Conceiving Before Ovulation: Your Fertile Window Explained

| Reviewed By Kimberly Langdon, M.D.

Prior to actively trying to conceive, I was unaware of the strategic aspect involved. Successfully getting pregnant is all about perfect timing.

Knowing when to have intercourse and when your chances of conception are best can be a little tricky. 

Can you get pregnant 4 days before ovulation? It is possible to get pregnant as early as 5 days before ovulation, although the chances are much higher the closer you are to the day of ovulation. Your fertile window includes the day of ovulation, the day after, and the five days before. If sperm are present during this time, pregnancy can occur.

Let’s dive into ovulation and fertility windows for a minute. A correct understanding of these two phases of your menstrual cycle could be the difference between a positive and a negative pregnancy test. 

Fertile Window vs. Ovulation

If you are trying to conceive, it is helpful to know what is going on inside of your body and what needs to be taking place in order to get pregnant.

Contrary to the belief of many, there are only a few days within the month that a woman can get pregnant, and it all has to do with her fertile window and ovulation. 

How Ovulation Works

Ovulation is the phase in the menstrual cycle where an ovary releases an egg, usually on day 14 of a 28-day cycle. 

The process of ovulation begins when your hypothalamus (a part of your brain) releases a hormone that triggers your pituitary gland to secrete two important hormones for ovulation: follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

Between days 6 and 14 of your cycle, FSH causes the follicles (small fluid-filled sacs in ovaries that contain undeveloped eggs) in one ovary to begin to mature.

During days 10-14, only one of the developing follicles forms a mature egg. Around day 14, a sudden surge in LH causes the ovary to release the egg.

Sometimes a woman will hyperovulate during this stage, meaning her ovaries release more than one mature egg. This is how multiples are conceived. 

Once it is released, the egg makes its way to the fallopian tubes where it waits to be fertilized. 

When Is the Fertile Window?

Many women do not realize that there is only a short window, about a week’s span, during the month when they can actually conceive.

This is something that is often learned once a woman begins trying to get pregnant. 

Your fertile window is the time during your menstrual cycle when you are most likely to get pregnant. It spans over one week, including the day of ovulation, the day after, and five days beforehand.

Its timing varies from woman to woman, but it is typically between day 9 and day 15 of your menstrual cycle, so about a week after your period. 

How Long Is an Egg Viable After Ovulation?

An egg can only survive about 12-24 hours after ovulation without being fertilized. If it is not fertilized during this time period, it is reabsorbed into the body. 

Don’t get too worried and think that you only have to have intercourse on the day of ovulation in order to get pregnant. Ovulation can be hard to track and easy to miss.

Fortunately, any unprotected intercourse during the entire span of your fertile window can lead to conception thanks to hearty, durable sperm. 

How Long Does Sperm Live Inside a Woman?

Unlike a female’s eggs, a male’s sperm can live inside of her body for up to five days, although that is exceedingly rare.

Therefore, it is still possible to get pregnant even if you do not have intercourse on the day of ovulation. Days-old sperm can still fertilize a newly released egg. 

Tying It All Together

There are a lot of moving parts to the ovulation process and the menstrual cycle in general.

In short, if you are trying to conceive, having intercourse during your fertile window gives you the best chance to get pregnant. This is typically between days 9 and 14 of your menstrual cycle.

Even though ovulation typically occurs around day 14, it is still possible to get pregnant by having intercourse at any time during your fertile window.

This is because sperm can live inside your fallopian tubes for several days, just waiting to fertilize an egg when it is released during ovulation. 

So, if you are trying to get pregnant, it’s time to start tracking your ovulation and make sure you do the deed at all the right times! 

How To Know When Your Fertile Days Are

The best thing you can do to predict your fertile window is track your cycle over the span of a few months using a paper journal or a mobile app.

Record when you get your period each month and how long it lasts. This will help you see how long your cycles typically are and will help you calculate when your fertile window will be.

Your cycle length is defined as the first day of menses to the next cycle’s first day of menses and not by the duration of bleeding.

The first day of your period is considered Day 1 of your menstrual cycle, and ovulation typically happens 14 days before your next period is due.

