By the time I started trying to conceive, I had a Ph.D. in Biology and had completed post-doctoral training in precision oncology. You would think that I would be somewhat knowledgeable in reproductive science or that understanding my menstrual cycle would be a walk in the park…right? The reality is that I found I knew very little about women's health and had to dig through sparse and old scientific research to learn about how my own body worked, and sadly, I'm not alone.
A recent poll of over 2000 women found that 57% of those surveyed felt they didn't know as much about women's anatomy as they should, 42% wished they had a better understanding of what the organs in the reproductive system do, and 35% would like to know when a woman is most fertile.
If your menstrual cycle feels like a mystery and you're wondering how and when to start tracking ovulation… don't worry.
I'm going to share all the knowledge I learned on my journey right here!
Why Start Tracking Ovulation Now?
How many of you have had a conversation with a friend or family member where they announced…
"The pregnancy caught us off guard. We weren't planning to start a family for a few years," or "we can't believe it, I've only been off the pill one month, and I'm pregnant already."
Although you are undoubtedly excited for them, a part of you probably feels like you've been punched in the gut and wondering why you have to work so hard to conceive while others become pregnant without even trying.
I've been there, and I know it sucks. But the best thing you can do is empower yourself with knowledge and take control of your fertility journey, starting with understanding your body and cycle.
Tracking ovulation not only helps you identify your fertile window, but it can also provide valuable information on the deeper physiological aspects of your cycle. This information will be priceless if you continue to struggle with fertility and need to seek medical assistance. Your doctor will have a head start on understanding the pattern of your menstrual cycle and insight into what might be delaying conception.
Pro tip – The overall goal of ovulation tracking is to understand your unique cycle better. So be sure to note any physical symptoms, no matter how small, as they could be important clues as to how your body shows signs of ovulation.
What Potential Fertility Challenges Could Ovulation Tracking Help Identify?
At a basic level, successful conception requires the presence of an egg and sperm. So, it makes sense to look at ovarian function when investigating potential fertility challenges.
Ovulation tracking can provide insight into underlying medical conditions that could interfere with conception. We all know time is precious, so the sooner you identify a problem, the sooner you can seek help and appropriate treatment.
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) is one of the most common causes of female infertility—though having PCOS does not mean you’re infertile, and we have success stories of women with PCOS having healthy pregnancies. The condition may cause irregular menstrual cycles due to the absence of ovulation, an increase in male hormones (androgens), and the development of small fluid-filled cysts in the ovaries.
The exact cause of the condition is not clear, but recent research suggests that insulin resistance may lead to increased male hormones, which in turn disturb the ovulation cycle. Having PCOS could mean that even if you have your period, your hormones might not reach a level that will release an egg. So tracking the hormone progesterone can help you confirm whether you are ovulating.
Other Hormone Imbalances
Did you know the human body uses over 50 different hormones to regulate bodily functions such as metabolism, growth, and reproduction? It's an intricate system, and an irregular balance of the hormones involved in ovulation can make conception challenging.
Endometriosis occurs when tissue similar to the lining of your uterus grows in other areas of the body where it doesn't belong. Common growth sites include the ovaries, bladder, fallopian tubes, and bowel.
Endometriosis can cause scarring (adhesions) in the fallopian tubes preventing the egg or embryo from traveling to the uterus for implantation. Recent research also suggests that endometriomas (chocolate cysts) on the ovaries may cause structural variations in the ovary that impact follicle growth and egg quality.
When in Your Cycle Should You Start Testing for Ovulation?
Firstly, every woman's cycle is different, so please don't compare your cycle to someone else’s. And don’t rely solely on an app, either. I’ve been a software developer for over 16 years now, and I have never seen an app repeatedly and correctly predict ovulation without hormone testing. And those that do test hormones can give users different values for the same test, just shown under different lighting.
I recommend using a urinary ovulation prediction test that measures the levels of luteinizing hormone (LH). This hormone surges 24 to 36 hours before you ovulate. Therefore, the urinary level of LH should be visibly stronger on the testing strip as you approach ovulation, allowing you to time intercourse or insemination in line with the release of the egg from the ovary.
If you are not sure of your cycle length and when to start tracking ovulation, I suggest you begin testing on cycle day 5. Starting the testing process early in your cycle will ensure you don't miss your fertile window. LH surges can last anywhere between a couple of hours to a few days, so when you see your LH levels rising on the test strip, start testing three times a day and continue until you see your LH levels begin to decrease.
Learn More About Fertility and Ovulation Tracking
Knowing when to start tracking ovulation can be confusing—believe me, I know! I created PherDal after my own battle with infertility. I was determined to empower women with knowledge and provide them with safe and affordable at-home fertility treatment in the hope that I could make even one woman's journey a little easier than my own.
I'd love to support you in any way I can, and I invite you to check out the PherDal blog for more information on all things fertility. And don't forget to download my FREE digital ovulation journal so you can start tracking your cycle today.