Once you start paying attention to your body, it’s amazing how many hints it delivers about the various stages in your cycle – and ovulation symptoms are often quite noticeable and easy to detect once you know what to look for.
Don’t forget that any form of birth control using synthetic hormones (such as birth control pills, implants or injections) will suppress normal ovulation symptoms and other indications of the different stages in your menstrual cycle.
Ovulation symptoms can be quite subtle. They involve your body’s normal response to the natural changes in hormones that occur at different stages of the ovulation cycle.
These symptoms often precede ovulation and give you some really good hints that you are in your most fertile period, the four or five days in the lead-up to ovulation.
Some common ovulation symptoms are:
- increased libido (sexual desire)
- change in cervical mucus
- change in the position and firmness of cervix
- tender breasts
- heightened senses of smell and taste
- abdominal cramps (Mittelschmerz)
- rise in basal body temperature
Ovulation symptom: increased libido or sexual desire
Many women won’t be surprised by this ovulation symptom – and it certainly makes good sense biologically.
The increase in certain hormones in the lead-up to ovulation often trigger higher-than-usual levels of sexual desire in women.
The hormones thought to affect desire in women at this time are oestrogen, testosterone and luteinising hormone.
If you’re planning to fall pregnant, this pre-ovulation symptom of increased female libido is good news, because you’re more likely to fall pregnant if you have sex as often as possible in the four to five days leading up to ovulation.
There are many anecdotal reports from women who believe that they look more sexually attractive in the lead-up to ovulation too; oestrogen can deliver plenty of side-effects that may contribute to this, including the inhibition of production of oil in the skin, which reduces the incidence of pimples.
And at least one study backs this up; a 2006 UCLA study found that women pay more attention to their appearance, grooming and dressing just prior to ovulation than at other times in their cycle.
Ovulation symptom: change in cervical mucus
The change in cervical mucus that occurs just prior to ovulation is one of the most consistent and reliable of ovulation symptoms in most women.
The volume of cervical mucus starts to increase as ovulation draws closer. Shortly after menstruation, cervical mucus may be sparse, but it will slowly increase in volume as the days progress. At first, it will usually have a slightly sticky consistency and be a white or cloudy colour.
In the days just before ovulation, the rise in oestrogen causes more cervical mucus to be produced. The mucus at this time is usually fairly clear and the texture becomes more slippery and stretchy – it is often compared to raw egg-white in colour and consistency.
The cervical mucus produced in the period before and during ovulation is designed to allow sperm to move freely through the cervix and into the fallopian tubes and to enable its survival until the release of the egg.
Ovulation symptom: a change in the position and firmness of the cervix
To spot this sign, you need to be familiar with the usual ‘feel’ of your cervix.
Proponents of this method suggest that you check your cervix once a day at around the same time. The cervix is usually smooth and round and slightly firmer than the vagina and is found at the top of the vagina. It is best checked with one or two clean fingers, while in a squatting position
When the time of ovulation approaches, the cervix will become higher (so is therefore more difficult to reach) and generally feels softer and more open.
Many women don’t feel comfortable with assessing the state of their own cervix, so this is an ovulation symptom that is not commonly self-assessed.
Ovulation symptom: tender breasts
Only some women experience this ovulation symptom, and it’s generally thought to be a side-effect of high oestrogen levels. Women who experience breast tenderness will usually find it occurs in a similar way each month.
The effects of the oestrogen diminish significantly after ovulation however they may recur in the lead-up to menstruation.
If you suffer from breast tenderness mid-cycle, it’s worth taking note of this as an ovulation symptom, noting when it occurs and to what extent, so that you can use it in conjunction with a range of other ovulation symptoms to help you recognise your most fertile period.
Ovulation symptom: heightened senses of smell and taste
Some women report that they have a more intense experience of various smells and tastes at the time of ovulation.
Once again, this is an ovulation symptom commonly associated with raised levels of oestrogen.
When the egg has been released at the time of ovulation and oestrogen levels drop, this symptom generally fades.
Ovulation symptom: abdominal cramps (Mittelschmerz)
An estimated twenty percent of women feel a mild cramp-like abdominal pain or twinge at the time of ovulation.
This ovulation symptom has the clinical name of Mittelschmerz, which is a German phrase meaning ‘middle pain.’
The pain can last from a few minutes to a few hours and is more common in the right side of the lower abdomen, although some women report pain on both sides of the abdomen and other women report that the pain moves from side to side each month.
Several possible explanations for the ovulation symptoms of mittleschmerz include:
- the growth of follicles in the ovaries prior to ovulation
- the rupture of the ovarian wall that occurs each month at ovulation
- muscular contractions of the fallopian tube and the ovaries that occur after ovulation
Ovulation symptom: rise in basal body temperature
Immediately after ovulation, a rise in the body’s level of progesterone generates the almost universal ovulation symptom of ovulation temperature.
At this time, most women will experience a rise in their resting body temperature of around 0.5 degrees Celsius, and their temperature will remain at that level for the rest of the month.
Basal body temperature is best measured first thing in the morning, before you get out of bed, using an accurate thermometer and recording your temperature on a chart each day.
By Fran Molloy, journalist and mum of four