Overshare time: until I became a Holistic Nutritionist, I had no idea what that white stuff in my underwear was every month. No one told me about the normal, cyclical changes in my discharge, known as cervical mucus production, until I decided to pursue my career in women’s health.
So ladies, let’s set things straight – cervical mucus is normal. And the changes you notice in its’ appearance, consistency, amount each month are normal too. Cervical mucus (CM) is actually a key factor to understanding and taking charge of your cycle and fertility.
In this blog post we’re covering the ins and outs of CM. We’ll talk about what it is, why we need it, what information it can provide to us, how we can check it and beyond. By the end of this blog post you’ll appreciate not only how normal but just how amazing it really is!
What is cervical mucus?
CM is a substance produced by your cervix that’s comprised of mucus molecules, water, a variety of enzymes, protein chains and other biochemical compounds. This mucus is created to help protect your uterus from bacteria, infections and other pathogens. It takes different forms and has additional functions at certain times of the menstrual cycle. CM is also critical for fertility because sperm depend on it for survival – without CM, sperm wouldn’t survive long enough to get a shot at fertilizing your eggs!
Estrogen and progesterone are the two main hormones that affect your CM production. These levels change throughout your menstrual cycle. As these hormones change they affect not only your uterine lining and ovaries, but also your cervical mucus.
The 4 Stages of Cervical Mucus
There are four types of cervical mucus, ranging from type 1 (least fertile) to type 4 (most fertile). We’ll break down each one below. Note that during your period, the blood flow will cover your mucus, so you likely won’t be able to notice any. It’s also important to recognize that the specific length of each of these phases can vary by individual. Keeping a record of your CM can help you identify how long each phase is in your own cycle.
Dry Phase: Days 1-3 after your period
The first days after your period are known as your dry phase. This immediately follows your period and leads up to the appearance of non-fertile cervical mucus. Dry is a relative term. Your cervix and vagina will never be completely dry, as they are moisture-filled membranes. Most women report feeling a dryness or a lack of gliding when wiping. Charting over time will clue you in to what is a “dry” day versus a cervical mucus day for you.
Sticky Phase: Days 4-6 after your period
As we get closer to ovulation, increasing levels of estrogen stimulate the cervical glands to increase mucus production. This is often referred to as the “sticky” phase. It is usually white or cloudy in color and forms small sticky globs. A helpful visual aid is that it looks like slightly cooked egg whites. It will feel sticky or gelatinous – if you rolled the little globs back and forth between your fingers, they would stay intact.
Creamy Phase: Days 7-9 After Your Period, or Pre-Ovulation
During this phase, your cervical mucus will still be creamy or cloudy in color. Additionally, it will be abundant and thick and viscous, but not as sticky. You are still a few days from your fertile window and ovulation.
Clear Phase: Days 10-14 After Your Period, or Your Fertile Window
Your CM in this phase will become clear, abundant, and extremely stretchy. It should resemble clear, raw egg white. It will feel like stretchy slime, be slightly sticky, and odorless. If you wanted to, you could stretch it between your fingertips at least an inch, if not more. Clear CM means your body has reached its prime fertile stage. This is the best time to have sex if you want to get pregnant. At this stage it is a nurturing environment for sperm. In fact, this stretchy mucus actually creates channels that help “catapult” the sperm up into the uterus and fallopian tubes. If you’re not trying to conceive, using contraception during this time is of the utmost importance.
So what happens after you ovulate?
After ovulation (the clear phase), the luteal phase begins and there is a decrease in estrogen and an increase in progesterone levels. Increased progesterone functions to decrease CM and production dries up almost immediately. The CM that is being produced becomes thick, opaque and viscous. This thick mucus has a plug-like effect and is meant to block sperm from migrating into the uterus, therefore preventing fertilization.
How can I check my CM?
Even though you may feel squeemish about it, tracking your CM is an amazing way to get to know your cycle and feel empowered about your body. You learn to become aware of where you are in your cycle and when you’re about to ovulate. Follow the steps below to check your CM:
1. First, wash and dry your hands.
2. Find a comfortable position, either by sitting on the toilet, squatting, or standing up and putting one leg up on the bathtub edge or toilet seat.
3. Reach one finger inside your vagina; your index or middle finger is probably best. (Be careful not to scratch yourself.) Depending on how much cervical mucus you’re producing, you may not need to reach so far, but getting a sample from near your cervix is ideal.
4. Remove your finger from your vagina and observe the consistency of whatever mucus you find. Do this by both looking at the mucus and rolling what you find between two fingers (usually your thumb and index finger). Try pressing your fingers together and then slowly moving them apart.
5. If you are charting other signs of ovulation (such as BBT), you should mark down on your chart your cervical mucus findings. You can do this on a fertility tracking app like Natural Cycles or Daysy.
Recognizing when things aren’t quite right
Certain factors can change the character of your cervical mucus. Understanding what can alter your cervical mucus can help you more effectively identify secretions and changes in your cycle. Here are some important things to note:
- Irregular Cycles: if you have an irregular cycle, you likely have some hormonal imbalances and may not be ovulating at all. Not to fear! I work with women all the time in order to help them regulate their cycle. Click here if you’re interested in working together.
- Blood: If you notice blood in your cervical secretions that do not correspond to your period, consult your healthcare practitioner.
- Colour: If your cervical mucus appears to be an unusual colour, such as green or yellow, or has an unusual odor, consult your healthcare practitioner.
- Avoid douching: It can wash away cervical secretions, which can make it difficult to notice changes in your mucus.
- Certain medications, feminine hygiene products such as tampons, having sex, or getting a pelvic exam with lubrication can change the appearance of your cervical mucus. This is not concerning, however it may make it difficult to accurately track. You might want to consider avoiding sexual intercourse until after you have checked your CM for the day.
There is so much to cover when it comes to cervical mucus! If you’re interested in learning more, I highly recommend checking out Lisa Hendrickson-Jack’s book The Fifth Vital Sign or Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler.
In the meantime, I hope this blog post has you feeling a bit more knowledgeable and maybe even a bit inspired to start tracking your own CM! If you have any questions or if you’re looking for someone to coach you through your fertility/menstruation issues, let me know by filling out this form here.