Is the cervical mucus a barrier for you to get on the fertility awareness bandwagon and become free of hormonal contraceptives? Are you using methods like condoms or the pull out method because you just can’t see yourself touching this strange substance? Before you give up and move on, will you let this obstinate French guy (me) try to change your feelings about it?
The cervical mucus, also known as cervical fluid, is likely the most misunderstood secretion of the female body - and a best kept secret. As Kati Bicknell once wrote on this blog, “It is arguably the most important substance on earth.” It is neither a sign of illness nor a body waste. Like saliva, hormones, or sperm, it is produced to fulfill a function that’s important to the body. It is also the key to charting a woman's cycle using the Fertility Awareness Method, to achieve or avoid pregnancy effectively.
A doctor friend of mine tells the story of one of her patients who came to see her because she and her husband couldn’t achieve pregnancy. The woman mentioned that once a month, usually around the middle of her cycle, she would get an infection and they avoided intercourse during that time. My friend’s recommendation to her was to go ahead, and have sex at that very time. A couple months later the woman came back and told her: “I’m pregnant, it’s a miracle!”
But it wasn’t a miracle at all. What she thought was an infection was her cervical fluid. While its aspect may be disconcerting, the cervical fluid plays a vital role in making a woman fertile at certain times and infertile at other times. Without this amazing fluid, women couldn’t get pregnant at all. Here is why:
The cervical mucus is actually pretty amazing when you consider all the things it does. If you’re grossed out, put aside the look and feel of it for a minute, and think of it as another organ in your body, located right at the door of the uterus.
This body part has two major roles: to allow entry or to prevent entry. In simple terms, the cervical mucus is told by the brain, though a message carried by hormones, to open the door to the uterus at the time of ovulation so that the sperm can go in, travel to the fallopian tubes and fertilize the egg. Other times, it literally blocks the door so that sperm cannot enter the uterus. Sperm stays in the vagina and dies. Those of you who have been pregnant have probably heard of the “mucus plug” that seals the uterus during pregnancy and falls out right before labor begins in earnest. Likewise, when you’re not pregnant and outside of the fertile days of your cycle, the mucus blocks entry to the uterus.
It’s instructive to look at the mucus under a microscope at different times as it reveals the internal structure of this fluid. You see in the chart below[i] the two types of mucus: the infertile one (blocks the door) on the left, and the fertile one (opens the door) on the right. You can see that the fertile mucus literally forms channels that allow the sperm to go through. With the other mucus, notice how its form is like a labyrinth.
The mucus is even more than a door mechanism. At fertile times, it becomes the sperms’ body guard, providing the right chemical composition and nourishment so that the sperm can survive up to five days in the uterus, which is otherwise too acidic and would kill it right away. That’s another reason why making sure that this fluid and the cells of the cervix that produce it are healthy. It is critical to those women who want to preserve their fertility.
Having grown up on a dairy farm, I have pretty much seen, touched and handled anything, and I’m not too worried about another gunky substance. But I understand why not everyone is comfortable with the idea of touching the mucus for the first time. So how do you get more comfortable with handling it?
First, as you now know, the cervical fluid is very different from other fluids with a similar texture, such as what you find running from your nose when you have a cold or the pus from an infection. It’s nothing like that. The properties of your cervical fluid can tell you clearly what it’s up to any day of the month. Is it trying to act like I am already pregnant, and blocking the door, or is it being a friend to the sperm that may help me get pregnant? Thinking of it in those terms can help you get comfortable.
Then practice, and soon it will become second nature. My wife used to have a very strong reaction to blood - especially her own - until she started noticing pre-diabetic signs and had to test her blood sugar at home. At first, I had to do it for her, while she lay down, averting her eyes, listening to a story I was telling to keep her mind off it. And then I went on a trip and couldn’t help for a few days. Now she does it herself several times a day, without even blinking.
Your body is amazing, and you are amazing! Now you probably know more than the average physician about this subject. And this little introduction is just a start. There is a lot more knowledge available[ii] that can help you in so many ways to live a healthy fertility. Enjoy your new found freedom, and when you’re ready, tell your friends about that strange mucus stuff.
[i] Odeblad, E. (1966b). Micro-NMR in high permanent magnetic fields. Acta Obstet. Gynecol. Scand. 45, Suppl. 2.
[ii] On this topic, especially if you are not sure, we recommend going beyond the book knowledge and working with experts, simply because everyone is unique and your findings may not match what’s describe in a book or on a website. Check these out: Billings is the grandfather of the ovulation methods as their founders discovered the relationship between mucus and ovulation time, and they provide online training that can be complemented with coaching by an instructor. Hanna Ransom of Holistic Hormonal Health has an extensive online class on the topic which she introduces here. Creighton FertilityCare explains here the scientific background behind their system and offer classes with professionally trained teachers throughout the world. Other organizations include training in the mucus along with other signs like the symptom-thermal method, which is taught by the Couple to Couple League and by the Justisse Healthworks for Women. For more learning resources check www.naturalwomanhood.org/learn