The main event of your cycle is not your bleed it's ovulation, however many of us aren't sure when or how this occurs and therefore aren't sure where to start when wanting to conceive.
The only day of your menstrual cycle that you can fall pregnant is the day you ovulate. Having said that, sperm can survive inside the female reproductive tract for 3-5 days which means we are technically fertile for up to six days of our menstrual cycle. Once we have ovulated we are no longer fertile until our next ovulation (or 5 days before), so let's work out when this happens...
Some women have a perfect 28 day cycle and ovulate on day 14 but for most of us that is not the case and therefore there are some other clues we can use to understand our own personal cycles (and by the way, even if you have a 28 day cycle, this doesn't mean you are ovulating on day 14).
Day one of our cycle starts the day we bleed - not spotting but our actual flow. Estrogen begins rising after our bleed, gradually increasing until it peaks, simultaneously triggering a rise in luteinising hormone. Around 24-48 hours later, we release a mature egg from a follicle in our ovary into the fallopian tube. This is ovulation.
This rise in Estrogen changes our cervical mucus which may feel slippery and wet - this is one of the easiest signs associated with ovulation. Some women also report that they "feel" the egg being released which is described as a twinge or pain in either side of their lower abdomen.
The rise in Estrogen also thickens our uterine lining, preparing for the implantation of the egg and subsequent pregnancy. If a pregnancy is not achieved, this lining is what sheds during our bleed. We are constantly "upgrading" our uterine lining each cycle to provide the best possible environment for a baby to grow in.
Once the mature egg has been released, the follicle is came from then turns into a temporary gland called a corpus luteum that pumps out hormones, primarily progesterone which is needed for a successful pregnancy to take place. The increase in progesterone also increases our temperature slowly which is another way of tracking the stages of your cycle.
You must take your temperature every single morning at the same time in bed before rising to get an accurate reading. You will see a subtle rise of around 0.2 -0.5 degrees at ovulation, where it will remain high until your next bleed. This method must be done for a number of consecutive months so you can recognise your body's pattern.
Whether you are tracking for fertility, to avoid falling pregnant or are just curious about how your menstrual cycle works, tracking your ovulation is a beautiful way to connect to your body and feel more in tune with the natural rhythms of womanhood.