What is cervical mucus?
Cervical mucus is fluid or gel-like discharge from the cervix. Throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle, the thickness and amount of cervical mucus changes. This is because of hormone levels fluctuating throughout your cycle. Hormones stimulate glands in the cervix to produce mucus.
Cervical mucus can help you predict ovulation, so you can track the mucus to help achieve or avoid pregnancy. This is known as fertility awareness, or cervical monitoring. You should use a backup method of birth control if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy.
Read on to learn about cervical mucus and how it changes throughout your menstrual cycle.
Changes to cervical mucus
The amount, color, and consistency of cervical mucus each cycle is different for everyone. General changes to expect might include the following:
- During your menstrual period. Blood will cover the mucus, so you likely won’t notice it during these days.
- After period. Immediately following your period, you may have dry days. On these days, you might not notice any discharge.
- Before ovulation. Your body produces mucus before an egg is released, or before ovulation occurs. It may be yellow, white, or cloudy. The mucus may feel gluey or stretchy in consistency.
- Immediately before ovulation. Just prior to ovulation, your estrogen levels are rising. You may see more clear, stretchy, watery, and slippery mucus. This mucus may remind you of the consistency of egg whites.
- During ovulation. The clear, stretchy mucus that’s the consistency of egg whites will be present during ovulation. The texture and pH of this mucus are protective for sperm. For this reason, if you’re trying to conceive, have sex on ovulating days.
- After ovulation. There’ll be less discharge after ovulation. It may turn thicker, cloudy, or gluey again. Some women experience dry days during this time.
Cervical mucus after conception
After conception, changes to cervical mucus may be a very early sign of pregnancy. Implantation is the attachment of a fertilized egg to your uterus. After implantation, mucus tends to be thick, gummy, and clear in color. Some women experience implantation bleeding, or spotting. This can occur 6 to 12 days following conception.
Unlike your normal period, implantation bleeding should stop after 24 to 48 hours. You may notice these changes prior to a positive pregnancy test.
Cervical mucus in early pregnancy
During the first weeks of a pregnancy, cervical mucus may change in color and consistency. You may notice stickier, white, or yellow mucus, known as leucorrhea. As your pregnancy progresses, your vaginal discharge may continue to change.
Does birth control (pills or IUD) affect cervical mucus?
Birth control pills thicken cervical mucus so sperm can’t reach the egg. If you’re on birth control pills, your cervical mucus may have a different consistency than when you’re not on birth control pills.
Checking cervical mucus
There are a few ways to check changes to cervical mucus. Be sure to wash your hands before and after performing any of the following methods.
Track your mucus daily by inserting a clean finger or two into your vagina, near the cervix. Remove your finger and note the color and texture of the mucus on your fingers.
Wipe the opening of your vagina with white toilet tissue. Do this before you pee or use the restroom. Note the color and consistency of the mucus or discharge on the tissue.
Check underwear or a panty liner
Look for changes in discharge on your underwear daily. Or, use a panty liner to track changes. Depending on the color of your underwear and the amount of time that’s passed, this method may be less reliable than other methods.
What’s the cervical mucus method?
The cervical mucus method is a method of natural family planning. If you’re hoping to get pregnant, you can track changes to your cervical mucus to predict when you’ll ovulate.
You’ll need to track cervical mucus daily for several cycles. This will help you best recognize patterns. This method is most successful when you’re formally taught how to do it.
Use an online tracker or an app to record days when you’re more likely to be ovulating, and plan to have sex during this fertile window. This will give you the best chance of pregnancy.
If you’re avoiding pregnancy
According the Mayo Clinic, 23 out of 100 women will get pregnant when practicing the cervical mucus method in the first year of use. If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, use a backup method of birth control from when you start noticing mucus to at least four days after your suspected ovulation.
Also use backup birth control for the first several cycles of tracking. See your doctor about the best birth control method for you.
Other ways to track ovulation
You can also track ovulation using the following methods.
Track your basal body temperature at the same time each day using a special thermometer. Your temperature will rise slightly when you’re ovulating. Plan to have unprotected sex three days prior to ovulation. Using this method along with the cervical mucus method increases your chances of successfully predicting ovulation.
There are free online ovulation calendars. These can help predict your ovulation days. You’ll need to enter the date of the start of your last menstrual period and the average number of days in your cycle.
Your doctor can perform a physical exam and tests to check ovulation and make sure your hormone levels are normal. See your doctor if you’re having trouble getting pregnant after one year, or after six months if you’re over 35 years of age.
You can also track ovulation at home using a digital ovulation predictor or test strips. Similar to a pregnancy test, you’ll pee on the end of a test strip or into a cup and insert the strip into the urine. These tests check for the luteinizing hormone (LH) surge to help predict your most fertile days. A surge in LH initiates the start of ovulation.
When to seek help
It’s important to let your doctor know about any abnormal discharge. This may be a symptom of an infection. Look out for the following:
- yellow, green, or gray mucus
- itchiness or burning
- smells or odors
- redness or swelling
If you’re bleeding outside of your normal menstrual period and don’t think you’re pregnant, see your doctor.
In general, cervical mucus discharge is a normal part of a woman’s cycle. It’s nothing to be concerned about. Let your doctor know if you notice any cervical mucus of an abnormal color or with a foul smell, or experience itching or redness.
Tracking cervical mucus can be an effective way to help predict ovulation. Make sure you track your mucus for at least one cycle prior to trying to conceive. If you’re trying to avoid pregnancy, always use a backup method of birth control like condoms or pills.