In general, women ovulate anywhere from twelve to sixteen days prior to their next menses. A woman’s best chance to conceive from relations is from three days prior to ovulation to within one day afterwards.
If, on a consistent basis, marital relations are prohibited within the window around ovulation during which conception is possible, pregnancy will not occur. The wife will not conceive even though the couple might not have a fertility problem from a purely medical perspective. This situation is sometimes called halachic infertility or religious infertility, since it is unique to couples who observe the halachot of niddah.
Women with shorter cycles, or who spend longer times in niddah, have a higher chance of ovulating prior to mikveh immersion. As women get older, often in the mid-thirties, their cycle lengths tend to shorten. Ovulation before immersion is thus more common in older women, and may develop in those who previously had no problems conceiving.
A woman who suspects that she ovulates before she can immerse in the mikveh should consult with a halachic authority to make sure that she is immersing at the earliest opportunity.
Good halachic advice frequently helps a woman reduce her time in niddah and get to mikveh earlier. Questionable hefsek taharah attempts or bedikot from the shivah neki’im should be brought for evaluation. The halachic authority should be aware of the woman’s difficulty conceiving, which is relevant in evaluating borderline cases. Keeping halacha more precisely can sometimes resolve the issue altogether.
At the same time, a woman can make efforts to pinpoint the timing of ovulation. Cycle lengths and ovulation timing may vary from cycle to cycle, so it is important to track ovulation for two to three months before drawing any conclusions. Women who have recently gone off hormonal contraception should keep in mind that effects may linger for a few months.
There are several ways to track ovulation, and methods can be combined to increase precision. The following methods can be performed at home with relative ease:
- Tracking BBT: A woman’s temperature upon arising every morning, the basal body temperature (BBT), generally rises about 0.3 degrees Centigrade (0.5 degrees Fahrenheit) after ovulation. A sustained rise in temperature indicates that ovulation has occurred. Since BBT only provides reliable information after the fertility window has passed, it is best used in conjunction with other methods.
- Tracking vaginal discharge and cervical position: Cervical mucus often becomes clear around the time of ovulation, with a texture and appearance similar to egg white. The cervix at this time is less firm and higher up.
- Ovulation Predictor Tests: These over-the-counter urine stick tests check for the surge in luteinizing hormone (LH) that precedes ovulation by 12-24 hours.
- Other Methods: Women can also explore the use of electric fertility monitors or of saliva ferning scopes, to track changes in saliva during ovulation.
Following a first round of halachic consultation and tracking at home, a physician may order blood tests or ultrasounds to track ovulation more precisely:
- Serial Bloodtests: Blood tests measure hormone levels on particular days of the cycle.
- Serial Ultrasounds: Daily ultrasounds follow the development of the ovarian follicle and record ovulation directly.
The diagnostic process might also uncover underlying health conditions that may contribute to early ovulation or prolonged bleeding.
A range of halachic and medical approaches can treat confirmed cases of ovulation before immersion.
Halachic Approaches In many cases, a woman who ovulates early has a shorter duration of menses. The shiv’ah neki’im cannot be shortened or waived. However, a woman in this situation may receive halachic permission to shorten the waiting period between the onset of niddah and the shivah neki’im.
For women with longer duration of bleeding, there may be other halachic solutions, depending on the situation. Not every case, though, can be solved through halachic leniency.
Complementary Medicine A woman may choose to delegate some time to attempting complementary medicine techniques. Simple steps, such as changing one’s diet to include breakfast or reducing intake of sugar and refined flour, are good health practice in and of themselves. Bioflavonoids, alfalfa or other herbal supplements, taken with professional guidance, may make a difference as well.
Some women have reported shorter duration of bleeding to our site with use of menstrual training techniques or of the menstrual cup, which has a suction action. Other popular techniques include Chinese medicine, acupuncture, and therapy with essential oils.
Conventional Medicine A common approach among conventional medical treatments uses estrogen at the beginning of the cycle to delay ovulation by a few days. Other approaches use medications to shorten the duration of menstrual bleeding. If these approaches do not succeed or are otherwise contraindicated, a couple may choose to pursue alternatives such as assisted reproductive technologies, working together with a halachic authority and physician.
At-Home Insemination Following medical and halachic consultation, some cases of ovulation prior to immersion can be resolved with at-home insemination. This type of insemination is suitable only when there are no problems with the husband’s sperm, and no additional fertility issues.
When necessary, insemination is generally permitted during niddah. This follows the view that conception during niddah is viewed negatively only when it is accomplished through prohibited relations.
At-home insemination has the benefit of being more informal and private for the couple. However, the likelihood of conception is lower than with intra-uterine insemination (IUI) for two main reasons. First, it does not include a sperm-washing procedure to help maximize the odds of conception. Second, it inseminates the semen into the upper vaginal canal, and not directly into the uterus.
The likelihood of conceiving with at-home insemination in a given cycle is also somewhat lower than that of conceiving with intercourse.
To perform at-home insemination:
1. Collect semen into a sterile cup. (Learn more about semen collection here.)
2. Draw semen into a 2-5cc syringe.
3. Insert the syringe into the vaginal canal and release the semen.
4. Lie down with the pelvis raised at an angle for fifteen to twenty minutes.
When at-home insemination is performed during the clean days, it extends their counting, delaying immersion.
A day on which a woman expels semen cannot be counted as one of the seven clean days, but does not cancel out the clean days that have already been counted. From a halachic standpoint, semen is considered viable for 72 hours, after which it has no further halachic significance. Therefore, a woman who performs at-home insemination during the seven clean days will need to delay immersion by four days. For example, if insemination takes place on Monday, which should have been the fifth day of the clean days, she might expel semen on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday. She skips those four days. Friday thus becomes the new fifth day, and she can immerse on Sunday night.
Yoatzot Halacha Medical treatment of any sort requires supervision by a physician. Yoatzot Halacha can assist with presenting halachic issues to health-care professionals and with helping women ensure they are reaching mikveh as soon as possible.
Nishmat’s Yoatzot Halacha Fertility Counselors provide free personal consultations to help couples address this or other fertility challenges.
Updated 16 December 2020. We thank J.Rivkah Asoulin, an herbalist and holistic fertility consultant, for her comments and assistance with this article.