Recognizing the signs of ovulation is key when pregnancy is the goal. During each monthly cycle, healthy couples who aren't using birth control typically have around a 25 to 30 percent chance of getting pregnant, though it can vary widely depending on the circumstances. 

That's partly because you can only conceive around the time of ovulation — a small window each month (between 12 and 24 hours) when the egg is viable.

Doesn't sound like much of an opening? Consider, then, that sperm can live for three to six days, meaning that even if you have sex a few days before ovulation, some sperm may still be around to greet the egg when it emerges. And remember: It only takes one sperm to make a baby.

Of course, having sex the day you ovulate would be ideal, since after that the window tends to close until the next cycle. So what ovulation symptoms should you look for to time it just right? Here are the signs of ovulation to pay close attention to when you're trying to conceive. 

What is ovulation?

Ovulation is the release of a mature egg from one of the ovaries, which happens every month. A woman is most fertile around the time of ovulation.

Common signs of ovulation

Here are the ovulation symptoms to watch for. Note: Some women may experience all of these symptoms, while others may experience few, if any.[1]

1. Changes in body temperature

During ovulation, your basal body temperature (BBT) rises slightly. You're most fertile in the two days before your BBT increases. Charting your BBT using a special thermometer for a few months may help you better pinpoint your most fertile days.

2. Changes in cervical mucus

Cervical mucus becomes clearer and thinner with a slippery consistency similar to that of egg whites. You might notice the change in consistency in your undies.

3. Ovulation pain

You may feel a slight twinge of pain or mild cramps in your lower abdomen (this is called mittelschmerz).

4. A libido boost

Your sex drive may increase right around the time your body's about to ovulate.

5. Changes in cervical positioning

Just before ovulation, your cervix may soften, open up and move up higher.

6. Light spotting

You may notice some light spotting.

7. Vulva changes

Your labia, or the outer part of your genitalia, may swell.

8. Breast tenderness

Fluctuating hormones bring on achy breasts and sore nipples for some women.

What does ovulation feel like? Moms explain

Within What to Expect's Trying to Conceive Community message board, ovulation symptoms are a frequent discussion topic. Here's what moms-to-be say they've noticed about their bodies when they're ovulating:

Some moms experience painful ovulation — and for many of them, the pain is limited to one side

  • "I always get ovulation cramps; thats how I usually know when/if I'm ovulating. When I get ovulation pains they usually last three to four days ... The cramping is usually on one side near/in the ovary area and in the uterus area."
  • "I get ovulation pain which can last anywhere between one and four days. It feels like a sharp stabbing pain in the ovary. I also have a feeling of pressure in my lower abdomen, like a congestion pain or feeling of distention."
  • "When I ovulated last month, I felt it by my left ovary. it was like a sharp cramp and pressure. I was sore for the rest of the day."

Some experience some pink or brown ovulation bleeding

  • "Today is supposed to be ovulation day, and yesterday I had a tiny bit of blood in the evening when I wiped."
  • "I've had ovulation bleeding before, but only a handful of times. I think mine was always brownish, but I'm sure it can be pink too."
  • "I have ovulation spotting every cycle. Ovulation spotting for me is just a tiny streak of red with a one time wipe."

Ovulation discharge is very common

  • "I have very thick, lotion-like cervical mucus after I ovulate."
  • "It's the consistency of egg whites."

Many women experience no ovulation symptoms at all

  • "I don't recall ever noticing my ovulation symptoms, and I didn't have any trouble getting pregnant." 

When does ovulation occur?

Ovulation usually occurs halfway through your menstrual cycle, or around day 14 of the average 28-day cycle counting from the first day of one period to the first day of the next.[2]

But as with everything pregnancy-related, there's a wide range of normal here since cycles can last anywhere from 23 to 35 days, and even your own cycle and time of ovulation may vary slightly from month to month.

How long does ovulation last?

An egg can be fertilized for between 12 and 24 hours after ovulation. The specific length of time that it takes for the egg to be released by the ovary and picked up by the fallopian tube is variable but occurs 12 to 24 hours after a surge of the hormone LH as described below.

How to track ovulation

There are a number of ways to track ovulation and predict when you might start ovulating. Here's how to prepare for ovulation and pinpoint the timing:

Chart your menstrual cycle

Keep a menstrual cycle calendar for a few months so you can get an idea of what's normal for you — or use tools that can help you pinpoint which days you're most likely to ovulate, like What to Expect's Ovulation Calculator. If your periods are irregular, you'll need to be even more alert for other ovulation symptoms.

Listen to your body

Can you feel ovulation happening? If you're like 20 percent of women, your body will send you a memo when it's ovulating, in the form of a twinge of pain or a series of cramps in your lower abdominal area (usually localized to one side — the side you're ovulating from). 

Called mittelschmerz — German for "middle pain" — this monthly reminder of fertility is thought to be the result of the maturation or release of an egg from an ovary.[3] Pay close attention, and you may be more likely to get the message.

Track your basal body temperature

Your basal body temperature, or BBT, that is. Taken with a special thermometer, basal body temperature is the baseline reading you get first thing in the morning, after at least three to five hours of sleep and before you get out of bed, talk or even sit up. 

