Every single day of a woman’s menstrual cycle is another excuse to look and see how her body is changing in response to the hormones produced and fluids being released.
Alongside having a period, a female body will release a cycle of ever-changing vaginal mucus which can be tracked, inspected and mapped to know when ovulation will happen. For many women, seeing patches of white, gooey discharge in their underwear can encourage a sense of shame or embarrassment, but in fact, this mucus can be a wonderful sign that the body is fit, healthy and moving between fertile states1. Dispelling the idea that discharge is a bad thing can be a first step in getting to know your body better and accepting it for the wonder that it is. To feel more confident in understanding our cervical mucus, we can get our tongues around useful, descriptive vocabulary and find a method of looking which suits us best.
Vaginal Discharge – Where does it come from and why does it exist?
We often see our discharge staring at us from the pile of dirty underwear waiting to be cleaned, but where does this substance originate from and what’s its purpose? Starting from the ovaries, it is the hormone, oestrogen, that stimulates several hundred glands in our cervix2 to produce this water-based fluid. Described as vaginal discharge or cervical mucus, the property of this substance changes between being runny, sticky, creamy and dry depending on our fertility and whether we are ovulating or not. The shift in the mucus’s pH level (from acidic to alkaline) and the amount being produced echoes the ability for this fluid to act either as a barrier or a form of transportation to any incoming sperm3. Hurriedly trying to wash away the discharge that our bodies produce can remove valuable mucus needed to get pregnant or destabilise bacteria levels leading to vaginal infection4. Instead, by understanding how to read cervical mucus and assign words to what is seen, we have the ability to read our cycle, track our fertility and broaden our self-knowledge. inne’s handy library of visuals and cervical mucus descriptions can be a great way of accurately identifying this delightful spectrum of fluid.
How to Read Cervical Mucus – Egg White Cervical Mucus to Thick White Discharge
Apart from the days which you bleed, you will be able to track your mucus’s changing state, the amount that is being produced and the form it takes in accordance to its function; either to block sperm or help it reach your fallopian tubes. We’ve listed some descriptions that help label the mucus’s changing appearance and what each state says about fertility. Making a note of this on a daily basis, for consecutive months will help you notice patterns and become more familiar with your body. A common pattern is – period, dry, sticky, creamy, runny, dry, sticky, period.
Pre and post-period – Dry
Before and after a period/menstrual bleed, there is very little cervical mucus being released as your oestrogen levels are lower, we call these our dry days. If monitoring your fertility, it is advised to treat these as cautionary fertile days.
Preparing for Ovulation – Sticky and Creamy
As your eggs start to ripen, the levels of oestrogen increase and the cervical glands begin to produce a sticky fluid resembling paste or glue from a glue stick. This mucus can crumble like powder, breaking easily into smaller pieces, and is gummy to touch. This is understood to be your least fertile day as the consistency of the cervical mucus makes it hard for sperm to swim through.
The cervical mucus then shifts from sticky to creamy, with a relatively large amount of vaginal fluid being produced with a blobby, gel-like appearance. The consistency of this mucus is like cream or lotion and often has a slightly white or yellowish colour to it. This mucus is understood to restrict the movement of sperm making it a less fertile stage in your cycle.
Height of Fertility – Runny and Eggwhite
As you reach ovulation, a substantial amount of runny alkaline fluid, transparent and watery, is produced as your oestrogen levels peak and you enter the most fertile window of your cycle. The runny mucus allows sperm to move into the cervix and can drip quick freely, sometimes feeling like you’ve leaked urine.
The runny cervical mucus changes quickly from being watery to becoming stretchy like raw egg white. In this form, the alkaline cervical mucus is able to actively nourish any sperm cells that it may come in contact with and enhance the sperm’s ability to move through the cervical canal into the uterus and eventually arrive at the fallopian tubes. The egg white cervical mucus’s thin and clear properties help the sperm to survive for up to 72 hours, making this the most fertile point of a woman’s cycle.
The Luteal Phase – Sticky and Dry
After this peak of fertility, the levels of oestrogen drop and progesterone becomes the dominant hormone. Cervical Mucus reverts back to being sticky and fibrous making it hard for sperm to move through, before decreasing and arriving back to dry days.
Ovulation Observation – A Guide to Looking and Feeling
Being able to look at our pants or place a finger or two up towards our cervix are all ways each of us can inspect our vaginal discharge depending on what we feel most comfortable with. What matters the most is consistency and accuracy so make sure to check your fluids first thing in the morning, (before peeing!) and record your results on a daily basis – the inne app allows you to log and research your findings whilst seeing a pattern occur as you move between your monthly cycles.
Three methods we recommend for checking your cervical fluid
Toilet Paper – By folding a piece of toilet paper together, you can wipe your vulva from front to back and inspect what you see on your tissue. It is DRY or perhaps a blobby, gel-like CREAMY mucus can be witnessed. By checking every day before you go to the toilet, you will start to see the change in consistency and colour.
Touch – This is a method where you use your fingertips to touch the outside of your vulva, without going into the vaginal canal. Washing your hands thoroughly, use two fingers to sweep gently around your inner labia and then have a look. Is there clear fluid on our fingers with speckled white crumbled powder? This could be a sticky day. Or perhaps you have egg white cervical mucus that stretches between your two fingers as you move them an inch or two apart.
Insertion – If you are comfortable with feeling the inside of your vagina with your fingers, this can be a great method to not only check your cervical mucus but also the changing position of the cervix (which moves in correlation with your fertility). After thoroughly washing your hands, insert two fingers into your vagina slowly until you reach something soft with a dip in the middle – this is your cervix. Gently form a cup with your fingers to scoop up as much cervical mucus as you can before gently guiding your fingers out again. Observe the fluid, move it in-between your fingers and see if the mucus breaks easily, check if it is yellowish or clear in colour.
It’s important to remember that certain factors will affect the mucus you produce. For example, having vaginal sex can make your body produce more or different mucus, medication, lubricants, vaginal infections and sexual arousal will all impact the fluids we see come from our vulvas, as well as progesterone-based contraceptives which discourage the production of mucus making for drier vaginal canals5. So with each method, be as aware as possible of these external factors, making a note of them in your tracker and remembering that we learn more by checking more.
- Jamie L. Biglow, Mucus Observation in the Fertile Window, Human Reproduction Issue 4, Page 889 to 882, article consulted on March 18th 2020 https://academic.oup.com/humrep/article/19/4/889/2913645
- M Patel and R Tawari, World Journal of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Cervical Mucus Helps in the Fertilisation In Women, article consulted on March 18th 2020, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/309700647_CERVICAL_MUCUS_HELPS_IN_THE_FERTILIZATION
- Fabiana Y. Nakano, Insights into the role of cervical mucus and vaginal pH in unexplained infertility, article consulted on March 19th 2020, http://www.scielo.br/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S2358-04292015000200007
- JS Merchant, Douching: a problem for adolescent girls and young women, article consulted on March 19th 2020, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10437756
- Mohammed Khairy Ali, Assiut University, Study of-The Female Sexual Functions With Progestogen-only Contraception, article consulted on March 19th 2020 https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT02579590