Whether you’re pregnant, hoping to be pregnant, or trying to avoid being pregnant, cervical mucus can be a helpful tool.
Cervical mucus is something we rarely talk about, but the truth is, it can speak volumes about what’s happening in your body — if you know how to read the signs.
We’ll discuss how to check your cervical mucus, describe the stages of cervical mucus, and explain how cervical mucus changes during pregnancy.
- What Is Cervical Mucus?
- The Purpose of Cervical Mucus
- 4 Different Types of Cervical Mucus
- How To Check Your Cervical Mucus
- How Your Cervical Mucus Can Help You Get Pregnant
- Can I Monitor Cervical Mucus to Prevent Pregnancy?
- How Cervical Mucus Changes During Pregnancy
- Does Birth Control Affect My Cervical Mucus?
- The Bottom Line
What Is Cervical Mucus?
Cervical mucus is commonly referred to as vaginal discharge but is sometimes also called cervical fluid or abbreviated as CM.
Cervical mucus is the clear or opaque substance you may notice in your underwear or on the toilet paper in between your menstrual cycles. You may even wear a panty liner if you tend to have heavy levels of mucus or discharge.
The cervix produces the mucus, which changes in both volume and consistency throughout your menstrual cycle (1). And though it tends to be yet another thing women seem to have to endure, it serves some beneficial purposes.
The Purpose of Cervical Mucus
Cervical mucus or vaginal discharge has several helpful purposes.
- It helps keep the vagina healthy: Vaginal discharge helps to keep the vagina moist and healthy daily. It also impedes the growth of bacteria, which is good to help prevent vaginal infections and protect a fetus from harmful bacteria.
- It helps facilitate pregnancy: At certain points during your menstrual cycle, your vaginal discharge changes to include properties that actually help facilitate pregnancy. As ovulation approaches, your cervical mucus will become wet and thin before growing into something that resembles egg white. This change in cervical mucus consistency makes it easier for the sperm to reach the egg and filters and nourishes the sperm on its journey.
- It helps prevent pregnancy: While certainly not an effective form of birth control, your cervical mucus can impede the travel of sperm. How is this possible when it also facilitates pregnancy? The discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle, at times facilitating pregnancy, but the rest of the time, it’s tasked with keeping as many foreign intruders out of the vagina as possible. After ovulation, the cervical mucus becomes dry and sticky; this consistency protects the vagina from bacteria and sperm.
4 Different Types of Cervical Mucus
There are four main types of cervical mucus produced by your body (2). The consistency changes as you proceed through your menstrual cycle.
1. Dry and Sticky
This mucus is clumpy and sticky. It is thick and frequently white.
How To Identify It
This mucus is the least friendly to sperm and occurs at times when you are least fertile, like the days between ovulation and your period, as well as the days immediately after menstruation. You also may not experience any noticeable discharge during this period.
This mucus is thick and sticky but also feels a bit creamy like lotion. It may be thick and globby and is often white or yellowish. This discharge occurs early in your menstrual cycle, before ovulation.
3. Thin and Watery
This mucus is very thin — it is neither sticky nor stretchy when placed between your fingers. It is clear, like water, and has no globs or color.
It often comes out in a quick gush, making you feel like you had a bladder leak. It can even soak through a spot in your pants if you’re not wearing a liner. This mucus indicates ovulation is very near.
4. Egg White and Stretchy
This cervical mucus is thin and stretchy. It resembles egg whites, and if you place it between your thumb and forefinger and stretch them out, the mucus will stretch along with it.
It is either clear or slightly opaque and feels a little bit slippery between your fingers. This indicates that ovulation is imminent, and it lasts one to three days.
There are many variations to cervical mucus, so your discharge may look a little different. However, if you’re trying to get pregnant and find that your cervical mucus differs considerably from these descriptions, especially the egg white cervical mucus, speak with your doctor.
It could indicate an issue with your fertility that may need medical treatment.
How To Check Your Cervical Mucus
To check your cervical mucus, do the following:
- Wash and dry your hands to avoid introducing any bacteria into the vagina. Make sure your fingernails are short so they will not get in the way.
- Get into a comfortable position — either with your foot on the toilet, sitting on the toilet seat, or lying in bed.
- Insert one to two fingers into your vagina as far as you can, until you touch your cervix.
- If you have trouble reaching your cervix, try squatting. This will shorten the length of the vagina and bring the cervix closer.
- Touch your fingertip to the side of your cervix and remove your fingers.
- Rub the mucus sample between your thumb and forefinger.
- Open your thumb and forefinger and note the mucus’s color, consistency, and properties. The mucus may be clear, white, opaque, stretchy, sticky, stringy, or any number of other properties.
Directly checking your cervical mucus in this manner will get you the most accurate results. However, as you become more adept at monitoring your mucus, you may be able to assess your discharge simply by what you notice on your underwear, on the toilet paper, or even how you feel.
