How many days after your period can you get pregnant? The easy answer is, ovulation is normally halfway through your cycle. Therefore you can become pregnant during ovulation.
But, it’s a loaded question that has many things to take into consideration. As a woman, your body goes through many changes every month; it is on a constantly changing cycle.
Although the typical cycle is considered 28 days, only 10-15% of women actually have cycles that are exactly 28 days. Menstrual cycles can range anywhere from 25 to 36 days. Also, at least 20% of women experience irregular cycles. This is where their cycles are longer or shorter than the normal range. The phases of your cycle are menstruation, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. Let’s take a quick look at those phases and what they are.
The first day of your cycle is also the first day of your period. If no pregnancy has occurred during the previous cycle, your uterus will shed its lining, consisting of blood and tissue. Menstruation typically lasts 3-7 days and blood loss during a cycle usually ranges from ½ to 2½ ounces.
The follicular phase also begins on the first day of your cycle, it begins the development of the follicles in the ovaries. During the shedding of your uterine lining, the pituitary gland increases the production of follicle-stimulating hormones. This hormone then stimulates 3-30 follicles. Each follicle contains an egg. Towards the end of this cycle, as the hormone levels decrease, only the dominant follicle will continue to grow. It soon begins to produce estrogen. As estrogen increases, it also starts preparing the uterus and stimulates the luteinizing hormone(also known as LH) surge.
The ovulatory phase begins with the LH surge. This hormone causes the dominant follicle to bulge out of the surface of the ovary, it will eventually rupture and release an egg. The ovulatory phase lasts 16 to 32 hours. It ends when the egg is released, about 10-12 hours after the hormone surge. The egg can be fertilized for only about 12 after it’s release.
The luteal phase begins after ovulation. It typically lasts 14 days (unless fertilization occurs) and ends just before menstruation. In this phase, the dominant follicle will close after rupturing and releasing its egg. It will form a corpus luteum, which produces increasing quantities of progesterone. The progesterone does the following:
- Prepares the uterus in the event that an embryo is implanted
- It will cause the endometrium lining to thicken and fill with nutrients and other fluids to nourish a potential embryo
- Causes the mucus in the cervix to thicken
- Causes the body temperature to increase slightly.
The estrogen levels are elevated as well during this time. Estrogen also stimulates the endometrium to thicken.
If an egg has not been implanted, the corpus luteum shrinks and disappears after about 14 days, the estrogen and progesterone hormones go back to their normal levels, and a new menstrual cycle begins. However, some women experience shorter luteal phases.
Now that we’ve had a quick overview, let’s delve into when your ovulation is, the signs, and some things that could cause your ovulation to fluctuate.
Ovulation typically happens around day 14 for most women who have the average 28-day cycle counting from the first day of your period. However, since cycles can last anywhere from 25-36 days, ovulation times can vary as well. Even your own cycle and time of ovulation varies from one month to the next. You can download apps that will predict when you ovulate based off of when your previous periods have been, but that’s all they are- predictions. The only way to truly know when you are ovulating is to watch for signs to look for and track your cycle by keeping a menstrual chart. The signs to look out for are:
- Your cervical mucus becomes clearer and thinner
- Your cervix softens and opens slightly
- You may feel a twinge of pain as your dominant follicle ruptures
- Your sex dirve may increase
- You may notice some light spotting
- Your vulva or vagina may appear slightly swollen
How can you keep a menstrual chart? A few things you could track are:
- Your basal body temperature(BBT)
- Checking your cervix daily
- Checking your cervical mucus
- Taking ovulation tests(OPK)
Basal Body Temperature
Your basal body temperature is the baseline reading you get first thing in the morning, after at least 3-5 hours of sleep, and before you get out of bed, talk, or even sit up. Your BBT changes throughout your cycle as your hormones fluctuate. Your ovulation will reach its lowest point at ovulation and then rise immediately about half a degree as soon as ovulation occurs. However, it’s important to note that charting your BBT alone does not predict when ovulation will happen, but rather confirms that ovulation has occurred after the fact. Tracking your BBT for a few months will help you to see patterns in your cycles, enabling you to more accurately predict when your fertile days are.
Your cervix will also give clues as to when you ovulate based on position, dilation, and firmness. When you aren’t fertile, your cervix will be low, firm, and closed. As ovulation approaches, it begins to rise, soften, and open to allow sperm to enter.
Be sure to thoroughly wash your hands before and after performing a self-examination. When you try to find your cervix, it will feel like a small donut. If you are fertile, it will be soft, like ripe fruit or your lips. If you aren’t fertile, your cervix will be hard, like the tip of your nose. Also note the position, if your finger is only inserted to the first knuckle, your cervix is low and it is not your fertile window. Insertion to your second knuckle is when your cervix is considered high.
Another cervical symptom to track is your cervical mucus. It constantly changes throughout your cycle. You have much, if any, cervical mucus after your period ends. As the cycle continues, you may notice an influx in the amount of mucus, with an often white or cloudy appearance.
As you get closer to ovulation, this mucus becomes even more abundant. It becomes thinner, clearer, and has a slippery consistency similar to an egg white. Egg white cervical mucus is another sign that ovulation is right around the corner. After ovulation, you may either become dry again or develop a thicker discharge.
Ovulation test kit
Ovulation tests(also known as OPK) measure the levels of LH much like a pregnancy test measures the levels of HCG. If you’re tracking your cycle for the first time, I would suggest beginning to use OPKs the day after your period ends. Test once a day until you get closer to your predicted ovulation day, as you draw closer, begin testing twice a day. The reasoning behind testing twice a day is because the OPK measures for the LH surge. Some women’s LH slowly climbs to a peak, while others rise and fall rapidly within as little as 6 hours. However, receiving a positive OPK doesn’t mean that you are ovulating right then. A positive OPK means that you will ovulate in 12-48 hours. After receiving a positive OPK, continue to test throughout the rest of your cycle until you begin your period or until you receive a positive pregnancy test. The reason for this being that you can have more than one LH surge in one cycle. It is possible to have an LH surge and not ovulate which could cause another possible LH surge later that month. Continuing to test after your first positive OPK will help you better know your cycle and also catch another LH surge should that happen.
Tracking with OPKs and tracking your BBT together is very helpful for knowing when you ovulate and confirming that you did ovulate after that LH surge. You will get a positive OPK when you have an LH surge letting you know that you will ovulate within 12-48 hours. Then your BBT will rise when you do ovulate, confirming that you actually did ovulate during your cycle.
However, before running to your closest Walmart or Meijer to pick up a pack of OPKs, be sure to check out companies like MomMed and Ovulation@Home test kits. They are more cost-efficient and may even be more accurate. Instead of just showing a digital smiley face when your LH levels are so high, tests made by companies like MomMed and Ovulation@Home actually show line progression much like pregnancy tests making it easier to pinpoint when you actually had your LH surge.
In conclusion, you should typically ovulate and be able to become pregnant halfway through your cycle, but everyone’s cycle is different and many things can cause it to fluctuate like: stress, weight loss, obesity, birth control, hormonal conditions, PCOS, etc. The only way to truly know when you ovulate is to track your cycle. This way of tracking can be used if you are trying to conceive or it can even be used as a form of natural birth control known as the Fertility Awareness Method(FAM) or the Rhythm Method. Even so, it is important to note that sperm can live in the vaginal canal and uterus for up to 5 days; take this into consideration when planning birth control options.