If you are trying to conceive, one of the most important factors to be tracking is the timing of your ovulation. But, you may be wondering how much time you have after ovulation to get pregnant.
Today, Binto is answering one of the most commonly googled questions about getting pregnant: how long are you fertile after you ovulate?
First, what is ovulation?
Ovulation is when a mature egg is released from the ovary into the Fallopian tube. If it is not fertilized, it will be shed along with the uterine lining during menstruation. This happens about once a month, typically between day 11 and 21 of your menstrual cycle (day 1 is the first day of your last period).
However, not all menstrual cycles are alike, and these numbers do tend to vary on an individual basis. The best way to know when you are ovulating is by tracking your cycle. If you aren’t sure where to start, click here for Binto’s guide to ovulation and tracking. You can also click here for more information on ovulation and trying naturally.
So, how does this relate to fertility?
In order for a woman to get pregnant, her egg must come into contact with sperm during her fertile window, which is different from ovulation. A woman’s fertile window is the period of time in which it is possible for sperm to reach a newly ovulated egg This is the combination of the lifetime of the egg and the lifetime of sperm.
Sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to five days and it takes them 6 hours to reach the fallopian tubes. To conceive, sperm must be waiting in the fallopian tube when ovulation occurs, and must be able to fertilize the egg within 12-24 hours of the egg being released.
Getting pregnant essentially boils down to getting the timing right: will the sperm be ready and waiting when the egg is dropped from the ovaries? The window of opportunity is about 5-6 days per cycle.
So, when is your fertile window?
An NIH study found that the probability of getting pregnant begins to rise about 7 days after a woman’s last period. Their results indicated that the probability of a woman being in her fertile window was 2% at day 4, 58% at day 12, and 5% at day 21. Clinical guidelines say that your fertile window should be between days 10 and 17 of your menstrual cycle, counting from the first day of your last period.
However, another NIH study found this was only the case for 30% of women. The study indicated that most women reach their fertile window earlier, and others much later.
The most effective way of determining your fertile window is on an individual basis by tracking your ovulation. Your fertile window will begin five days before ovulation, and end the day of ovulation itself. That being said, its timing could change from month to month, even in women with relatively regular menstrual cycles. Your best shot at getting pregnant is having sex in the 2-3 days before ovulation and the 12-24 hours after.
Here is an example of what tracking your cycle might look like:
Can you get pregnant after ovulation?
The short answer is yes, and actually you can only get pregnant after ovulation, but you have to move quickly. Your chances of getting pregnant are very high in the 24 hours after an egg is released, but after that they drop off rapidly. If your egg is not fertilized within 24 hours of ovulation, it will dissolve and be shed with the uterine lining during menstruation.
The long answer is a little more complex. One study broke down the probabilities of conception during the fertile window by day as follows:
The table highlights that biologically speaking, there is a short window of opportunity to get pregnant during a woman’s menstrual cycle. That being said, experiences of ovulation and fertility vary widely from woman to woman, so in order to most accurately determine the timing of your fertile window, you will need to track your ovulation. Generic numbers can be misleading because of the wide variation between women.
Be advised that you can only get pregnant during your fertile window, but your fertile window could be much earlier, or much later in your cycle than you may think. The best way to get a more precise idea of when your chances are highest for conceiving is by tracking ovulation.
How do I track my ovulation?
There are a number of ways you can go about figuring out when you ovulate.
- You can try over-the-counter ovulation prediction kits. These are similar to an at-home pregnancy test, and they track when your luteinizing hormone levels surge. If the test line shows up darker than the control, you are about to ovulate. An LH surge indicates that you will ovulate in the next 12-36 hours. This method is more effective the more days you test for the surge.
- You can track your cycle using an app. Period and ovulation trackers like Clue or Flo are a great way to monitor your cycle. These apps will prompt you to enter symptoms as you feel them, mark the first and last days of your period, and help you calibrate the best time for you to conceive. You can even set them up to send you an alert notification when you are ovulating.
- You can track your basal body temperature. As you ovulate, the hormone progesterone can cause your body temperature to rise, dropping off again before you start your period. This tracking method involves taking your temperature right when you wake up in the morning when your body is still at rest, starting the first day of your period. You repeat this every morning and track the rise and fall of your body temperature. This can give you some insight into which day of your cycle is your ovulation day.
Don't forget to check out our e-book on ovulation tracking, which you can find here!