In order to get pregnant, a sperm and an egg need to combine, but this can only happen around the ovulatory phase of your cycle. One of the easiest ways to predict when you’re about the ovulate is the cervical mucus method of fertility awareness. Let’s run through the basics on cervical mucus tells you about your fertility.
What is cervical mucus?
Cervical mucus (or “cervical fluid”, as some prefer to call it) is a substance secreted by cells lining the cervix. Over the course of your menstrual cycle, this substance changes in consistency, fulfilling different roles at different times.
At peak fertility, the mucus provides an easy path for sperm to follow on their way to the waiting egg. After ovulation, it becomes thick and sticky, forming a much more hostile environment for sperm and obstructing their path through the vagina.
Cervical mucus during ovulation
Cervical fluid plays a special role during the fertile ovulatory phase of the menstrual cycle. The fluid lining the cervix is usually acidic, acting like a checkpoint against germs that could enter the reproductive system. However, in order for sperm to make their way through to the egg in the fallopian tube, the cervical fluid has to become more alkaline and hospitable.
The cells lining the cervix produce larger amounts of this alkaline mucus around ovulation, which is often described as resembling raw egg white. It’s easy to confuse this for the natural lubricants you produce when sexually aroused, but whereas arousal fluid dries within an hour, fertile cervical mucus tends to stick around.
Cervical mucus and infertility
Fertile cervical mucus is one of the things your body needs to get pregnant, so if something’s not quite right, you may find it more difficult to conceive. This is a form of cervical factor infertility, and may be linked to conditions such as the following.
The release of fertile cervical mucus is regulated by the action of the reproductive hormone estrogen. If you’re low on estrogen, there may not be enough fertile mucus to support sperm cells on their way through the vagina.
Abnormal cervical mucus could be a result of an infection in the cervix. In many cases, this turns out to be a sexually transmitted infection like chlamydia, which often causes no noticeable symptoms until you start to trying to conceive.
Ironically, fertility medications designed to stimulate the ovaries and promote ovulation have been known to cause a decrease in cervical mucus as a side effect. If you take or are considering fertility drugs, talk to your doctor about this.
Antibodies are one of the immune system’s tools for recognizing and taking down intruders like germs and viruses. However, if the antibodies in the cervical mucus mistakenly raise the alarm against sperm, the immune system will try to destroy them.
How to check cervical mucus
So, to recap: non-fertile cervical mucus is sticky, viscous and relatively scant. As you approach ovulation, you produce more cervical mucus, which thins out and becomes stringier and clearer. At peak fertility it’s abundant, clear, and can stretch up to several inches between your fingers.
By checking for this special pre-ovulation cervical mucus, you can keep track of your fertility level yourself.
How to check cervical mucus at home
When you use the toilet, wipe a folded piece of toilet paper over the entrance of the vagina to get a sample of cervical mucus, if any.
If you can’t get enough to take a sample this way, you can also use your hand.
Wash your hands well and place an index finger into your vagina until you feel the cervix. It will feel wet and somewhat different in texture to the rest of the vaginal tissue.
Gently remove some of the mucus from the cervix to get your sample. By testing the stretchiness between your fingers, you should be able to get a sense of how close you are to ovulation.
Do this a few times per day, before and after you urinate, as the consistency can change over the course of the day. To make sure your checks are accurate, avoid checking too soon after you’ve had sexual intercourse, or when you are sexually aroused.
How do I increase my cervical mucus?
If a few cycles of checking reveal you’re consistently not producing enough cervical mucus, it could be a sign you may need an estrogen boost in order to conceive. Supplements and other therapies to increase estrogen levels are available, so talk to your doctor or fertility specialist.
You can also support a healthy balance of hormones by making sure that you enjoy a varied diet, including foods like soy and linseed that support female hormone health. Lifestyle factors like maintaining good mental health and coping with stress are also thought to support good hormone balance.
How to check your cervical mucus? Get into the habit!
Once you know what to look out for, you’ll have a neat trick for identifying when you’re approaching ovulation. However, if you don’t notice these regular changes, it’s worth seeing a gynecologist. Poor quality cervical mucus can interfere with getting pregnant.
In either case, checking your cervical mucus is one of the simplest ways to get a sense of your own unique fertility patterns. This could make it a good habit to get into when you’re trying to conceive.