The podcast where you'll get answers to those questions you’ve been secretly Googling and all those things you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor, because… well – We’re women! Shouldn’t we just know this stuff??
The Fertility Co. Podcast
I'm obsessed with all things periods, pregnancy, pelvic floor and helping women just like YOU to navigate all of life's major milestones!
The two key events in our menstrual cycle are menstruation and ovulation. Everything that happens in between are the physical changes that occur as a result of changing hormone levels that are preparing to bring about either ovulation, for fertilisation of an egg and potential pregnancy, or if pregnancy doesn’t happen, menstruation.
Ovulation is necessary for pregnancy. Ovulation is also necessary for menstruation to happen. When we think of the menstrual cycle we think of our period and the phase where we bleed, but ovulation is just as important: if not more so! And if you’re trying to get pregnant, you probably know that this is one you need to know about. Ovulation needs to happen in order for a true period to occur.
The timing of ovulation will affect the timing of your period. If you ovulate later in your cycle your period will likely arrive later. If ovulation occurs early in your cycle your period will arrive early. This is why being able to confirm ovulation helps you to predict when your next period is due. Because most women do not have a clockwork cycle that is the same length every month, because our cycles are influenced by stress, illness, sleep disruption, and so on. The non fertile phase after ovulation, the luteal phase is the same length with every cycle, give or take a day or two. So if you know the length of your luteal phase, once you have confirmed ovulation, or at least identified the day you think ovulation occurred, you can count ahead by however many days your luteal phase is, anywhere between 10 and 17 days, and this will help you to determine when your next period is due. Which means you know when to take a pregnancy test for accurate results and you can be sure you’re not just testing too early, and you also don’t need to panic that your period is late this month because you know that you ovulated late.
To make matters slightly more confusing,you might still bleed in the absence of ovulation, but it’s not a true period bleed. This is called anovulatory bleeding and this is what we see in withdrawal bleeds when on the pill, for young women who have just started menstruating, or in older women who are approaching menopause. Oestrogen levels peak around ovulation, then drop in the second half of the menstrual cycle as progesterone levels surge. Bleeding that isn’t menstruation can happen when oestrogen production continues to thicken the endometrium in preparation for implantation, but oestrogen levels don’t rise high enough to actually trigger ovulation in the first place.
One of two things can then happen:
Oestrogen levels build up slowly, and then drop, just like in a typical menstrual cycle, but oestrogen levels are too low to actually trigger release of the other hormones that lead to ovulation. When oestrogen levels drop, you might experience a withdrawal bleed, just like you do on the pill when you stop taking the hormone pills.
Alternatively, the endometrium may continue to thicken and build up and up to the point where it can no longer sustain itself. Without ovulation, progesterone levels are too low to maintain the thickened lining, so it breaks down and is released just like in a typical period, which is called oestrogen breakthrough bleeding.
So, without ovulation, menstruation or a true period can’t happen. But it’s common to observe bleeding and naturally assume it’s your period.
So, how can we confirm ovulation has happened, and therefore confirm that we are having a real period. By monitoring changes in our cervical mucus.
Confirming Ovulation with Cervical Mucus
Of all the body’s natural fertile signs, cervical mucus is the key to understanding when you are fertile and when you have ovulated. As hormone levels shift throughout the menstrual cycle, glands in the cervix will produce different types of mucus. Changes in colour, thickness, texture and amount are influenced by hormonal changes, and so will change according to phase of the menstrual cycle you are in.
To put it simply, mucus will have two main roles:
During your fertile window and when pregnancy is possible, mucus will keep sperm alive and move it towards the egg waiting to be fertilised
During the non-fertile phases, mucus makes the vaginal environment inhospitable to sperm and causes sperm cells to die more quickly
As ovulation approaches, mucus starts to change. Following menstruation there is minimal mucus, you feel pretty dry and if there is mucus present, it’s normally quite dry and sticky. As ovulation approaches, the body creates an environment that will keep sperm alive inside the vagina so the egg can be fertilised . As oestrogen levels increase, cervical mucus becomes thinner, wetter and clearer. Remember at the same time, rising oestrogen levels are stimulating the endometrium to thicken and prepare for implantation.
Observe cervical mucus by looking in your underwear or on toilet paper after wiping. Some women use their fingers but this is not recommended or necessary. You can also use your sensation around your vulva and determine whether or not you feel wet or dry to confirm what you are observing. You don’t need to be fixated on all the different types of fertile mucus and the various descriptors like egg white, creamy, slippery if you find that too confusing. Episode #46 – Help! I Can’t See Egg White Mucus
All you need to ask yourself every day is do you feel wet or dry around your vulva? When you feel wet you are in your fertile window and you are detecting with fertile quality mucus. When you observe fertile quality mucus, your body is getting ready to ovulate. On the day after you ovulate, fertile mucus will disappear or decrease in quality, and you’ll feel quite dry again, indicating that ovulation has happened.
