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Can You Get Pregnant When You're Not Ovulating?

menstrual cycle tracking reproductive questions Jan 19, 2023


Throughout my time working at a birth center, I received this question quite often from people who were trying to become pregnant, or from those who thought they may be pregnant. Typically when a client asks, ”can I get pregnant if I’m not ovulating?” most often they’re wondering if having sex outside the twenty four hour ovulation window will allow for a pregnancy to occur. 

Can You Get Pregnant When You’re Not Ovulating? 

The short answer to this question is yes, you can get pregnant when you’re not ovulating. Sperm can live inside the uterus or uterine tubes for up to five days. If sperm enters your body five days before you ovulate, it is possible for those in it for the long haul to access the ovum once it releases into the uterine tube. 

If you become exposed to sperm after ovulation has occurred, the chances of a pregnancy occurring are slim to none. A pregnancy can only occur within the ovulation window, and sperm cannot live within the female reproductive tract long enough to wait for the next ovulation, assuming the next ovulation will not occur for another month. 


What are the chances of a pregnancy occurring if you’re not ovulating during intercourse? 

The chances of a pregnancy developing from intercourse that occurred five days prior to ovulation is less likely compared to the chances of a pregnancy developing from intercourse that occurred within the twenty four hour ovulation window. The female reproductive tract is filled with various challenges for sperm to navigate in order to reach the ovum successfully. 

For starters, the vagina is quite acidic in comparison to sperm. It is filled with lactobacilli bacteria, which secrete hydrogen peroxide and lactic acid, giving the vagina an acidic pH level typically ranging between 3.5-4.5. As sperm are mostly made up of a tail, a nucleus, and mitochondria, they don’t have the backbone required to weather the acidic storm very long. 

If they make it through the vagina, they must then face the wrath of cervical mucus, more permeable for sperm during the ovulation window, but less so outside of it. In addition, the route from vagina to ovum is not a straight shot. Many sperm become lost in the maze of the reproductive highway, as it is filled with all sorts of twists and turns. 


How do sperm successfully access the ovum? 

The fact that a sperm can access the ovum at all is quite outstanding, but they can’t take all the credit. The success of a sperm is highly influenced by seminal fluid, the cocktail of enzymes, alkaline secretions, prostaglandins, and nutritional energy that supports the success of a sperm's endeavor. A creation of secretions from seminal vesicles and the prostate gland, this fluid is the sperm’s side kick to navigate the booby traps of the reproductive tract. 

One of the most helpful allies for the journey are known as prostaglandins. Prostaglandins reduce the viscosity of cervical mucus, allowing for an easier passage through. In addition, prostaglandins trigger a reverse peristalsis of the uterus, encouraging small wave-like movements that draw sperm upwards towards their desired location. 



How do I identify my fertile window? 

As you’ve probably heard before, the average menstrual cycle is about twenty eight days long, with ovulation occurring halfway through the cycle, around day fourteen. 

Everyone’s menstrual cycles are slightly different; it isn’t unheard of to have shorter or longer cycles compared to the twenty eight day average. The best way to begin pinpointing your ovulation window is to track your cycles regularly. This can be done with an app, a calendar or journal. 

The fertile window describes the four to five days leading up to ovulation, as well as the twenty four hours of ovulation. You will ovulate exactly fourteen days before the first day of your period. If you were to document the first day of your period on a calendar, counting backwards from that day by fourteen days will determine the day you ovulated that month. 

The downside to tracking, is that you can only identify the day you ovulated after it has happened. If your cycles are regular and you track each one, soon you’ll be able to identify your average ovulation day, which may help you predict your fertile window in the future.


How do I identify ovulation? 

Birth control methods that utilize cycle tracking are known as the fertility awareness method and the family planning method. These methods include a variety of tools used to identify the presence of the ovulation window. 

If you wish to use one of these methods as birth control, know they are not as effective at preventing pregnancy compared to certain barriers and medical birth control methods. Though these methods are statistically less effective, many people do find great success with them. In addition, the process of cultivating a deeper sense of bodily awareness may feel empowering.


Tracking cervical mucus to identify ovulation

Have you noticed a gelatinous substance in your underwear, ranging from a sticky to watery consistency? This is likely cervical mucus, a substance produced by the cervix to maintain moisture and protect the uterus from unwanted bacteria. Cervical mucus is produced with the help of estrogen, a primary hormone to the reproductive cycle. One of the tools commonly used to identify the presence of ovulation is tracking cervical mucus. 

The presence of cervical mucus is often unnoticeable right after your period, then becomes more present as you near ovulation. Cervical mucus produced during ovulation is often clear with a slippery, egg white consistency. After ovulation, progesterone levels begin to rise, encouraging the mucus to shift from a watery consistency to a sticky consistency. Tracking cervical mucus daily may help you identify your ovulation window when it arrives. 


Tracking basal body temperature to identify ovulation

Your basal body temperature is the temperature of your body at rest. Typically, the basal body temperature will drop slightly right before the release of the ovum, then rise an average of one degree fahrenheit after the ovulation window. This rise can be identified two to three days after your most fertile window. Tracking your temperatures in a journal or app may help you predict when you will ovulate in the future. 

In order to track your basal body temperature accurately, you need to ensure you are moving minimally to avoid an increase in heart rate and thus, a temperature rise. Many people who track their basal body temperature keep a thermometer by the bed, and take their temperature when they wake up. Taking your temperature orally may be more accurate than using a digital forehead thermometer, depending on the brand. 


So, can you get pregnant when you’re not ovulating? Yes, you can become pregnant if sperm were to access the reproductive tract within your fertile window, known as the five days leading up to ovulation, as well as ovulation itself. This is due to the fact that sperm can live in the uterus and uterine tubes for several days. A pregnancy cannot occur outside of the fertile window, as ovulation must be present in order for a pregnancy to be possible. Identifying ovulation through the various tools illustrated in this article may support your path in becoming pregnant, or in preventing pregnancy successfully. The process of tracking cycles may feel empowering, and may support you in developing a deeper relationship with your body. Cycle tracking methods alone are not as effective at preventing pregnancy compared to other methods. If you wish to avoid pregnancy, consider utilizing barriers or medical methods in addition to cycle tracking.


Photos by @whenabellyblooms

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