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If you’re planning to have a baby, tracking ovulation is important to reproducing. This is because you’re the most fertile around this time of the month. If you can narrow down your fertile window, you can increase sexual activity around these days and increase the likelihood of conception.

If you’re not familiar with ovulation and fertile windows, you may think a pregnancy can occur at any time during the month. But this isn’t the case. Most women can only conceive five to six days out of every month.

Before a pregnancy can take place, one of your ovaries must release a mature egg. This is called ovulation. Once the egg is released, it travels to your fallopian tubes. During this journey, the egg may become fertilized by a male sperm. If an egg isn’t present when you have intercourse, fertilization can’t occur.

Ovulation is a one-day occurrence. Once you’re able to recognize signs of ovulation, you’ll be able to plan sexual intercourse for the best chance of pregnancy. When your ovary releases a mature egg, the egg will die within 12 to 24 hours if it’s not fertilized by sperm. This is why it’s important to time sexual intercourse right before and around ovulation.

The good news is that sperm can live in a woman’s body for up to five days. So you don’t necessarily have to plan intercourse on the day you ovulate to conceive a baby. You can get pregnant even if you had unprotected sex several days prior to ovulation.

To illustrate, let’s say you ovulate on the 15th of the month. Since the egg is available for fertilization for the next 12 to 24 hours, you have until the 16th of the month (or one day) to conceive. However, your fertile window really began five days prior. Because sperm can survive in the body for up to five days, conception is a possibility if you had unprotected sex as early as the 10th or 11th of the month.

Bear in mind that ovulation doesn’t always occur on the same day within your monthly menstrual cycle. The first day of your period is referred to as cycle day one. The second day of your period is referred to as cycle day two and so on for the next several weeks.

Women with the average 28-days in a cycle usually ovulate on or around Cycle Day 14. The numbering of cycle days starts over if a pregnancy does not begin, and the woman starts her period.

Cycle days do not necessarily coincide with how many days are in any given month. Some months of the year have 28 days, some have 29, 30, or 31. So your fertile window might be off by one or two days every month. Even so, if you have a general idea of when you’re expected to ovulate, you can plan intercourse accordingly.

Since ovulation doesn’t always occur on the same day of every month, a calendar may not be the most effective way to track your fertile window. Instead, you should become familiar with your body and learn how to identify signs of ovulation. Some women don’t notice significant changes to their body during ovulation, but there are usually subtle signs that indicate an egg has been released. These signs include:

  • mild cramping or lower abdominal pain
  • a subtle rise in basal body temperature
  • changes to your discharge
  • increased sex drive

Another telltale sign of ovulation is a change in your cervical mucus. You may notice vaginal discharge with an “egg-white” appearance in the lining of your underwear. You may also notice a slight increase in your body temperature.

Monitoring certain changes in your body can help you determine when you’re most fertile. But if you’re having a hard time recognizing the signs of ovulation, you can also use an ovulation fertility monitor, or kit. These devices measure specific hormone levels in your urine to identify your peak fertile days of the month.

It’s important to note that ovulation can change with age. It’s not uncommon for some women to experience ovulation and fertility problems as they approach their late 30s and early 40s. This is because the quality and quantity of eggs decreases with age and ovulation can become irregular.

Fertility typically begins to decline after the age of 35. This makes it harder for some women to conceive. Different conditions can affect fertility, such as endometriosis, uterine fibroids, and pelvic inflammatory disease. But although it might be harder to get pregnant after a certain age, it may not be impossible. The key is treating the underlying cause of fertility. Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect fertility issues.