Are you pregnant or hoping to be? Or, are you just curious about some potentially strange happenings “down there” — in your nether regions?
Cervical mucus is something that is rarely talked about, but the truth is it can speak volumes to you about what’s happening in your body. So if you want the down-low on your discharge, read on.
It’s time to take control and learn about what your body’s trying to tell you.
- 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 and sometimes called cervical fluid. In fertility circles, it is frequently 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 pantiliner if you tend to have heavy levels of mucus or discharge.
The mucus is produced by the cervix, and changes in both volume and consistency throughout your menstrual cycle (source). 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 a number of different helpful purposes, including:
- It helps keep the vagina healthy: Vaginal discharge helps to keep the vagina moist and healthy on a daily basis (source). It also impedes the growth of bacteria, which is good to not only help prevent vaginal infections but help protect a fetus from harmful bacteria as well.
- It helps facilitate pregnancy: At certain points during your menstrual cycle, your vaginal discharge changes to properties that help facilitate pregnancy. It attracts sperm, helps to transport it, filter it, and nourish it on its journey to fertilize the egg (source).
- 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 previously we said it actually facilitates pregnancy? Because the discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle, at times it does facilitate pregnancy — but the rest of the time it’s tasked with keeping as many foreign intruders out of the vagina as possible. While this includes bacteria, it also means sperm are impeded as well.
4 Different Types of Cervical Mucus
There are four main types of cervical mucus produced by your body (source). 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 may also experience no 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 lasts 1 to 3 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. 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 1 to 2 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 color, consistency, and properties of the mucus. 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 a few days — and sometimes up to seven (source).
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 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 be able to 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. Do this before you get out of bed or take a drink of water to get the most effective reading.
- 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 use it for the opposite purpose — to try and 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, and 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 recommended you receive full training on the method, either through an approved NFP class or reading the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
In my experience, women who follow their cervical mucus AND their basal body temperature together have a good chance of successfully using NFP to prevent a pregnancy. It isn’t perfect but is good for the couple who is willing to take the minor risk of having an unintended pregnancy.
Editor's Note:Christine Traxler, MD, BS
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. When you get pregnant, however, you may notice thick or milky discharge around the time of your missed period (source).
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 vaginal discharge 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 is an indication 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 also suppresses ovulation (source).
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, so it acts as a more effective barrier to sperm.
Because of these changes, you likely won’t experience the noticeable changes in the volume or consistency of your cervical mucus, the way you would if you were not on birth control.
As women, we don’t talk much about vaginal discharge. But that’s too bad, 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 the health of your vagina, time sex to achieve pregnancy, abstain from sex to avoid pregnancy, and even detect early pregnancy.
To monitor your cervical mucus:
- Clean your hands.
- Choose a comfortable position.
- Insert two fingers into your vagina until they touch the cervix.
- Remove your fingers from your vagina.
- Rub the mucus sample between your thumb and forefingers.
You will notice that your cervical mucus falls into one of four categories:
- Thick and sticky.
- Creamy like lotion.
- Thin and watery.
- Egg white consistency and stretchy.
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 with regards to ovulation and fertility.
Women deserve to have more power over their health, and that starts with a complete understanding of their bodies. Let’s remove the stigma of this topic — share it with your friends so they stop living in the dark.