The exception to this rule is if you notice fertile mucus and then it goes away, only to return again a few days later. This could indicate attempted ovulation that was not successful. This can lead to a longer than typical follicular phase, so a longer non-fertile phase before ovulation. As a result, you might notice that some days you have little bit of mucus or a wet sensation, and then a return to dry days, and then a shift back to wetter, fertile quality mucus. This is a sign your body is attempting to ovulate multiple signs in one cycle. Fertile quality mucus reappearing can mean that your body is making another attempt at ovulation, which it will do if it doesn’t happen the first time. This is why your cycle is a little longer when you don’t ovulate on the first attempt. When ovulation is successful, you will remain dry and see minimal mucus for the rest of your cycle until your next period, or until you confirm pregnancy.
So, we’ve used our cervical mucus patterns to help us confirm ovulation and to determine whether we have had a true period. We have one more thing on our checklist to help us to confirm ovulation.
Confirming Ovulation with BBT
Observing your basal body temperature in combination with cervical mucus can help you to determine if ovulation has occurred or not, because an upward temperature shift will indicate successful ovulation.
BBT is used to retrospectively determine the timing of ovulation. So we can’t use it on its own because it’s not reliable, but when ovulation happens there is a rise in BBT of 0.2-0.5 degrees Celsius. Ovulation usually occurs the day before the temperature shift and will then remain high until menstruation. The upward shift in your temperature from ovulation and throughout the second half of your cycle is detectable if you track it daily.
BBT is unreliable on its own because there are a number of factors that can influence your basal body temperature, and some women can be very sensitive to disruptions in these factors, like
Illness and fever
Interrupted sleep patterns
Travel (especially across time zones)
These small margins for error are the reason why observing your cervical mucus is more reliable, and BBT should only be used to confirm ovulation.
Basal body temperature will rise of the day after ovulation. The last day of low temperatures is likely the day when ovulation occurred.
Confirming ovulation can be a bit of a chicken or egg situation – we can only confirm that we have ovulated when we see menstruation, or pregnancy, 10-17 days later. But we can only confirm that it’s a true period by confirming ovulation. This is why we need to monitor our fertile signs daily to not only confirm ovulation and a true period, but also to be able to identify any changes in our cycles, like multiple attempts at ovulation, so that we can investigate further and manage these disruptions of they become a regular occurrence.
So let’s recap our checklist for confirming ovulation:
Step 1 – Menstruation
If your period doesn’t arrive 10-17 days after ovulation day, either you’re pregnant, or ovulation hasn’t happened.
Step 2 – Cervical Mucus
You have observed cervical mucus patterns that suggest ovulation has occurred, meaning you’ve observed a shift from dry, to wet and slippery, then back to dry. If there’s a shift from wet mucus, to dry, and then a return of wet mucus, then your body is likely attempting to ovulate but it hasn’t happened yet.
As ovulation approaches, cervical mucus becomes thinner, wetter and clearer, and will become dry and sticky the day after ovulation for the rest of the cycle.
Step 3 – BBT
You have observed a clear upward shift in BBT that aligns with a shift in mucus patterns. If you can’t see an obvious upward shift in temperature, then ovulation has likely not happened.
Your body temperature will rise the day after ovulation. The last day of low temperatures is likely the day that ovulation occurred. An upward temperature shift indicates that ovulation has occurred when the temperature for 3 consecutive days is greater than the previous 6. Your temperature will drop again around the day of menstruation.
Remember, every woman is different! Some women may clearly be able to detect their fertile signs, while others may have more difficulty because their temperature shift isn’t obvious or their cervical mucus is harder to detect. This is why I recommend using this checklist of 3 clear signs in this exact order to help you to confirm ovulation has definitely occurred. The more experience you gain tracking your cycle, the easier it will become to interpret your body’s own fertile signs. Get to know your body’s unique patterns with practice!
P.S. Whenever you're ready, here's a few ways I can help you!
1. Want to know exactly when you're ovulating? Check out the Fix Your Fertility Masterclass where I'll share 3 simple steps to find out exactly when you're ovulating (without tracking apps).
2. Want a holistic preconception plan to optimise ovulation and get pregnant fast? You need my $47 Conceive with Confidence workshop series, where I'll teach you how to pinpoint your most fertile day in under 5 minutes and discover the quick-fix solutions you NEED if you're NOT ovulating. (Pssst...This is BRAND NEW and I'm already being told that this is the best program my students have ever bought and that it's an absolute steal!)
3. Want to quit the pill forever and conceive in half the time (even if your periods are irregular, unpredictable or non-existent)? Enrol in my flagship online program for the long-term fertility game, Fertility School.
4. Want individualised support and a tailored fertility management plan from a trained fertility educator? Book a 1:1 consultation now! Spots are strictly limited and I would love to work with you to achieve your fertility goals.
If you enjoyed this episode and the Fertility Co. Podcast generally, I have a favour. Please take two minutes to subscribe, and to write a rating and a review. You can do that on Apple Podcasts right now by clicking here. If you are an Android user, you can follow the podcast on Spotify here. Those actions will help the podcast reach more people, and I would be truly grateful. Thank you so much.