Body awareness is important if you want to look at the subtle, natural cues of your menstrual cycle. Throughout your cycle, you will notice that the mucus changes based on how close you are to ovulation. Discharge between menstrual flow is natural and a healthy sign. In fact, the changes in cervical mucus can be used in fertility monitoring to predict the timing of ovulation. For more info, read Understanding & Tracking Your Cycle.
What is Cervical Mucus and Why is it Important?
The cervix releases fluid into the vagina, but the amount and quality of this fluid changes depending on hormonal levels within the body. When an egg is ripening for ovulation, estrogen levels increase and the egg is released. At the same time, this estrogen softens the cervix so it can open slightly. The hormonal changes also support fertility by affecting the texture of cervical fluid.
This mucus is produced by the glands in the cervical area, and has several functions:
- Keeping the vaginal area lubricated
- Preventing infection
When a woman is in the fertile years of life, this cervical fluid has a thin, watery consistency. The texture is slippery and might be compared to the texture of egg white. Sometimes, this mucus is known as “fertile discharge” which indicates ovulation is approaching. This cervical fluid is important for facilitating pregnancy because it helps the sperm move up to the cervix where the egg can be fertilized. Additionally, the cervical mucus acts as a protection for the sperm through their journey to the fertilization location.
It’s important to understand the variations in cervical fluid because this mucus gives signs to indicate when ovulation is approaching. Understanding the small nuances throughout the month can be helpful for conception planning or preventing pregnancy, depending on your fertility goals.
If you pay attention, you will notice that the texture, amount, and appearance of cervical mucus changes throughout the month. These changes are based on the hormonal shifts associated with the menstrual cycle. The simplest way to explain the mucus changes is that the texture and amount of discharge increases before ovulation – you will notice that it is more slippery and wetter for a few days. When ovulation is complete, then the amount of this discharge decreases.
Keep in mind that cervical fluid quantity and quality changes for each person, and throughout the month. If you want to identify how this fluid affects your reproductive cycle, then it’s important to monitor the changes over a period of a few months.
The overall cycle and ovulation days vary: some women have a shorter menstrual cycle, which means they will experience a change in cervical mucus earlier than other women with longer menstrual cycles. You can expect to follow the same pattern listed below, but the specific days might change depending on your cycle. Here is an overview of the most common timeline for the stages of cervical fluid:
- Menstruation (Days 1 to 5): This is the beginning of the cycle and menstruation is occurring. The blood and mucus released during this time is the uterus letting go of the lining because pregnancy did not occur.
- After Period (Days 5 to 10): When menstruation stops, there is a minimal amount of discharge during this time. Most women notice that the texture is a glue-like, sticky fluid. During these days, the likelihood of pregnancy is low.
- Before Ovulation (Days 11 to 13): At this point, the production of estrogen increases, making the cervical mucus take on a cloudy appearance. It starts to increase and develops a slippery texture. This is the point where it can be classified as “fertile discharge” and it has the consistency of an egg white. Fertility is increasing during this window of time.
- Ovulation (Day 14): When ovulation occurs, it is a prime opportunity for natural conception. Fertility is high and the body is preparing for pregnancy. The cervical mucus takes on a viscous, wet texture. For example, the fluid can stretch as much as an inch while still holding together.
- Post-Ovulation (Days 15 to 22): Now that ovulation has occurred, the hormone levels start to change again. Now, the production of estrogen is down and the woman’s body starts to release more progesterone. This hormone causes the cervical fluid to dry up. You’ll notice that the same cervical symptoms occur in reverse order. For example, the discharge changes from clear and viscous to cloudy. The texture starts to thicken and the production decreases.
- End of Cycle (Days 23 to 28): The end of the cycle is also known as the “pre-cycle” since the body is preparing for the next menstruation. When the period is approaching, the mucus once again takes on a glue-like consistency. Most women experience minimal discharge for a few days before menstruation begins. Or, spotting might occur during this time, which can seem like a light period or a bit of discoloration in the discharge.
The timing of ovulation is one of the most important factors that affects the cervical fluid quality and consistency. If ovulation doesn’t happen, then there will likely be fewer changes in the mucus.
How to Track Your Cervical Mucus
Observing the mucus changes listed above helps you outline the timing of ovulation so you can determine if/when ovulation is happening. If you notice that the symptoms change earlier or later than the days listed above, then you might have an atypical cycle. Every woman is different, which is why it is important to be aware of your unique timing to know when fertility is the highest.
Here are a few methods you might consider to track your cervical mucus and cycle:
- Toilet Paper: When using the restroom, notice the texture of mucus on the toilet tissue. For accurate coloring and texture, it’s best to check before you pee. Wipe the opening of the vagina so the mucus is collected on the tissue.
- Manually: Insert one or two clean fingers into the vagina to reach close to the cervix. When the fingers are removed, note the texture and color of the mucus on the fingers.
- Underwear: Check your underwear each day to see the changes in cervical mucus. Alternatively, you might choose to wear a panty liner during the days when the mucus flow is higher. Pay attention to the color on your underwear and the amount that is collected.
It’s important to note that with the underwear method, the color and amount can be affected based on the time that has passed. So, for reliable results, it’s best to use the toilet paper or manual methods for checking cervical fluid.
To get a clear picture of your cycle, it’s smart to record the quality and consistency of your mucus. Simply mark a calendar, or you can use a fertility tracking app if you prefer a digital method. Maintain consistency with this tracking overtime will give you an overall picture so you can predict when ovulation is occurring.
Cervical Mucus and Pregnancy Planning
Tracking your cervical fluid can be part of your natural family planning strategy. If you are trying to get pregnant, then it’s important to know when you are ovulating – because that is an optimal time for conception. Track your mucus changes for several cycles so you can recognize the patterns. Optimal fertility times are when the mucus is slippery and has a viscous consistency.
If you are trying to avoid pregnancy, then birth control methods should be used near ovulation. When you start noticing changes in cervical mucus, it’s a good sign that you need to be proactive in preventing conception.