M is for Mama: And O is for OPK

One of the funny things about planning for children is all the acronyms that you learn – BD for “baby dancing”, or the act of making a baby (also known as DTD, doing the deed); CM for cervical mucus; BFN and BFP, big fat negative and big fat positive on pregnancy tests; and TWW, the two week wait or the time between when you ovulate and when you could expect your next menstrual period. You can even designate whether you are NTNT (not trying not to conceive) or TTC (trying to conceive). Today, however, I’m going to be talking about OPKs.

What is an OPK?

An OPK is an ovulation predictor kit. It detects surges in luteinizing hormone in which it is likely (but not definitive) that a woman will ovulate. Most women can safely assume that they are ovulating if they are getting a monthly period. If there is a diagnosis of a condition that can affect ovulation, a woman has a history of long/irregular/light cycles or it has taken more than six months to get pregnant, OPKs may be very useful working out what is going on.

The type  I’m going to use is the midstream ovulation test by Babyworks and they look like this (you pull the green cap off at the end for the strip upon which you need to urinate) :

Women with PCOS can maintain high levels of luteinizing hormone throughout their cycle without releasing an egg – but this does not mean that all women with PCOS do. I plan to identify whether this is the case by testing from the day when my period ends (in almost all cases, far too soon to register a positive) for two weeks, hopefully getting a peak reading around the seventh day of trying – mid cycle.

What will that peak reading look like? Unlike pregnancy tests, simply getting two lines doesn’t mean that it’s positive. Your test line must be as dark as the control line to register a positive. I’m hoping that’s really obvious, and that I’m not sitting there, trying to work it out! Also unlike pregnancy tests, you’re going to get a more accurate reading in the afternoon – LH synthesizes in the morning so is metabolized into the urine by afternoon.

So what if you don’t get a positive?

If you don’t get a positive on OPKs, there may be a minute chance that you have missed the surge or that your urine was too diluted to register the hormone levels. The stronger possibility is that you may have had an anovulatory cycle – always a fear for women on PCOS.

In the simplest of explanations, an anovulatory cycle is one in which you don’t ovulate. Some research I have read states that women without PCOS may have as many as two annovulatory cycles each year, where for whatever reason (stress, illness, etc) they do not ovulate. One of the biggest indicators of PCOS and, in fact, one of the conditions that lead to my personal diagnosis is the persistent lack of ovulation leading to amenorrhea – in other words, no periods. For a year. Yikes.

So can you get your period and have an anovulatory cycle? Yes, and also no. You can experience bleeding that you may not be able to distinguish from a period but it isn’t the same thing hormonally. You can have estrogen withdrawal bleeding – where your hormone levels build up but not to the level required to ovulate and then drop – or estrogen breakthrough bleeding – more common, when your endometrial lining builds up to the point that it can no longer sustain itself and you get a bleed. It may, in either case, be heavier or lighter than your usual period.

So as you can see, although I’ve had my period since I’ve come off the pill, there’s no guarantee that I’ve ovulated. And if women with no fertility issues can have anovulatory cycles too, there’s no guarantee that I will, or will on a regular basis.

So what are my thoughts?

While OPKs aren’t the cheapest, especially not the midstream ones I’ve chosen, it’s part of my plan to be as educated as I can about what is going on with my body. As part of the process (metformin, cycle symptom tracking, diet & acupuncture being the other big components), I feel like it gives us the biggest chance of understanding what is going on and helping us try! I’m also very interested to see how my 17 kg weight loss has affected my body’s ability to ovulate regularly. In addition to this, I’ll also be exploring getting blood tests from my doctor that give me a more complete picture of where my hormones stand.

From a big picture point of view, I wish that health class at high school had focused a little less on showing us ghastly pictures of STIs and had instead taught us more about how the human body actually worked. You’d probably have far less teen pregnancies if teens knew that every woman’s fertile period could be different and how long sperm can linger in the body before ovulation. The amount of new information that I am learning at the moment is ASTOUNDING and I feel like the decisions I made as a teen, while ultimately okay, I may have made differently given the information I have now.

Have you had experience in using OPKs? Would you be tempted to use them in the future?

Some helpful sites that assisted me in writing this explanatory post: Here and here.


11 thoughts on “M is for Mama: And O is for OPK

  1. I didn’t use OPKs, but found taking my temperature and keeping track of everything on the Fertility Friend app was a good way to go. Good luck 🙂

    • Temping is also covered in “Making Babies” and the other book I’ve read “Taking Charge of Your Fertility”, but I’m a chronic mouth breather in my sleep and an abysmal morning person so I decided that this would work best for me. Fingers crossed I can discover that I’m ovulating!

    • Thank you! I still have about 9 more I’d like to lose (and the doctor would like me to lose) but it doesn’t seem to be happening at the moment and I don’t want to stress over it!

  2. Hey Love, well as you know R and I have been trying for 2 years. The BEST thing I can recommend in temping and using Fertility Friend, it is well worth paying for the 1 year subscription. If you “Like” on FB you will get a discount code. I have been temping for 6 months, and prior to that I was using “Ferning” and Maybe baby. But temping has given me the best chart to Date and the clearest picture. You can buy OPKs online in bulk from here http://www.baby4you.co.nz/shop/Fertility/Ovulation+Tests/Ovulation+Predictor+Tests++-+STRIP+FORMAT.html. These are the ones that I use and they are the best value and are really great to use. You should never use FMU – the best times to test are around mid morning and after dinner. Use a piece of paper to tape your OPKs to and write the date and if it is AM or PM, it will give you a clear visual image of the change. You should starting using OPKs at around CD10. I have been doing this for over a year now, any questions throw them my way my dear! FX and Baby Dust!

    • Thanks for the tips Kate! As I said to Bridey, I’m a chronic mouth breather and an abysmal morning person so until I HAVE to, I’m not going to temp. I am using a logging app though! Not using FMU works best for me too (see abysmal morning person above LOL). Still wishing you and R loads of lucky baby dust!

      • Just remember love – there are 2 different ways to temp – and Vaginal Temping is far more accurate than Oral! 😛

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