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Does just seeing a baby make you light up? Is it hard to walk past a stroller without peeking inside to see the little one? If you’re ready to expand your family and want to be pregnant, it may feel like there’s not a month to miss!

Even if you just decided to start trying, every month that passes without a positive pregnancy test may seem like forever as you wonder if and when your family might expand.

If you’d like to maximize the likelihood of becoming pregnant, you may be willing to try just about anything! Well, starting with ovulation test strips may help you take control of your fertility.

Ovulation test strips are similar in design to the pregnancy tests found in many convenience and grocery stores. But instead of indicating when you’re pregnant, ovulation test strips indicate your fertile window so you’ll know when intercourse is most likely to result in a pregnancy.

Much like the store bought pregnancy tests that detect human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG) levels in your urine, ovulation test strips detect luteinizing hormone (LH) in your urine to tell you when you’re most likely to conceive. How is this possible? It’s all thanks to an LH surge

Luteinizing hormone is secreted at low levels throughout your menstrual cycle. However, once a developing egg follicle reaches a certain size, levels increase and an LH surge causes ovulation to occur 24 to 36 hours later. (If you’re wondering about the timeline involved, this surge usually occurs around the midpoint in your cycle.)

So, what does all this mean? If you’re trying to get pregnant, ovulation is important, as it signifies the culmination of the fertile window. Once an egg has been released from the ovary, it’s only viable for 24 hours.

Your best chance of becoming pregnant involves having unprotected intercourse from 5 days before to 1 day after ovulation. This means by the time you see the LH surge, you’re already in the middle of your fertile window.

To put it simply, an LH surge indicates it’s time to have unprotected sexual relations if you want to become pregnant. A good rule of thumb for conception is to have sex 2 to 3 times in the 24 to 48 hours following your LH surge.

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It’s important to note that using ovulation test strips doesn’t guarantee you’ll become pregnant. For one, they don’t work for everyone. There are cases (some of which are described below) in which the body has an elevated LH level due to other reasons, and an LH surge won’t indicate ovulation.

Additionally, ovulation test strips do not test the viability of eggs or sperm, and they don’t affect fertilization. As such, there’s no guarantee that if you have sex during an LH surge you’ll conceive a healthy baby.

If you have concerns about whether you’re ovulating — or any other factors that may affect your ability to conceive — you should speak to your healthcare provider about further testing options.

The various brands of ovulation test strips come with slightly different directions, so it’s important to check the instructions on your particular kit!

In general, you’ll want to use the ovulation test strips at the same time each day for several days until you get a positive result. The process is typically a very simple one that involves dipping the test strips in urine and waiting to read the results.

Timing your cycle

Knowing which days to use your ovulation test strips can be complicated. Due to the cost of test strips, most people don’t want to test every day of the month, so it’s helpful to narrow in on a window of a few days to test.

If you’re using test strips and would like to skip the math, one option is to use an ovulation calculator app. Just insert some information about your average period length and the dates of your last cycle, and presto, you’ll have an estimated ovulation date.

Simply begin using your strips a few days before your estimated ovulation date to make sure that you don’t miss the LH surge if you have a shorter than usual cycle. With any luck, you’ll be looking at a positive pregnancy test in a few weeks.

Curious about the math and want to try to figure it out on your own? Well, in a 28-day cycle, ovulation typically occurs about 14 days after the first day of your last period, and your LH surge generally occurs 1 or 2 days before that. In this case, you’d begin testing around day 10.

If your cycle is shorter or longer, you’ll need to adjust the midpoint. You should begin testing at least 3 to 4 days before your estimated ovulation date to catch the surge.

Reading the test

If you are using basic test strips, you’ll see two lines. One line is the control line. This is just to let you know that the test is working properly. The other line is the test line. You can tell that LH is surging when this second line is as dark or darker than the control line.

If you’re using an ovulation test with a digital display, a design will appear on the screen indicating whether you’ve entered your fertile window.

When your test appears positive, you’ll know that your LH surge is taking place and that your fertile window is the next 24 to 48 hours.

Keep in mind that you can get a positive result on your test for several days, so if your first day of testing is positive, next month you may want to test a day or two earlier to ensure you catch the start of your LH surge. As mentioned earlier, your fertile window begins a few days before the surge, so knowing when it happens can help pinpoint your timing.

There are many different types of ovulation test strips — and a range of prices to go along with them!

More expensive options offer a digital display, and some detect both estrogen and LH. This allows them to detect more fertile days than some of the basic tests.

You’ll spend more money for this information and ease of readability, but the extra information may be worth it if you’ve been struggling to conceive. (You’ll also need to start testing at a different time with these digital display options, so make sure to read the directions carefully!)

On the other end of the cost spectrum, you can buy ovulation test strips in bulk online that’ll come with limited directions for use. Whether these test strips will work for you depends on your comfort with reading them.

Unlike pregnancy tests, which either show a line or not, you’ll need to be able to compare the color of the test line to the control line on a basic ovulation test strip. To make this easier, some brands offer an app to track your tests and compare the lines over time.

Read more about the best ovulation tests here.

Ovulation test strips are not a fit for everyone, so it’s important to know that you may not want to use them if:

  • You have extremely irregular cycles (It can be frustrating trying to figure out when to use them and costs can add up.)
  • You have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) (Many women with PCOS have constantly elevated levels of LH, so ovulation tests will falsely register positive.)
  • You’re entering menopause (Like PCOS, this can lead to consistently elevated levels of LH.)

Once baby fever hits, it can be hard to wait! If you don’t want to waste any time getting pregnant, current medical technology can certainly increase the likelihood of your wish coming true. Before skipping to more invasive procedures, though, you may want to consider giving ovulation test strips a try.

Ovulation test strips can’t guarantee a pregnancy, but they can help you know what your fertile days are. If you’re not a good candidate for ovulation strips or you need additional assistance, talk to your medical provider. They can use blood tests to determine your fertile period, or maybe even do a transvaginal ultrasound to check your uterus and ovaries.

Also, don’t be afraid to talk with your provider if you find that you’re not able to conceive after 6 months of trying (if you’re 35 years or older), or for more than 1 year (if you’re under 35 years old). Your doctor can offer further assistance or direct you to a fertility specialist.