We’re all familiar with the not-so-fun side effects of menstruation, including the bleeding, cramping, and mood swings, to name a few. But there is one part of the menstrual cycle that typically only those trying to conceive are familiar with: the ovulation window. In its simplest form, the ovulation window represents the few days of the month where pregnancy is most likely. During your menstrual cycle, hormones make the eggs in your ovaries mature, and once ready, they signal your ovaries to release a mature egg. This is the time in which fertilization of an egg can occur.
“The egg is released from the ovary during ovulation and has to be swept into the fallopian tube, and from there it travels through the tube, unites with a sperm, and the fertilized egg rolls the rest of the way down the tube to the uterine cavity where it implants,” explains Wendy C. Goodall McDonald, MD, an OBGYN in Chicago, IL. “The ovulation window represents the time from that initial release of the egg to when the egg has passed the point of no return in the fallopian tube and is too late to fertilize, which is typically 3-5 days.”
As you can probably tell, your ovulation window is kind of a big deal, especially if you’re trying to get pregnant. But because the OW is such a mystery to many women, we asked leading gynecologists to explain some of the most important things we should know.
Everyone’s “ovulation window” is different
Generally speaking, if you have a regular 28-day cycle, your ovulation window is likely somewhere between days 12 and 16, explains Anate Brauer, MD, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Greenwich Fertility and IVF Centers and assistant professor of OBGYN at NYU School of Medicine. If you have a longer or shorter cycle, the timing of your luteinizing hormone (LH) surge changes, so she suggests using an ovulation predictor kit for a couple of months to get an idea of when you are surging. “If you find that the kits are not working for you, consult a fertility specialist who can monitor you with ultrasound and blood work and can tell you when you are ovulating,” she adds.
It’s best to have sex daily during your ovulation window
If you’re trying to get pregnant, aim to have sex every day of your ovulation window. “Even intercourse every other day is enough because of how long sperm live,” says Dr. McDonald. Having sex several times a day during your ovulation window, however, is not recommended (surprisingly, right?) because each ejaculation will be less potent in terms of sperm count.
Having sex before your ovulation window also helps
Because sperm can survive for up to three days in the vaginal tract, having sex in the three to five days leading up to ovulation will greatly increase the chances of conception, explains Jennifer Hirshfeld-Cytron, MD, director of fertility preservation at Fertility Centers of Illinois. “Because having sex multiple times a day will not increase the likelihood of pregnancy, simply aim to have sex every other day as you approach your ovulation window,” she says.
Tracking your ovulation window is good for more than getting pregnant
The only way to know if you have regular or irregular cycles is to track them. “A normal menstrual cycle lasts 28 days, plus or minus seven days, but if your cycle falls out of this range, you do not have a period or you have periods too frequently or for eight days or more, you have irregular cycles,” explains Dr. Hirshfeld-Cytron. “Irregular cycles can signal infrequent ovulation or that ovulation is not occurring, as well as decreases the number of tries one has per year.”
Some ovulation windows are more fertile than others
According to David Diaz, MD, reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, your egg quality will vary between cycles, with some eggs being more fertilizable than others. He recommends avoiding smoking, hazard material exposure, unhealthy diet or other lifestyle choices that will negatively impact ovulation or damage the egg quality if you’re trying to conceive. But keep in mind that fertility depends on many factors and everyone’s journey is different.