in a way that is restrictive. Her goal is to shift the paradigm about what it means to be a woman and mother, giving all women a greater sense of agency over their own lives. You can find Katy and her work featured in places like CNN’s Headline News, Scary Mommy, Motherhood and Social Exclusion, and various other podcasts and websites.