Your BBT changes throughout your cycle as fluctuations in hormone levels occur. During the first half of your cycle before ovulation, estrogen dominates.

During the second half after ovulation, there's a surge in progesterone, which increases your body temperature as it gets your uterus ready for a fertilized, implantable egg. That means your temperature will be lower in the first half of the month than it is in the second half.

Confused? Here's the bottom line: Your basal body temperature will reach its lowest point at ovulation and then rise immediately about a half a degree as soon as ovulation occurs. Keep in mind that charting your BBT for just one month will not enable you to predict the day you ovulate but rather give you evidence of ovulation after it's happened. Tracking it over a few months, however, will help you see a pattern in your cycles, enabling you to predict when your fertile days are — and when to hop into bed accordingly.

Many women do find this approach a bit frustrating and it is important to know that studies have shown that the timing of ovulation does vary among women after the dip in temperature. Ovulation predictor kits are more precise.

Get to know your cervix

Ovulation isn't an entirely hidden process, and there are some definite physical signs of ovulation. As your body senses the hormone shifts that indicate an egg is about to be released from the ovary, it begins prepping for incoming sperm to give the egg its best chance of being fertilized.

One detectable sign of ovulation is the position of the cervix itself. During the beginning of a cycle, your cervix — that neck-like passage between your vagina and uterus that has to stretch during birth to accommodate your baby's head — is low, firm and closed. But as ovulation approaches, it pulls back up, softens a bit and opens just a little, to let the sperm through on their way to their target. 

Some women can easily feel these changes, while others have a tougher time. Check your cervix daily, using one or two fingers, and keep a record of your observations.

Pay attention to discharge 

The other cervical ovulation symptom you can watch for is a change in mucus. Cervical mucus, which you'll notice as discharge, carries the sperm to the egg deep inside you. 

After your period ends, you'll have a dry spell, literally; you shouldn't expect much, if any, cervical mucus. As the cycle proceeds, you'll notice an increase in the amount of mucus, with an often white or cloudy appearance — and if you try to stretch it between your fingers, it'll break apart.

As you get closer to ovulation, this mucus becomes even more copious, but now it's thinner, clearer and has a slippery consistency similar to that of an egg white. If you try to stretch it between your fingers, you'll be able to pull it into a string a few inches long before it breaks (how's that for fun in the bathroom?). This egg white cervical mucus is yet another sign of impending ovulation.

After you ovulate, you may either become dry again or develop a thicker discharge. Put together with cervical position and BBT on a single chart, cervical mucus can be an extremely useful (if slightly messy) tool in pinpointing the day you're most likely to ovulate — in plenty of time for you to do something about it. 

Some women do not produce much cervical mucus, particularly those who have had surgery on the cervix for abnormal PAP smears (such as a LEEP procedure).

Buy an ovulation predictor kit

Don't want to mess around with mucus? You don't have to. Many women use ovulation predictor kits, which identify the date of ovulation 12 to 24 hours in advance by looking at levels of luteinizing hormone, or LH, the last of the hormones to hit its peak before ovulation

All you have to do is pee on a stick and wait for the indicator to tell you whether you're about to ovulate. These kits are more accurate than the use of apps which predict when you should be ovulating, but not necessarily when you are ovulating.

A less precise and rarely used approach is a saliva test, which measures estrogen levels in your saliva as ovulation nears. When you're ovulating, a look at your saliva under the test's eyepiece will reveal a microscopic pattern that resembles the leaves of a fern plant or frost on a window pane. Not all women get a good "fern," but this test, which is reusable, can be cheaper than the kits.

There are also devices that detect the numerous salts (chloride, sodium, potassium) in a woman's sweat, which change during different times of the month. Called the chloride ion surge, this shift happens even before the estrogen and the LH surge, so these tests give a woman a four-day warning of when she may be ovulating, versus the 12-to-24-hour notice that standard ovulation predictors provide. 

The saliva and chloride ion surge tests have not been well studied and tend to be used much less frequently.

Just remember: Patience and persistence are key when you're trying to get pregnant, and there are no guarantees that you'll definitely conceive even if you are ovulating. 

But it can't hurt to keep an eye out for these common ovulation symptoms, then plan a candlelit dinner, draw a warm bubble bath or go on a romantic weekend getaway — whatever it takes to put you and your partner in the baby-making mood.

Good luck — and have fun trying!

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the signs of ovulation?

Increase in sex drive, light spotting, and mild cramping are just a few signs you may be ovulating.

How do I know I'm ovulating?

There are a number of ways to determine when you're ovulating:

  • Chart your menstrual cycle
  • Pay attention to any twinges of pain or lower abdominal cramps (called mittelschmerz)
  • Track your basal body temperature
  • Buy an ovulation predictor kit
  • Pay attention to your cervical mucus

How many days during ovulation can you get pregnant?

You can only conceive around the time of ovulation — a small window each month (between 12 and 24 hours) when the egg is viable.

How long do you ovulate?

An egg can be fertilized for between 12 and 24 hours after ovulation. Ovulation usually occurs halfway through your menstrual cycle, or around day 14 of the average 28-day cycle counting from the first day of one period to the first day of the next.