Cervical mucus and ovulation

Your cervical mucus may never have been the focus of your attention, but by careful observation it can turn out to be very helpful in predicting your most fertile days, optimizing your chances of getting pregnant as fast as possible.

What is cervical mucus?

The cervix is the lowest part of your uterus, and is situated at the top of your vagina. Cervical mucus is secreted by glandular cells in the cervix, and its main function is to protect the uterus from bacteria from the vagina. But it also plays a very important role in conception: Sperm cells released into the vagina must swim through the cervical mucus in order to enter the uterus and the fallopian tubes, where they can reach the mature egg and fertilize it.

Through most of the menstrual cycle, the cervical mucus acts as a “plug”, acting as a barrier to sperm and other foreign bodies in the vagina. But as ovulation approaches, the cervical mucus changes and becomes sperm-friendly, helping the sperm’s passage through the cervix and providing an environment which enables them to live for up to five days within your body. By observing these changes to your mucus, you can detect your most fertile days and increase your chances of getting pregnant.

How can my cervical mucus tell me I’m fertile?

Fertile cervical mucus looks a lot like raw egg white. It is usually transparent, but it can also be whitish or yellowish. It does not break when you stretch it, and may be stretched up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) depending on the quality. It will not be absorbed by toilet paper when you wipe, but stay in a lump on top of it.

During the first days following the end of your period, there is often little or no cervical mucus at all. But as your cycle progresses, the cervical mucus becomes increasingly wet; a day or two of sticky mucus is followed by a period of something resembling lotion, and then the mucus typically looks more like milk before you finally get the fertile “egg white” mucus. After ovulation the mucus quickly becomes drier and more sparse again.

How do I know when I ovulate?

Usually, ovulation will occur on the last day with fertile cervical mucus (“egg white”), or the day after. It is not necessarily the day when the mucus is most abundant or most stretchy. Some women observe traces of blood in the mucus just before ovulation; this is a great fertility sign and should send you straight to bed with your partner. When your mucus dries up, ovulation is usually over.

In some cycles, you may observe more than one period of a few days with fertile cervical mucus. Most probably, this means that your body started to prepare itself for ovulation, but for some reason the egg wasn’t released and the body starts over again. In some cases, multiple periods of fertile mucus – in particular if combined with a low basal body temperature and irregular cycle length – may be a symptom of thyroid issues which should be discussed with your doctor.

The quantity and quality of cervical mucus is very different from one woman to another, and some women may never observe the stretchy fertile mucus. If that’s your case, you should consider the days when your mucus is wettest (milky or watery) as your likely most fertile days, although it may be a good idea to complement the information you get from observing your mucus with a few ovulation tests.

In summary:

  • Not fertile: The sensation in your vagina is dry, and there is little or no visible mucus.
  • Fertile: You have a moist or sticky sensation. Your mucus resembles milk or starts to look like egg white, but it breaks when stretched.
  • Most fertile: The sensation is wet and slippery. Your mucus is abundant, resembles raw egg white and can be stretched between your fingers without breaking.
  • Post-ovulation (not fertile): The sensation is dry or sticky. The mucus is thick, opaque or white, and much sparser than before ovulation.

How to check your cervical mucus

If you’re feeling squeamish about fingering your own cervical mucus, keep in mind that you will have to deal with much worse bodily fluids when you’ve had your baby. You may as well start practicing!

  • Wash your hands.
  • Find a stable position enabling you to reach into your vagina. Sitting on the toilet may be easiest, or you may prefer to squat.
  • Put your middle finger inside your vagina – if your nails are long, be careful not to hurt yourself. Use your finger to collect a sample of mucus. The closer to the cervix you can get it, the better.
  • Examine the visual aspect of the sample. Does it look like lotion, milk, water, or egg white? Is it crumbly (dry), wet, or slippery?
  • Press your thumb to the finger with the sample, then move the fingers apart. Is the mucus stretchy, or does it easily break?
  • Record your findings. You can use a simple notebook or calendar, or create an online chart. FertilityFriend provides a great charting service free of charge – it is mainly meant for recording your basal body temperature, but it is also a very easy way to record other fertility signs. You do not need to input temperatures in your chart.

Because you may have fertile cervical mucus for a very short period of time, you should check your mucus morning and evening every day. You should also make it a habit to observe the sensation in your vagina throughout the day; with experience you will be able to sense the difference. You may also observe your underwear; non-fertile mucus will leave stripes while fertile mucus leaves wet circles. Don’t check your mucus when you’re sexually aroused, as your secretions from arousal may easily be mistaken for fertile cervical mucus.

How do I tell fertile cervical mucus from semen or lubrication?

Because it may sometimes be difficult to distinguish between cervical mucus and semen, it’s best to check your mucus before intercourse.

Semen and lubrication will usually stretch in several thin threads, dries up relatively quickly, and can’t be stretched multiple times without breaking. Fertile cervical mucus will usually stretch in one thick thread and can be stretched again and again.

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