Every woman will have noticed it at some point: the whitish, gooey, sometimes watery secretion you find traces of in your underwear or on the toilet paper. Some misinterpret this “discharge” as a sign of infection, it is however, a completely normal indication of fertility: cervical mucus.
Most women pay little or no attention to cervical mucus. But if you are aware of it and know what to watch out for, it can tell you a lot about your menstrual cycle and ovulation. If you are using a sympto thermal method of natural birth control then you should be observing changes in cervical fliuds every day.
What is cervical mucus and why do I need it?
Cervical mucus is produced by glands in the cervix. It varies in texture and appearance during the different phases of your cycle, performing several essential functions. In the infertile period before ovulation, it seals your cervix with a “plug” to prevent bacteria from and sperm from entering the womb. Before ovulation, however, it does the exact opposite. Then the cervical mucus guides and protects the sperm on the long and difficult journey toward the uterus and the egg. This is because the environment within the vagina tends to be acidic, which is not typically favourable for the survival of sperm cells. The cervical mucus, on the other hand, is alkaline and protects the sperm so that they remain mobile for longer and better able to survive the female reproductive tract.
The closer you get to ovulation, the more your cervical mucus changes - sometimes quite significantly. This is due to the increasing levels of oestrogen in your blood. Monitoring these changes and tracking your cycle gives you useful information you can use to predict your ovulation. This method actually has its own name: The Billings method, and it is a good way for couples planning a pregnancy to narrow down their most fertile days.
What does the cervical mucus look like before ovulation?
Shortly after menstruation are the “dry days” where there is little or no cervical mucus. This is followed by a few days when it is yellowish, thick and sticky like flour mixed with water. As you approach your fertile days, the cervical mucus gradually becomes more fluid and transparent.
Cervical mucus production reaches its peak before and during ovulation. It is slippery and resembles raw egg whites in both its colour and in its stretchy consistency. The amount of vaginal discharge at this time is different for everyone but it can be described as wet, slippery, clear and stretchy. Sometimes at this stage you may even notice a little bit of fresh blood from a so-called “ovulation bleeding”. This is a sure sign that the ideal time to get pregnant has finally arrived!
As soon as ovulation has occurred the vaginal discharge changes again. The amount of cervical mucus decreases rapidly, and it becomes cloudy and sticky again. Lifestyle factors, age and hormones can all influence the cervical mucus development pattern making it individual for each woman, that said, with a little practice you can recognize the changes in your own menstrual cycle and use this information, together with a cycle tracker, to predict your fertile window.
How do I check and interpret my cervical mucus?
If you are new to this, start at a time of the month when cervical mucus is easiest to recognize – shortly before you expect your ovulation. To make comparison more straightforward try to check every day at around the same time, for example first thing in the morning or last thing at night. There are three ways to get a mucus sample, either wiping with white toilet paper (before you pee), taking a sample from the entrance to the vagina with a finger or inserting a finger into the vagina and getting a sample directly from the cervix. The latter requires a little more practice and might not be possible or appealing to every woman. Fortunately, a sample taken from toilet paper is usually adequate around ovulation to see the differences in quality and texture.
The best way to assess cervical mucus is to take some of it between your thumb and forefinger and try to pull it apart. If it is white and creamy and sticks to your fingers, it is probably still a few days till ovulation. If the cervical mucus between your fingers can be “stretched” like a thread, this indicates that ovulation is approaching.
Can you influence the quality of cervical mucus?
In principle, the composition of your cervical mucus is genetically predetermined. However, there are a few factors that can influence and even improve your cervical mucus. This is particularly useful if you are trying to get pregnant and are being as “healthy” as possible, and are monitoring your cervical mucus to help identify ovulation.
During the first half of the cycle in particluar, you should make sure that you always drink enough. There are even special herbal teas that can naturally improve the quality of your cervical mucus! While a healthy and balanced diet is of course important all the time, it is especially important when you are planning a pregnancy. You should avoid all foods that dehydrate, such as excessive amounts of coffee or alcohol. Certain drugs (such as antihistamines) are also suspected to have a negative effect on the quality of cervical mucus. Be aware though, it is not always possible to do without certain medication, so each case has to be looked at individually to see if and how your cervical mucus changes before you ovulate.
Note: If your cervical mucus suddenly smells unpleasant or its consistency differs significantly from normal, this may indicate an infection. In this case you should consult your doctor for clarification.
Recording your cervical mucus
Whether you are planning a family or family planning – it is always good to know your own cycle! If you want to try hormone free birth control and the sympto-thermal method of family planning, it is essential. femSense can support you in this by doing all the temperature measuring, charting, and analyzing necessary for the temperature method while you can enter cycle details such as cervical mucus and other cycle-relevant details in the app for more detailed cycle information. In the app’s statistics, you can see an overview of all important data and recognize recurring patterns much more quickly and easily.
Header photo by Dainis Graveris on SexualAlpha