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My partner and I are hoping to get pregnant soon, but my cycles have always been very irregular. They range from 18 – 35 days. I’ve been trying to keep track to see if there is a pattern, but they seem to be all over the map. With such irregular cycles, how can we figure out when I’m ovulating and when I’m likely to be most fertile?

Written by our medical expert Dr. Beth Taylor, co-founder and co-director of Olive Fertility Centre, Vancouver, British Columbia. 

The basics of prerequisites to getting pregnant on your own are: good sperm, good uterus, open tubes and good eggs that are ovulated monthly.  Determining when and if you are ovulating is one of the most important steps.  Women who ovulate release an egg from alternating ovaries, each month (e.g. one month it’s your left ovary and the next month it’s your right).  Prior to ovulation the body produces a hormone called luteinizing hormone (LH) that causes the ovary to release an egg.  After ovulation the ovary produces progesterone. Progesterone helps the uterus to support a pregnancy and it also increases a woman’s temperature.  Knowing this, you can follow the steps below to determine if you’re ovulating:

  1. Check your urine for the hormone LH.  Several companies make urine LH test kits, called “ovulation predictor kits.” You can buy them on-line or in a local pharmacy. Begin testing your urine a few days before you think you might ovulate (e.g. cycle day 10-11 for most women).  When the test turns positive you are going to ovulate the next day.
  2. Check your basal body temperature. You can buy special thermometers that you use each morning before getting out of bed, to test your body temperature.  Plot your temperature on a graph, and if it rises by 0.2 C it means you’ve probably ovulated.  The temperature goes up a day after ovulation and stays up until your period comes, and throughout pregnancy.
  3. Have your blood tested for progesterone after you think you’ve ovulated. This will tell with certainty whether you have ovulated.

Many women with irregular cycles like you are describing are still ovulating and will be fertile, while some others will not be ovulating. If you have irregular cycles and are not ovulating, it’s best to see your doctor. S/he can help determine why you’re not ovulating and make a plan to treat you. When you see your doctor be sure to bring along your period dates, the results of your LH, and/or your basal body temperature charts.

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