The first time you heard the word “ovulation” was most likely in middle school health class when you learned that once a month a mature egg is released from the ovary, pushed down the fallopian tube, and is ready to be fertilized. That simple textbook explanation made getting pregnant sound so easy that you’ve been a diligent user of contraception your entire adult life.
You’re ready to get pregnant, and you realize that you need help figuring out when you’re most fertile. While we’re always here to help advise you, there are also several free or low-cost options on the market that can help you figure out the optimal time for you and your partner to try to conceive.
Here’s a roundup of what’s out there, including how they work and considerations, to help you choose the best option(s) for your needs:
1) Online/App Ovulation Calendars and Calculators: A friend tells you about an app she downloaded on her cell phone that tells her when to expect her period and when she is fertile. And guess what? Your lucky friend conceived within two months! You’re encouraged, but will it work for you?
Cost: Free to approximately $4.99.
How it works: This works great for women with VERY REGULAR cycles, as ovulation calculators are based solely on the calendar and the average of cycle lengths. It does not take into consideration bodily functions or chemistry.
Considerations: If you have variation in your cycles, this is not the best predictor for you. But if you do decide to follow the calendar, remember that usually the steady part of the cycle is the 14 days from ovulation to period (the second half of the cycle). If, for example, you have long 35-day cycles, your ovulation may be as late as Day 21. This means it’s best for you to try to conceive between Day 14 and 21. If your cycles are short, you may be ovulating very early and you should be trying to conceive just when your period ends.
2) Ovulation Detection Kits: If you find the calendar option confusing, consider an ovulation detection kit.
Cost: Approximately $25- $30 per kit. Digital monitors are also available for approximately $150.
How it works: There are many different brands of ovulation predictors; most use urine to detect the luteinizing hormone that stimulates ovulation and the development of the corpus luteum – the so-called “LH surge” – and the sex hormone (estradiol) levels. When the brain/pituitary tells the ovary to release the egg, these hormones rise, and the kits detect a peak level. This predicts the egg will be released in 1-2 days. Some kits are semi- quantitative, so the test line goes from pale to dark. When that test line is darker than the control line, then you know the surge is occurring and you are in prime fertility time. Other kits wait until both the estradiol and LH hormones both peak and tell you with a happy face symbol that it is your optimal time to try.
Considerations: Some people find comparing lines somewhat difficult, and the happy face is an easier alternative. As a fertility specialist, I prefer the kits where you compare the lines, as that lets you know before you peak that fertility levels are rising. Some months, if the happy face symbol doesn’t show up and you wait too long to check out why there wasn’t a happy face, the opportunity to force ovulation is missed or the critical window is never detected.
3) The Ovulation Watch: This is another device designed to help detect ovulation, and it is easy to wear and easy to use – no urine testing necessary!
Cost: $125, which includes one month; $40 per month after that.
Considerations: Since it is easy to wear and you don’t have to test your urine daily, it may be less stressful than the urinary kits.
4) Basal Body Temperature: For years gynecologists have suggested patients take their “basal body temperature” – the first temperature of each day – to chart their cycles.
Cost: Approximately $11 for a basal body thermometer
How it works: You take your temperature the minute you first wake up EVERY morning — even before you brush your teeth or shower! It can provide information about ovulation, as the day you ovulate your temperature drops a degree or half a degree, and after ovulation, your temperature rises a degree.
Considerations: Unfortunately basal body temperature can’t predict when you will ovulate, and it’s often hard to detect the temperature drop on the day of ovulation. Moreover, it can be stressful, as your first thought of the day is a reminder that you are not yet pregnant. For this reason, I recommend that temperature charts not be used for more than 3 months MAXIMUM, as stress and worry may exacerbate infertility.
There are other options to help you track your ovulation (including the Duofertility Monitor, which I’ll tell you about in the next blog post, “The Ovulation Situation, Part II”), but these are the least expensive and a good place to start.
And remember, we’re always here to answer questions and help you access your ovulation situation!