Ovulation symptoms: 10 signs you're ovulating

You know you probably ovulate right in the middle of your menstrual cycle, but are there ovulation symptoms that can give you a heads up? Yes – here are 10 signs that may predict when you're most fertile.

happy woman using an ovulation test kit
Photo credit: Erica Cervantez for BabyCenter

What is ovulation?

Ovulation is when you release an egg from one of your ovaries. Usually, your body releases one egg at a time, once per month. The egg travels down the fallopian tube, where it may meet with sperm and be fertilized.

If it's fertilized, the egg will travel to your uterus, where it will implant, and you'll be pregnant. If it's not fertilized in 12 to 24 hours, the egg will die and disappear, and you'll shed your uterine lining in your next menstrual period.

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Your fertile window is five days before ovulation until one day after ovulation. That's because sperm can survive inside your body for up to 3 to 5 days. Your best chances of getting pregnant, though, are when there are live sperm in the fallopian tubes during ovulation.

While it's very possible to get pregnant without paying attention to when you're ovulating, your chances of conceiving will be higher (and getting pregnant may happen faster) if you monitor your ovulation symptoms and figure out your fertile window.

Trying to get pregnant isn't the only reason to keep track of your ovulation. Some women enjoy fertility awareness as a way of tuning into their bodies. And – while it isn't a very reliable birth control method – some keep track so they can avoid sex around the time they ovulate, so they don't get pregnant.

“Even if you're not actively trying to conceive, being aware of your menstrual cycle and ovulation patterns provides great insight to your reproductive health," says Sasha Hakman, M.D.Opens a new window, an ob-gyn and reproductive endocrinology and infertility specialist in Phoenix.

graphic explaining 10 signs of ovulation

Signs of ovulation

Typically, there are some major (and some less dependable) signs that you're ovulating. Learning how to identify and track ovulation symptoms can help you plan when to have sex if you want to get pregnant. But don't get too caught up in the process.

"There are signs to help you track ovulation, but you don't need to add stress to your journey," advises Courtney March, M.DOpens a new window., director of obstetrics and gynecology and division director of reproductive endocrinology at the University of Kansas Health System. "If your cycles are regular, your fertile window won't change much each month. If your cycles are unpredictable, I recommend you see a provider so they can help you with your fertility journey."

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Keep in mind, too, that you're not likely to have all of these symptoms – and absence of these signs doesn't mean you're not ovulating.

1. Changes in basal body temperature (BBT)

Your BBT is your lowest body temperature (your body temperature at rest) in a 24-hour period. On the day after you ovulate, your BBT will go up slightly, by 0.5 to 1.0 degrees Fahrenheit. It will stay elevated until your next period. It may also dip slightly just before the increase.

"Charting monthly temperature changes can confirm ovulation but not predict it," explains the American College of Obstetrics and GynecologistsOpens a new window. So you'll know that you're ovulating or have ovulated, but it won't give you a heads up beforehand. Your most fertile period is the two to three days before the increase in BBT.

To use BBT, you'll need to track your temperature with a special basal thermometer for a few months to identify patterns.

2. Changes in cervical mucus

Cervical mucus is the vaginal discharge you sometimes find in your underwear. During the few days before you ovulate and immediately after ovulation, you may notice an increase in cervical mucus and a change in its texture.

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According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)Opens a new window, the amount of mucus increases over the 5 to 6 days before ovulation and reaches its peak within 2 to 3 days of ovulation.

The mucus will also turn clear, thin, slippery, and stretchy – like raw egg whites. This consistency will help sperm swim to your egg. The probability of conception is highest when mucus is slippery and clear, explains ASRM.

3. Changes to the cervix

During ovulation, your cervix is softer, higher, wetter, and more open than usual. You may not know exactly how this feels unless you check your cervix regularly and learn what it's like when soft and open versus hard and closed. You can feel these changes if you reach inside your vagina with a clean, just-washed finger. You may want to check your cervix throughout your cycle so you have a baseline.

You may also notice that your vulva (the outer lips of your vagina) are slightly swollen and more sensitive during ovulation.

4. Cramping

Ovulation can cause mild discomfort in the form of light cramps or twinges in the lower abdomen. You may feel ovulation cramping on one side of your abdomen (on the side that's releasing the egg). This is known as mittelschmerz (German for "middle pain"). Less commonly, you may feel ovulation cramping as low back pain or side pain.

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Some women don't notice any ovulation cramping at all, and those who do usually don't find that it interferes with their daily activity. The feeling may be dull and achy or sharp and sudden, and it can last minutes, hours, or even a day or two.

5. Spotting

You might also see light spotting or bleeding around the time you release an egg. The bleeding is a result of the follicle surrounding the egg breaking open. Blood turns brown over time, so you may have red or brown discharge. The spotting may happen all at once or for a few days.

6. Breast tenderness

Thanks to the surge of hormones (in particular progesterone) after ovulation, your breasts may feel tender, heavy, and achy, and your nipples may feel sore and tender.

7. Heightened sense of smell

Studies are conflicting, but some suggest that women who are ovulating or who are in the second half of their menstrual cycle have a keener sense of smell – and taste – than those who aren't ovulating.

8. Increased sex drive

Some women say they feel sexy, flirty, more sociable, and more physically attractive right before and during ovulation. Studies support the idea of increased libido during ovulation. And an increased sex drive makes good sense, in terms of the propagation of the species!

