How to Track Ovulation with Irregular Periods
Originally published 01/19/2023. Updated for accuracy and relevancy on 10/21/2023
Ovulation plays a significant role in getting pregnant, but can be affected by irregular menstrual cycles. Learn how to calculate ovulation for irregular periods.
By Dr. Kenosha Gleaton, OBGYN and fertility expert
If you have irregular periods, you may have a hard time timing ovulation. Does ovulation even occur if you have irregular periods? How exactly are you supposed to track ovulation with irregular menstrual cycles? In this article, I’ll answer your questions about irregular menstrual cycles, what they mean for fertility, and some options you have for tracking or inducing ovulation.
What Causes Irregular Periods?
Oligomenorrhea refers to irregular or inconsistent periods.1 While this is normal and expected just after menarche (the first occurrence of a period), and during postpartum and menopausal periods, oligomenorrhea occurring outside of these periods may be indicative of underlying conditions or infertility. Irregular periods can be frustrating for many reasons. If you’re hoping to conceive soon, irregular cycles can make it difficult to time sex around ovulation. It can also be a pain to not know when you should expect menstruation to occur, often leading to being unprepared when your period does decide to show up. Irregular periods may be caused by a number of things, including1:
Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
Extreme weight fluctuations
If your irregular periods are accompanied by other hormonal symptoms, you may want to see ahealthcare provideror consider testing your hormones to find a cause.
Treating Irregular Periods
Treating irregular menstrual cycles will also vary depending on the cause, but could include treating or managing the following1:
High stress, physical activity, or weight fluctuations can cause an irregular menstrual cycle. Managing stress, eating well, and exercising a healthy amount are all important for overall well being as well as regular menstruation. Adding in some supplements that benefit ovarian health may also be an easy way to support cycle regularity.
Many with oligomenorrhea use birth control pills or other hormonal therapy to help regulate their menstrual cycle. If you are wanting to conceive and would rather not start birth control, you may be a good candidate for ovulation induction medications that can help you conceive. Read more about treating hormonal imbalances and ovulation induction on the Natalist blog.
Treating Underlying Conditions
In some cases, medication or surgery could be recommended for underlying conditions involving ovarian tumors, thyroid conditions, cushing syndrome, and others. Your healthcare provider can discuss and recommend what treatments may help you if there is an underlying condition causing irregular menstruation.
How to Track Ovulation
Tracking ovulation can be done a few different ways.
One of the most reliable ways would be to use ovulation tests. An ovulation test is similar to a pregnancy test in that they are midstream tests or test strips that measure specific hormones in your urine. The darker the test line, the higher the concentration of the hormone you’re testing. The hormone ovulation tests are measuring is known as luteinizing hormone (LH), which peaks about 16 to 48 hours before ovulation occurs. Positive ovulation tests do read a bit differently than pregnancy tests, so be sure to know what you’re looking for in ovulation test results.
Cervical Mucus Tracking
Cervical mucus can actually tell you a lot about your menstrual cycle. Throughout your cycle, cervical mucus will change to be dry, watery, creamy, and slippery. In order to tell when you’re ovulating, you’ll want to keep an eye out for vaginal discharge that’s similar to egg whites. Egg white cervical mucus is produced right before and during ovulation and its consistency is ideal for helping sperm live and travel through the vagina and into the uterus. Read more about cervical mucus tracking.2
This method of ovulation tracking can be a little more difficult to measure and is the most prone to error. Your basal body temperature (BBT) is your resting temperature, and research shows that this temperature will actually increase slightly the days surrounding the ovulation period.3You need a certain kind of thermometer to measure BBT, but they are relatively inexpensive. Not everyone shows changes in BBT around ovulation, so this may not be the best method on its own, but could be helpful when combined with other tracking methods.3
Use a Calendar
To get a basic idea of when ovulation occurs, you can use a calendar and the dates of your last menstrual cycle. Cycle lengths can vary greatly, but on average they are between 28 and 35 days long.4 As for how early you can ovulate, ovulation usually occurs halfway through the menstrual cycle, around two weeks before the start of your period. Of course if you have irregular periods, this can be a bit harder to track. Don’t worry, we’ll go over your options for tracking ovulation with an irregular period.
Do You Ovulate Every Month With Irregular Periods?
It’s normal to have irregular periods towards the beginning and end of the reproductive years, but oligomenorrhea occurring outside of these periods may point towards underlying conditions or infertility. Usually ovulation and menstruation go hand in hand, so if you aren’t menstruating, you likely aren’t ovulating. However, some studies have shown that ovulation does occur in some women with irregular periods.5 You may be ovulating sometimes, but if you aren’t getting your menstrual period every month, chances are you probably aren’t ovulating monthly. Even in those with regular period cycles, it’s common to see an anovulatory cycle every now and then.6
How Do I Track Ovulation if I Have Irregular Periods?
If you have menstrual irregularity, it can be hard to gauge when you should try to test for ovulation or track ovulation using methods like checking your BBT and cervical mucus. If your cycle length differs every month, we recommend using the shortest cycle you’ve had in the last six months (day one would be the first day of your period, lasting until the first day of your next period the following month) as a baseline. For example, if your shortest cycle was 30 days long, ovulation should occur around day 16. Using this knowledge, you could begin using ovulation tests around day 10-12 to make sure you don’t miss it. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it may also be beneficial to understand when to have sex during ovulation. Keep in mind that everyone’s cycle is unique, and your ovulation date may vary some from cycle to cycle. Keeping a log for a few months may help you uncover hidden patterns!
If even getting a baseline for your cycle lengths seems impossible, you could begin testing the day after your period ends to get a feel for what your ovulation day is. You should also speak to a healthcare provider about testing your hormone levels.
Irregular periods are common during menarche, menopause, and postpartum.
Irregular periods may be caused by PCOS, thyroid problems, hormonal imbalances, and more.
Ovulation can be tracked using ovulation tests, cervical mucus tracking, basal body temperature, and using a calendar.
If you have irregular periods, you likely do not ovulate every month, but ovulation could still be occurring.
If you’re wanting to conceive and have irregular periods, you may want to talk with your healthcare provider about the pros and cons ofovulation induction medications.
Tracking ovulation with an irregular cycle can be difficult, but getting a feel for your cycles over a three month period can help you pinpoint how long your cycles are and about what day you usually ovulate.
- Riaz Y, Parekh U. Oligomenorrhea. PubMed. Published 2020. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK560575/
- Bigelow JL. Mucus observations in the fertile window: a better predictor of conception than timing of intercourse. Human Reproduction. 2004;19(4):889-892. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/humrep/deh173
- Moghissi KS. Accuracy of basal body temperature for ovulation detection. Fertility and Sterility. 1976;27(12):1415-1421. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1001528/
- Ovulation: Calculating, Timeline, Pain & Other Symptoms. Cleveland Clinic. Published July 8, 2022. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/23439-ovulation
- Peña AS, Doherty DA, Atkinson HC, Hickey M, Norman RJ, Hart R. The majority of irregular menstrual cycles in adolescence are ovulatory: results of a prospective study. Archives of Disease in Childhood. 2017;103(3):235-239. doi:https://doi.org/10.1136/archdischild-2017-312968
- Prior JC, Naess M, Langhammer A, Forsmo S. Ovulation Prevalence in Women with Spontaneous Normal-Length Menstrual Cycles – A Population-Based Cohort from HUNT3, Norway. Gao CQ, ed. PLOS ONE. 2015;10(8):e0134473. doi:https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0134473