With a seemingly infinite number of digital tools and apps at our disposal these days, it’s not surprising that many couples are opting to use an ovulation calculator or fertility app to assist them in getting pregnant.
Many websites offer these tools for free, and an app store search will have you swamped with an abundance of options. Simple or elaborate, an ovulation calculator usually has one key objective: to predict your fertile days each cycle – and increase your chances of pregnancy.
It sounds alluring: just plug in the dates of your menstrual cycles and you’ll find out your best days for baby-making, for months to come. But how reliable are they? Will an ovulation calculator really help you get pregnant faster? Let’s look at the pros and cons of this conception tool and how it compares to charting your fertility – an option that I personally believe, is the (much!) better way to go.
Using an Ovulation Calculator – does it work ?
The purpose of an ovulation calculator or fertility app is to help you increase your chances of conceiving each cycle, by helping you find out when you’re likely to ovulate. Timing sex for your fertile days each month is critical to getting pregnant faster, so in theory, this sounds like a sensible approach.
An ovulation calculator is simple to use. All you’re required to do is input personal information about your menstrual cycle. At a minimum you’ll be asked to provide:
- the date of your last period and
- the usual length of your menstrual cycle
In return, you’ll be advised of your
- predicted ovulation
- predicted fertile days and
- predicted next period
Some calculators will offer additional information such as your baby’s likely birth date and even their gender (which, for the record, has no scientific basis!).
Attractive as this simple solution sounds, unfortunately it’s just that: simple, and subject to large margins of error. At the end of the day, an ovulation calculator is little more than a mathematical formula. It uses information from past cycles to predict future fertility and there are many factors NOT taken into account, which can seriously compromise the accuracy of these predictions.
As someone who has an intimate understanding of her own fertility, I was curious to test the maths behind some of the more simple calculators and how accurately they did (or didn’t) predict my fertile days. I was even ‘kind’ to them, purporting to have cycles that were always exactly the same length (which, as for most of us, they are not).
The results? Every calendar gave me a different answer – and not one of them correctly predicted the full range of days over which I was potentially fertile.
It’s not all bad however. If you have nice regular cycles, it’s likely that an ovulation calculator will correctly predict at least some of your potentially fertile days. What it won’t do however, is indicate your peak fertile day(s) – those that will give you your very best chance of conception. It won’t confirm whether you actually ovulated when it said you would (so you can’t confirm whether or not sex was timed correctly) and it won’t give you any insight into the health of your menstrual cycles and fertility.
For a truly intimate understanding of your menstrual cycles and your own, unique fertility, learning the fertility awareness method and charting your fertility is the better way to go.
Fertility Charting – a better way to get pregnant
So what exactly is ‘fertility charting’ and what are its advantages over an ovulation calculator?
Charting your fertility is part of practicing the fertility awareness method. This method involves the observation, recording and interpretation of your natural signs of fertility each menstrual cycle.
Your fertility signs (primarily temperature and cervical fluid) are recorded on a specially designed fertility chart. This can be done electronically using an online charting system or app, or by using good old pen and paper.
By learning how to correctly interpret and apply this information, you’ll have a very powerful tool that can not only help you get pregnant faster but can offer great insight into your fertility health (see below for more information)!
In contrast to an ovulation calculator, charting your fertility focuses on your actual fertility from day to day – specific to you and your individual menstrual cycles. This means that even if your cycles are irregular and your fertile days change from cycle to cycle, you are still able to recognize them when they arrive.
The fertility awareness method is based on medical knowledge and quality science and is proven to be a very effective tool for those who are trying to get pregnant.
In fact, research has shown that 88% of fertile couples who use fertility charting to time sex correctly, will get pregnant within only 6 menstrual cycles!
Let’s take a look now, at 4 key differences between an ovulation calculator and fertility charting – differences that can have a significant impact on how quickly you get pregnant.
Ovulation Calculator versus Fertility Charting – 4 key differences affecting your pregnancy chances
1. Predicted fertility versus actual fertility
An ovulation calculator works by predicting your fertile window (fertile days) each cycle. And the downside of this of course, is that predictions can be wrong. While an ovulation calculator works on mathematical formulas and averages, our bodies do not. So there’s significant potential for the predictions to miss some or all of your fertile days, particularly if you have irregular cycles.
Fertility charts on the other hand, work differently. Instead of being used to predict future fertility, they empower you to recognize your actual fertility on a day to day basis as you progress through your menstrual cycle. Monitoring your daily fertility in this way ensures that you don’t miss a good day for baby-making, regardless of how long or short your cycles are.
2. Identifying your MOST fertile day(s)
Fertility charting also offers the advantage of identifying the best days for conception within your fertile window each cycle.
Although it’s technically possible to get pregnant from sex during the 5 days leading up to ovulation and on the day of ovulation itself, not all days of the fertile window are equally likely to result in pregnancy.
You will usually experience one or more days of ‘peak fertility’ each cycle – days that will offer you your best chance of conception. And it all comes down to the quality of your cervical fluid: the more fertile your cervical fluid on a particular day, the higher your chances of conception.
An ovulation calculator will not alert you to when these days might be. In contrast, fertility charting will.
3. Your luteal phase matters!
One factor that many ovulation calculators fail to take into consideration, is something called the luteal phase. The luteal phase of your menstrual cycle is the number of days between ovulation day and the start of your next period.
Luteal phase lengths can differ by as much as 6 days between individual women. This can have a significant impact on the prediction of your fertile days each cycle. To demonstrate the significance of this variation, let’s look at a quick example.
Sara and Emma are both trying to get pregnant. Both have regular menstrual cycles that are 35 days long and the only difference is that Sara’s luteal phase is 10 days long, whereas Emma’s is usually 16.
What this means in practice, is that despite the exact same cycle lengths, Sara is fertile between days 20 and 25 of her cycle whereas Emma is fertile significantly earlier – between days 14 and 19. So for accuracy, an ovulation calculator should also take varying luteal phase lengths into account – but very few do.
Fertility charting on the other hand, eliminates this problem. The length of your cycle and your luteal phase has no bearing on your ability to recognize your fertile days. In addition, charting your fertility offers a simple way to actually determine what your luteal phase length is. This plays an important role in assessing your fertility health (but I’ll leave that for another article!).
4. Assessing your fertility and menstrual health
Perhaps the most significant benefit of charting your fertility, in addition to helping you optimize your conception chances, is that you’ll discover a wealth of information about your gynecological and fertility health.
Charting your fertility can help you discover:
- if you are ovulating regularly or not
- if your luteal phase is long enough to get pregnant
- if your cervical fluid is adequate for conception
- if you have signs of a hormone imbalance
- if you experience abnormal bleeding or pelvic pain
- whether you’ve had an early miscarriage
- if you might have a genuine fertility problem
By comparison, an ovulation calculator provides none of this insight. Missing signs of a fertility problem can mean an unnecessary delay in getting the treatment you need and ultimately, a delay in getting pregnant.
Step 3 of the Fast Track to Pregnancy Program™ covers this vital aspect of fertility charting in detail.
What’s best for you – ovulation calculator or fertility charting?
At the end of the day, this will be your call. If you’re pretty relaxed about getting pregnant (a good way to be!) and your cycles are nice and regular, experimenting with an ovulation calculator and ensuring that you’re having regular sex (2 – 3 times a week) may work perfectly well for you.
However if time is of the essence, if you have irregular cycles and/or you suspect there might be a fertility problem, charting your fertility will be the more empowering option to take.