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This increase in libido coincides with the production of the luteinizing hormone (LH) and lasts about six days, starting about three days before the LH peaks (24 to 36 hours before ovulation). One researcher concludedOpens a new window that women have stronger sexual desire and more sexual fantasies beginning three days before the LH surge.

9. Changes in appetite or mood

Right before you ovulate, you may not feel as hungry and eat less. Researchers have found that when estrogen levels peak right before ovulation, appetite drops lower than usual. After ovulation, a rise in progesterone (the hormone that prepares your body for pregnancy) leads to an increased appetite. Some studies have shown an increase in caloric intake of 90 to 504 calories a day during the second half of women's menstrual cycles compared to their calorie intake during ovulation.

We've all heard about negative premenstrual moods, but did you know that there's some evidence that you're more likely to be in a good mood in the middle of your menstrual cycle, around ovulation? Researchers think this may be because of the production of LH and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which are released by the pituitary gland in the brain.

10. Fluid retention

Hormones are responsible for this one, too. A surge of LH and estrogen right around the time you ovulate can cause you to retain fluid and feel bloated. You may also have slowed digestion and more gas, thanks to progesterone. All this ballooning of your tummy usually only lasts a few days.

When does ovulation happen?

Generally, you ovulate in the middle of your menstrual cycle. If you have an average 28-day cycle, you may ovulate around day 14. However, lengths of normal cycles can vary from 21 to 35 days. Some women ovulate around the same day each cycle, but for others the timing is hard to pinpoint.

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What if I don't ovulate?

If you don't ovulate, it isn't possible to become pregnant, since there won't be an egg available for fertilization.

A menstrual cycle that occurs without the release of an egg is called an anovulatory cycle. You won't ovulate if you're pregnant, past menopause, or taking birth control pills. And you may not ovulate if you:

  • Recently had a baby
  • Have a certain disease or condition (such as polycystic ovary syndrome or premature ovarian failure)
  • Are very underweight or overweight
  • Are experiencing stress
  • Take certain medications (some antidepressants and anti-nausea medications, for example)
  • Are exclusively breastfeeding (your baby eats no solid food or formula)

Read more about ovulation difficulties and other common causes of fertility problems in women.

How to calculate ovulation

There's no foolproof method to predict when you'll ovulate. But here are a few ways you can estimate when it's most likely to happen, so you can try to time sex or intrauterine insemination (IUI) accordingly. You can use more than one method at a time to boost your chances of getting pregnant.

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Ovulation test kits

Testing your hormone levels with an ovulation predictor kit (OPK) is one way to identify your fertile window, though it doesn't work perfectly for all women. These stick-based kits are available at drugstores or online without a prescription.

There are two kinds of kits, urine tests and saliva tests. Both types of tests show a positive result in the days before you ovulate, giving you time to plan ahead for baby-making sex. It's a good idea to test around the same time each day.

Fertility monitors

There are also fertility monitors available that track the results of your BBT, cervical mucus, and urine tests and then identify on a monthly chart your most (and least) fertile days. The monitors tell you when to do urine tests, and they record your menstrual period and when you have sex. Some are apps for your phone and others are available as separate touch-screen digital monitors.


Ovulation calculators

You can use BabyCenter's Ovulation Calculator to find out which days you're likely to be fertile and what your due date will be if you conceive. It's one quick and easy way to figure out how to increase your chances of getting pregnant. (It uses the calendar method, explained below.) 

You can also download the BabyCenter appOpens a new window to calculate your predicted ovulation date and fertile window easily from your phone.

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The calendar method

If your cycle is regular – the same number of days each time – you can try the calendar method (also known as the Standard Days Method or menstrual charting).

To estimate when you'll ovulate:

  1. Find your expected ovulation day: To do this, count back 14 days from when you expect your next period.
  2. Calculate your fertile window: This includes the day you ovulate and the preceding five days. So, for example, if day 1 is the first day of your period and day 28 is the day before you expect your next period, you'd be fertile on days 9 through 14.
  3. Emphasize the last three days: You're much more likely to get pregnant during the final three days of your fertile window than during the day immediately after you ovulate. Although sperm can survive in a woman's body for up to five days, they're more likely to fertilize your egg within three days of having sex.

This method is the easiest way to estimate your fertile window, but it's not always accurate. For one thing, you may not know when your next period will start. For another, ovulation doesn't dependably happen exactly 14 days before menstruation.

Your ovulation symptoms

You can track subtle changes in your basal body temperature, cervical mucus, and cervical firmness for a few cycles to try to determine when you ovulate.

If you pay attention to these clues and note them on a chart or app, you may see a pattern that can help you predict when you're likely to ovulate next. (If your periods are irregular, however, you may not notice a pattern.)

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Charting is free (after you buy the basal thermometer), but this method takes time and effort to do accurately.

It can also help to be aware of other ovulation symptoms you might have, such as spotting or cramping. Although this isn't a precise way to determine when you're ovulating, it may be helpful to be aware of these symptoms (if you have them) while using the calendar, OPK, or charting methods.

Learn more:

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Karen Miles
Karen Miles is a writer and an expert on pregnancy and parenting who has contributed to BabyCenter for more than 20 years. She's passionate about bringing up-to-date, useful information to parents so they can make good decisions for their families. Her favorite gig of all is being "Mama Karen" to four grown children and "Nana" to nine grandkids.