Therefore, if your cycle is typically 28 days long, ovulation will happen on day 14. If it is 30 days long, ovulation will more likely happen on day 16 of your cycle. 

You will calculate your fertile window by determining the day of ovulation and then counting the five days before it.

For a 28-day cycle, the fertile window would be days 9-14. For a 30-day cycle, the fertile window would be days 11-16. 

Predicting Ovulation With Irregular Periods

Predicting ovulation with the traditional menstrual cycle tracking system can be irrelevant for women with irregular periods that do not happen within the 21-35 day average range.

Experts recommend that women with irregular cycles opt for more tried-and-true methods or test often throughout the cycle to ensure accuracy. 

OPKs (Ovulation Predictor Kits)

OPKs are the most reliable tracking method for women with irregular periods. Similar to a pregnancy test, you will pass a test strip through a stream of urine.

The test screens for the luteinizing hormone that triggers ovulation in order to help you know when ovulation is near. 

Tracking BBT

Tracking your basal body temperature is another way to pinpoint ovulation.

To do so, it is best to purchase a basal body thermometer that is designed to detect even 1/100th of a degree change in temperature. This one is highly rated for accuracy and ease of use.

It must be done in the morning at the same time each day and before you get out of bed.

It is retrospective because it is after ovulation that the temperature rises slightly for another 11 days or so.

After a few months, you can see the pattern and know that ovulation occurs before the sustained temperature rise.

Monitor Your Cervical Mucus 

There are consistent physical indicators of ovulation, regardless of the regularity of your cycle.

Cervical mucus changes throughout a woman’s cycle, and as ovulation nears, the mucus changes from being clear and runny to stretchy with the consistency of egg whites.

Paying attention to the cervical mucus in your panty liners can give you a lot of insight into where you are in your cycle.

There are even tests that can allow you to see your mucus under a microscope to determine its ripeness for conception.

What Days Are You Most Likely To Get Pregnant?

Ovia Health conducted an extremely large study and used data from 98,000 women and over 225,000 menstrual cycles to determine a woman’s chances of getting pregnant on the days surrounding ovulation.

According to their findings, a woman’s chances of conceiving are highest the day before ovulation. 

DayChances of Conceiving
Chances of Getting Pregnant 6 Days Before OvulationVirtually 0% or very slim
Chances of Getting Pregnant 5 Days Before OvulationAbout 10%
Chances of Getting Pregnant 4 Days Before Ovulation18%
Chances of Getting Pregnant 3 Days Before Ovulation26%
Chances of Getting Pregnant 2 Days Before Ovulation32%
Chances of Getting Pregnant Day Before Ovulation41%
Chances of Getting Pregnant Day of Ovulation20%
Chances of Getting Pregnant Day After Ovulation12%
Chances of Getting Pregnant 2 Days After OvulationVirtually 0%

How Many Times Should You Have Sex During Ovulation?

When it comes to having sex to conceive, the timing of it is more important than the frequency.

While you would think that more sex would equal a greater chance of getting pregnant, it really all depends on doing it at the right time. 

If you are trying to conceive, you should definitely have sex during your fertile window. That includes the days before ovulation as well as the day of ovulation.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the frequency of intercourse did not make a difference in conception; it just needs to take place during the fertile window.

Aiming for once a day or every other day is probably sufficient. 

Related Questions:

How Does Sperm Know Which Fallopian Tube To Go To?

According to USCF Center for Reproductive Health, “Once the sperm have entered the uterus, contractions propel it upward into the fallopian tubes.” 

They have no way of knowing which one to target, so sperm will wind up in both.

What Is the Best Way To Track Ovulation?

Since every woman’s cycle is different, there really is no one best way to track ovulation. It really all depends on your cycle and your preferences.

For me, using a cycle tracker mobile app has been easiest, but I have a fairly regular cycle. For other women, an OPK may be a better option. 

Closing Thoughts 

When we think about the menstrual cycle and perfect timing, it makes sense why conception is esteemed as such a miraculous event. Babies truly are little miracles.

Here’s to you and your conception journey — may your fertile windows be wide open!

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