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Fertility awareness involves tracking physical changes that can help you predict when you’re most likely to get pregnant. You may have heard of basal body temperature monitoring—measuring your body temperature at rest—but did you also know that your cervical mucus can tell you a lot about your fertility?
Here’s how monitoring your cervical mucus can increase your chance of getting pregnant without any fancy tests, strips, or kits.
What is cervical mucus?
Cervical mucus is a fluid or gel-like substance produced by the cervix—the bottom part of the uterus at the top of the vagina. The amount, consistency, and color of cervical mucus change due to fluctuating hormone levels throughout your menstrual cycle. Cervical mucus may also be called cervical fluid (Han, 2017).
Cervical mucus serves two main roles (Han, 2017):
- To prevent substances, including infection-causing microbes, from entering the uterus
- To help sperm travel up into the uterus and fallopian tubes where they can fertilize an egg
Estrogen levels rise immediately before ovulation (when an egg is released from your ovary). This causes the amount of cervical mucus to increase and become more “sperm-friendly.” During this time, mucus is slippery and wet, which allows sperm to swim up into the uterus easily (Han, 2017)
Tracking the changes in your cervical mucus can help you identify when you’re ovulating and most likely to get pregnant.
Types of cervical mucus
Estrogen and progesterone levels rise and fall depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. You’ll be able to notice different types of cervical mucus in response to these fluctuating hormone levels (Han, 2017).
After your period ends, you’ll likely find that your cervical mucus follows a predictable pattern (Pallone, 2009; Scarpa, 2006):
- First, there’s not much cervical mucus. You’ll notice a dry sensation.
- Then, mucus becomes sticky and can be white or light yellow. It doesn’t stretch.
- Next, cervical mucus changes to a creamy texture, like yogurt or lotion. It’s usually white at this point.
- Finally, mucus appears clear, wet, slippery, and stretchy, like raw egg whites. This indicates ovulation is coming. Now is the time to have unprotected sex if you’re trying to get pregnant (or to be extra careful about avoiding unprotected sex if you’re not trying to get pregnant).
- After ovulation, mucus returns to dry or sticky until menstruation occurs.
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How to check cervical mucus
The best way to check your cervical mucus is by using your fingers. After washing your hands, insert your index finger into your vagina. Remove your finger and notice the amount, color, and texture of the mucus. It can be helpful to use another finger to see if it stretches.
You can also check cervical mucus by noticing any mucus that appears on the inside of your underwear or by wiping the opening of your vagina with toilet paper.
Charting cervical mucus
Some people track their cervical mucus to help them determine when they can get pregnant. This is called the cervical mucus method of natural family planning.
There are typically six days you can get pregnant during your menstrual cycle—five days before ovulation and the day of ovulation. This is called your fertile window. Because your fertile days can change from cycle to cycle, observing your cervical mucus is an easy way to help you identify your most fertile time (Scarpa, 2006).
Using a calendar or chart, record the amount, color, consistency, and stretchiness of your cervical mucus each day. You can also download different period or ovulation tracking apps on your phone that often have a cervical mucus monitoring section to record your findings.
After a few months, you’ll begin to notice a pattern. If your cycle is 28 days long, ovulation typically occurs on day 14, with day one being the first day of your period. You’ll see egg white cervical mucus starting a few days before ovulation. If your goal is to get pregnant, having sex on these days is key. If you’re looking to prevent pregnancy, be sure to use a reliable form of birth control or avoid having sex during this time.
What can cause your cervical mucus to change?
Certain factors can affect the appearance of your cervical mucus and make it harder for you to notice day-to-day changes. These include (ACOG-a, 2019):
- Certain medications like hormonal birth control (contraception)
- Having sex
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) or other reproductive tract infections
- Using lubricants
Non-hormonal birth control options
Cervical mucus monitoring may not be reliable if you (ACOG-a, 2019):
- Just had a baby
- Recently stopped taking birth control
- Just starting having periods
- Are approaching menopause
Talk with your healthcare provider about the best way to track your ovulation and fertility, especially if you’re trying to prevent pregnancy.
Early pregnancy cervical mucus
Changes in cervical mucus may be an early predictor of pregnancy. You may notice a vaginal discharge that’s slightly pink or brown around the time you’d expect your period to start. This may be implantation bleeding—bleeding that occurs when a fertilized egg implants into your uterus. Not everyone experiences implantation bleeding, but if you do, it might be time to pick up a pregnancy test (ACOG-b, 2021).
When to see your healthcare provider
If you’ve been tracking your cervical mucus for at least one menstrual cycle and you haven’t noticed any days with fertile cervical mucus—mucus that’s wet and slippery—it may be time to see your healthcare provider.
Also, be sure to make an appointment if you notice (Paladine, 2018):
- Green or yellow vaginal discharge
- Discharge that has a fishy or strong odor
- Thick, cheesy, or curdy discharge
- Bleeding or spotting throughout your menstrual cycle
Your healthcare provider will evaluate you for any infections or other conditions that could be contributing to your symptoms.
Tracking your cervical mucus is an easy and free way to help predict ovulation. If you’re trying to get pregnant, having sex around the time of ovulation greatly increases your odds of conceiving.
What to know about a sudden change in menstrual cycle length
If avoiding pregnancy is your goal, you’ll want to use condoms or another method of birth control when you notice discharge that resembles egg whites. Talk with your healthcare provider about the best ways to prevent pregnancy. Cervical mucus monitoring can help, but it may not be the best method for everyone.
- Han, L., Taub, R., & Jensen, J. T. (2017). Cervical mucus and contraception: what we know and what we don’t. Contraception, 96(5), 310–321. doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2017.07.168. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28801053/
- Paladine, H. L. & Desai, U. A. (2018). Vaginitis: diagnosis and treatment. American Family Physician, 97(5), 321–329. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29671516/
- Pallone, S. R. & Bergus, G. R. (2009). Fertility awareness-based methods: another option for family planning. Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine : JABFM, 22(2), 147–157. doi: 10.3122/jabfm.2009.02.080038. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19264938/
- Scarpa, B., Dunson, D. B., & Colombo, B. (2006). Cervical mucus secretions on the day of intercourse: an accurate marker of highly fertile days. European Journal of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology, 125(1), 72–78. doi: 10.1016/j.ejogrb.2005.07.024. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16154254/
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG-a). (2019, January). Fertility awareness-based methods of family planning. Retrieved on Nov. 19, 2021 from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/fertility-awareness-based-methods-of-family-planning
- The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG-b). (2021, May). Bleeding during pregnancy. Retrieved on Nov. 20, 2021 from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/bleeding-during-pregnancy
Dr. Steve Silvestro is a board-certified pediatrician and Senior Manager, Medical Content & Education at Ro.