Ovulation tests: friend or foe?
There has been a huge rise in the last few years in products to test ovulation and subsequent fertility. You can get the plain old sticks, you can get an app, you can get a specialist thermometer to detect the increase in body temperature (Basal temperature) and you can even get Fitbit style wristbands monitoring everything from your skin temperature to your heart rate and detecting the slightest change which once again could indicate you are approaching that magical 12-24 hour period of ovulation. Technology and awareness can be wonderful things. However, they can also cause us more anxiety in a world where we are already drowning in it - not what you want for an easy conception! We take a look at the pros and cons and what you should know before you use them:
Is all this knowledge and awareness a good thing?
In conversations with our resident expert Mahantesh Karoshi I was interested to find he actually thinks they can potentially do more harm than good, so we took a look at the pros, the cons and what you should be aware of so you can make the right decision for your body and your own situation:
Firstly what is Ovulation? Simply put - it is a release of an egg from the ovary enabling potential fertilisation. The released egg is typically viable between 12 and 24 hours, if the egg isn't fertilised during that it simply breaks down and is reabsorbed into the body.
Pros and Cons of knowing when during your cycle this occurs:
As with most things there are positives and negatives, so it's really about thinking what is best for your own individual situation. Here’s what you should consider:
PRO: getting to know your body: one of the most common reasons women may have issues with fertility is a lack of ovulation. This can be for many reasons - Polycystic Ovaries (PCOS) is one common cause although there are others. Alarmingly, as many as 50% of PCOS sufferers do not know they have the condition, so, if you have a couple of months with no positive signs of ovulation then it may be a sign that you need to go and see your doctor as you may have another underlying condition causing this which could stand in the way of conception.
PRO: you’re not ‘shooting in the dark’: ovulation itself lasts between 12 and 24 hours and it is during this time (and the time leading up to this point - more on this below) that you are at your most fertile. It is also important to note that not everyone ovulates on day 14, which is a common (but not always accurate) assumption. Knowledge is usually power so it is good to know how your own individual cycle works as everyone really is different, especially if your cycle isn't regular (even then it isn't a guarantee that it will be day 14).
CON: it is better to be early than late: most people do not realise that you are actually at your most fertile five to six days before ovulation and the day of ovulation itself, so, if you only have sex when you’re ovulating you actually risk missing the boat. In fact here are the statistics:
Chances of conception:
days 1-3 before ovulation = 20-30% chance of conception
4 days before ovulation = 10-12% chance of conception
The day of ovulation = 10-12% chance of conception
How does this work? Sperm can live for up to five days in the female body, so, if you have sex before the sperm can essentially ‘wait it out’ until a follicle bursts and releases the egg (ovulation).
CON: sperm - not so fresh? if you simply concentrate sex around this ovulation window then the quality can be impaired. Believe it or not sperm needs to be ‘fresh’. The longer it remains unreleased the greater the exposure to oxidative stress which damages the cells. Click here for more. Ideally you want sperm to be released every other day.
CON: increased anxiety, pressure and disappointment potential: did you know that even under ‘perfect’ conditions there is only a 25% chance each month that pregnancy will be achieved? The trouble with timing and focusing so much on this particular window is that it can lead to increased expectations, stress and pressure for both parties which is not what you want for conception, talk about mood kill! We live in a highly stressful world as it is and adding it extra anxiety and focus on one or two days can heighten that. We also have to adjust our expectations for instant results particularly when it comes to conception. Even if you do everything ‘perfectly’ there is only a 25% chance each month. If you’re trying for a baby it is natural to be disappointed every month it doesn’t happen so being as relaxed and taking the pressure of as much as possible is a good idea.
So what to do?
It seems simple, but sometimes simple is the best way! Once you’ve gotten to know your body and your own individual cycle (which is where these tools can be really helpful) the best bet is to actually relax. If you try and sex every other day of your cycle and take the pressure away then the chances are if you have no underlying problem then it’s likely to happen! Put it this way: statistically speaking 75% of healthy couples conceive within 6 months and 90% after one year so its normal to take time.
Sometimes we just need a bit of patience - not what we’re good at these days!
So if you do want to get to know your body and cycle what are the best ways to test?
Old school: Cervical Mucus: yep - true story. It is pretty simple though. When it comes to the slippery stuff you want to watch for one thing: when it looks like egg whites: the fertile window is on. This tends to occur immediately before and during ovulation so be quick!
Ovulation Predictor Kits: (you may see the shorthand referenced on fertility chats and blogs as OPK). What these attempt to do is to detect when the Luteinizing Hormone (LH) rises. This happens around 12-36 hours before ovulation. The trouble with this is that it can be easy to miss: it can last from a few hours to a couple of days and actually varies between women. Most people tend to ovulate around 24 hours after the surge starts. It can be tricky though as ideally you want to test at the same time each day and possibly even twice a day in the lead up to ovulation to ensure you don’t miss it. As above - you also ideally want to be having sex just before this happens.
Basal Body Temperature: Right before ovulation, basal body temperature usually drops, with a sharp increase right after ovulation. What is Basal body temperature? It is the lowest temperature attained during rest and the movement of it is a relatively accurate gauge of ovulation. You will need a specialist thermometer to gauge it and to track it at the same time every day in order to build up a picture. Accurate but not the easiest approach!
Tech: these days we have apps and even wearable tech like the Ava bracelet or Ovusense (which you insert internally). These use various different methods to indicate and predict ovulation from internal temperature (Ovusense) to skin temperature changes, resting pulse rate to heart rate variability ratios (Ava). They claim to have as much as 80-90% accuracy. These are still relatively new and not advised if you have irregular cycles or PCOS (in the case of Ava). They are also not cheap.
This article is for informational purposes only. This article is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and should never be relied upon for specific medical advice. The information on this website has been developed following years of personal research and from referenced and sourced medical research. Before making any changes we strongly recommend you consult a healthcare professional before you begin.