To make a baby, sperm and egg must meet at the ideal moment. Here's how to know when that is.
When you're trying to get pregnant, timing is everything. Perfect eggs and flawless sperm are useless if they don't hook up at the opportune moment. To make that happen, you need to have intercourse within 24 hours of ovulation (when the ripened egg is released from the ovary). OB-GYNs and fertility experts recommend having intercourse every other day before ovulation, especially in the week preceding it. That way, you're sure to have sex at least once during your fertile period each menstrual cycle. Also, ejaculating every other day keeps your partner's sperm supply "fresh," without depleting it too quickly: Too-frequent ejaculation can lower sperm count slightly.
But if making love every other day doesn't sound feasible or even appealing, you might want to try to figure out exactly when you're ovulating, so you can concentrate your baby-making efforts around that time. Here are four ways to do that.
1. CHART YOUR MENSTRUAL CYCLE: One of the most common misconceptions about fertility is that every woman ovulates on day 14 of her menstrual cycle. But that's only true for women with a regular 28-day cycle. In fact, ovulation occurs not 14 days after menstruation begins, but 14 days before. So if you have a very regular cycle, you can estimate your date of ovulation by subtracting two weeks from the date of your next expected period. For example: A woman with a regular 30-day cycle probably ovulates around day 16; a woman with a regular 26-day cycle, around day 12.
2. RECORD YOUR WAKING TEMPERATURE: Taking your temperature before you get out of bed in the morning is another way to pinpoint ovulation. You'll need a special thermometer that measures basal body temperature (BBT) in tenths of degrees; these are available in drugstores for $10 to $15. A woman's normal pre-ovulation BBT is between 96* F and 99* F, but after the egg is released, her BBT increases by about half a degree and remains slightly elevated until right before her next menstrual period starts. If your cycle is regular, charting your waking temperature for a few cycles may help predict ovulation. Note: By the time your BBT rises, ovulation has already occurred, and there's little time left to conceive; ideally, sperm are "waiting" in the fallopian tube when the egg is released.
3. CHECK YOUR CERVICAL MUCUS: Changes in your cervical mucus can help identify your fertile phase without the need for any special devices. For a few days after your period, your cervical fluid may be dry or sticky; then it starts to get wetter. "If it becomes slippery and stretchy--almost like a raw egg white--that's when you're most fertile," says Toni Weschler, author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health (HarperCollins, 2002).
4. USE A FERTILITY MONITOR: If your cycle tends to be irregular, ovulation-predictor kits can help pinpoint your fertile phase. Most use morning urine to measure luteinizing hormone (LH), which surges right before ovulation. These kits, available in drugstores, generally cost between $14 and $40. Another type of ovulation kit measures estrogen levels in saliva. You apply a bit of saliva to a lens, then examine it under a microscope (included in the kit). A fernlike pattern indicates a fertile phase. Kits range from $25 for those with basic microscopes up to about $375 for sets with electronic devices.
The newest ovulation-tracking device, the OV Watch, monitors yet another body fluid: perspiration. Looking like--and worn as--a wristwatch, the device contains sensors that check for increasing amounts of chloride in sweat. This rise precedes an LH increase, so you're alerted that ovulation will occur within the next few days. An OV Watch starter kit, which includes a three-month supply of sensors, costs $229. For more information call 877-249-2229 or visit ovwatch.com.
Take your pick--low-tech or high, all these methods will help you identify the most fertile phase in your cycle. Once you figure out when that is, you'll know what to do from there!