How Your Cervical Mucus Can Help You Get Pregnant
By monitoring your cervical mucus, you can identify your peak fertility times, which can help you effectively time sex with your partner to increase your chances of achieving pregnancy.
The optimal time to engage in sex is immediately before and in the hours immediately after ovulation. An egg only lives about 24 hours after ovulation, but sperm can live in the fallopian tubes for days — sometimes up to seven (3).
Get Busy If You’re Shooting For Pregnancy
This is the discharge that happens right before ovulation. If you wait until you notice the egg white cervical mucus, ovulation has already occurred, so it may be too late.
To maximize your chances of achieving a pregnancy, have sex during your period of watery mucus and through the first day of egg white cervical mucus.
To further increase your chances, measure your basal body temperature regularly in conjunction with monitoring your mucus. Your basal body temperature is your temperature when you first wake in the morning — after a minimum of five hours of sleep — before your feet even hit the floor.
After charting for a few months, you will begin to notice a pattern of how many days into your cycle you tend to ovulate. Combine this information with your observations of your cervical mucus, and you should begin to develop a reliable idea of when you are most fertile and have the best chance of achieving pregnancy.
To measure your basal body temperature, do the following:
- Purchase an oral basal thermometer, which tends to be more sensitive than regular thermometers.
- Keep the thermometer on your nightstand.
- When you wake — at a consistent time each morning — take your temperature. To get the most effective reading, do this before you get out of bed or take a drink of water.
- Record your temperature on a fertility chart or with a phone app.
- When you get an opportunity, check your cervical mucus. Record this on your fertility chart as well.
Can I Monitor Cervical Mucus to Prevent Pregnancy?
When you understand the different types of cervical mucus and how to use it to monitor your fertility, you can also use it for the opposite purpose — to try to prevent pregnancy.
This is known as Natural Family Planning (NFP) or Fertility Awareness. It is commonly confused with the less-effective Rhythm Method of birth control, which involves abstaining from sex mid-cycle to avoid intimacy during the most fertile period of a woman’s cycle.
Why The Rhythm Method Isn’t The Best
NFP allows for individual variances in each woman’s cycle. By monitoring and tracking your cervical mucus along with your daily basal body temperature, you can pinpoint the most fertile point in your menstrual cycle. To prevent pregnancy, you can avoid sex during this period or use a barrier method like a condom.
Natural Family Planning sounds simple, but it’s quite complex. It can be very effective when done correctly, but if you’re not fully informed of its intricacies, it can lose its effectiveness and result in unintended pregnancy.
If it’s essential to you to avoid pregnancy, but you also want to practice NFP, it’s important to receive full training on the method, either through an approved NFP class or by reading the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
How Cervical Mucus Changes During Pregnancy
While your cervical mucus changes predictably throughout your menstrual cycle, once you are pregnant, things will change again. You may even start to suspect you’re pregnant based solely on your vaginal discharge.
Here’s what you can expect during pregnancy.
For most women, discharge is typically absent immediately before and following their menstrual period. It is then followed by thick, sticky mucus. However, when you get pregnant, you may notice thick or milky discharge around the time of your missed period (5).
Thick or milky mucus will continue throughout your pregnancy. Not only has your cervix developed a mucus plug, but the increased vaginal discharge helps protect your baby from bacteria.
This mucus prevents harmful foreign bodies from passing through the cervix and entering the uterus.
As you approach your due date, you may see an increase in thick, stringy cervical mucus. It may even be tinged with blood. This indicates your mucus plug is loosening and labor may be starting within the next couple of weeks.
Does Birth Control Affect My Cervical Mucus?
If you are currently taking hormonal birth control, your cervical mucus will not be a reliable indicator of fertility or possible pregnancy. The reason for this is that the synthetic hormones trick your body into thinking it’s already pregnant, so the natural changes that occur throughout your menstrual cycle do not happen.
Specifically, birth control thickens your cervical mucus and suppresses ovulation (6).
Because ovulation triggers the thinning of your discharge into the egg-white, sperm-friendly consistency, this change doesn’t happen when you fail to ovulate. Birth control also thickens your cervical mucus to act as a more effective barrier to sperm.
Because of these changes, you likely won’t experience noticeable changes in the volume or consistency of your cervical mucus the way you would if you were not on birth control.
The Bottom Line
As women, we don’t talk much about vaginal discharge. But that’s unfortunate because by making it taboo, we’ve robbed women of a whole lot of valuable information about their bodies.
By monitoring cervical mucus, you can evaluate your vagina’s health, time sex to achieve pregnancy, abstain from sex to avoid pregnancy, and even detect early pregnancy.
Each of these types of mucus occurs at different times in your menstrual cycle and can even help women who suffer from wildly irregular cycles detect what is happening in their bodies regarding ovulation and fertility.