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Start tracking your ovulation, not just your period

18 July 2020

My period was a week late recently, but I wasn’t worried I was pregnant unexpectedly. I knew I had been due to ovulate in mid-March when corona-craziness was at its peak in the UK. Knowing how I react to stress and that I hadn’t had any of the signs of ovulation until a while after they were expected, I was confident my period wasn’t really a week late; my ovulation was. 

Let’s rewind: I’m a firm believer that your period is the least interesting part of your cycle. It’s important, yes, but it is the end of a cycle with many acts. I knew that my luteal phase was pretty consistent, and my period was, therefore, likely to turn up a certain number of days after ovulation rather than a certain number of days after the start of my last period. My estimates turned out to be correct. 

While many women are ‘as regular as clockwork’ and counting their cycle from the first day of their last period works well for them, it's actually much more accurate to predict your period due date from when you ovulated. 

Follicular vs luteal: your unique blueprint

Why is this? First of all, forget everything you have been told about the 28-day cycle with ovulation always occurring on day 14. While this may be true for some women, many others will have longer or shorter cycles, irregular cycles and will also ovulate at different points in their cycle. Research shows ovulation can occur any time from day eight, onwards and a third of women don’t have their fertile window when they might expect it. Cycles can be anovulatory and ovulation can be delayed and women will experience different levels of frequency of all of these events. 

It's more accurate to predict when your period will turn up based on ovulation because the vast majority of women will have a much more regular luteal, or post-ovulatory phase of their cycle than follicular, or pre-ovulatory phase of their cycle. The luteal phase is most commonly between 11 and 17 days long, and is unaffected by extrinsic factors such as stress, unlike the follicular phase. This means that the day of ovulation determines the length of your cycle.

Realising this is particularly important for women who have polycystic ovary syndrome, or otherwise irregular ‘periods’. It's not your periods that are all over the place, it is your ovulation. Once you have figured out when ovulation has occurred, you can figure out how long your luteal phase is by counting the days to the first day of your next period. You should find this is pretty regular over the months. You can also calculate how long your follicular phase is by counting the days between the first day of your last period and ovulation, and seeing how this varies month-by-month. You could even start tracking what might affect the length of your follicular phase if you suspect stress, sleep or even diet could be causing you irregularity.

Tracking ovulation

There are many ways to track ovulation. You can check your cervical fluid for fertile quality cervical fluid which indicates ovulation may be about to or is happening. Some adherents of the fertility awareness method of contraception may take their basal temperature each morning, which spikes around ovulation and can rise during pregnancy. Fitbit users famously started using their heart rate feeds to detect ovulation, as heart rate also rises at this time. 

For a little bit of warning of when you are going to ovulate, you can also use LH monitors or testing kits. These measures the level of Luteinising Hormone in your urine, which surges 24-36 hours before you ovulate.

 Don’t worry about a late period ever again

  • Once you know how to track ovulation you can benefit in a number of ways. You now know:
  • Whether or not you are ovulating
  • When your period will turn up, or when you will know if you will be pregnant (hint: not everybody has a “two-week wait”)
  • When to time sex for conception
  • What could be causing you to ovulate or not

Women who have irregular cycles or polycystic ovary syndrome may discover that their ‘long’ cycles are actually due to delayed ovulation. Once ovulation tracking has started these women will have a much better overview of their cycle and understand why certain irregularities are happening and what the knock-on effect of that might be. This will also allow them to time sex for conception better. 

Anovulatory cycles are when you don’t ovulate at all. These are normal for women to experience occasionally, and the odd anovulatory cycle isn’t a problem, particularly if you know that is why your period is late, early, light or nonexistent. If however, you are experiencing these frequently, then you know to go to the doctor to help you figure out why. 

Delving deeper into your cycle

Most people track ovulation to help them figure out the best days to try to conceive on, but it can reveal so much more. Tracking your ovulation alongside your period in can reveal so much more about your cycle, and ultimately your health.

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