So you've noticed some fluid in your underwear and you’re not sure what it means. One day, it's cloudy, the next day it's sticky, and sometimes it's not there at all. It's called cervical mucus or cervical fluid, and it's secreted by your cervix. If you're trying to get pregnant and it's not happening, evaluating what your cervical mucus is up to and when can clue you in on your cycle, plus give you some talking points to bring to your doctor, especially if you're finding that you have little to no cervical mucus.
Cervical mucus (CM) is one of the critical factors that determine whether or not sperm can move to the upper reproductive tract to meet up with an egg for fertilization. It filters out structurally abnormal sperm, provides sperm with nutrients, and enables its survival in the inhospitable female reproductive tract in time to connect with the egg. (1). Your CM fluctuates in appearance and texture because your hormones fluctuate throughout your menstrual cycle.
During your period (when you're bleeding), you won't be able to see the cervical mucus, and for a few days after your period, you may not have any CM at all. As your hormones change to stimulate the follicles to begin the process of maturing eggs, you might notice more mucus that's yellow or white, and feels sticky and tacky. Around the time when that egg is ready to charge out of the follicle, you may have a lot of white, cloudy, or clear and slippery CM that you can stretch between your fingers. After ovulation, you'll likely go back to having less mucus that's cloudy and sticky, as the entire cycle starts again (2). Read all about The Many Faces of Cervical Mucus here.
Even if you’ve never paid all that much attention to it before, with a little education, you can track these changes in your CM to learn more about your menstrual cycle and ovulation. A study by the World Health Organization indicated that 93% of cervix-owners, no matter what their level of education, could identify their cervical mucus and its changes (3). "Your cervix feels like a little firm donut at the top inside of your vaginal canal. You can insert a finger or two and see what type of mucus is being secreted," says Dr. Tabatha Baer, DO, FACOOG, NCMP. "If you do this every day, along with tracking your bleeding, you can get a good idea of whether or not you are ovulating. Remember, the first day of bleeding is cycle day one."
Don't panic if you're monitoring your cervical mucus and not seeing every single kind, or if you're seeing several types in one day (4). All bodies are different, so it's normal if your cervical mucus doesn't exactly fit into super discrete categories. Fertility awareness professionals are specifically trained to help you identify, track and find patterns and around your CM, as well as to refer you to health care professionals when appropriate. (And yep, many work remotely, so it's pandemic-friendly.)
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One of the most fertile types of CM, or your "peak" mucus, is that clear stretchy, slippery kind that's often called egg white cervical mucus, or EWCM, due to its similarity to raw egg whites (5). Some people also experience mid-cycle spotting, sometimes called ovulation spotting, which is actually considered very fertile fluid (16) (6).
Dr. Colleen Holland is a Fertility Awareness Educator and reproductive healthcare provider in Fort Collins, Colorado. You can get pregnant without that peak mucus, she says, and while you don't need a ton of it to get pregnant, but you need some, and lacking the very fertile CM may indicate a problem. "As our estradiol increases in our follicular phase and we get closer to ovulation, the mucus will become clearer, stretchier, and more lubricative." If your estradiol levels aren't rising, you likely aren't ovulating, which can make getting pregnant an uphill battle (though not impossible) (7).
An important note: Just because you're not seeing that peak cervical mucus doesn't mean you didn't ovulate. You might have missed it, especially if you're new to tracking. Sometimes CM has such a high water content that it just leaves a round wet patch on your underwear, which would make it more difficult to spot (16) (8).
There are situations in which spotting the difference in your cervical mucus can be more difficult.
Something as simple as not drinking enough water can impact your cervical mucus — a study of mucus hydration and sperm penetrability indicated that once hydration increased, sperm was more easily able to penetrate it (9).
Anything that impedes or disrupts your menstrual cycle may also impact your CM, and that includes hormonal birth control. The Mirena IUD, for example, is specifically designed to thicken cervical mucus to prevent pregnancy (10). Conditions that affect your thyroid function, like hypo- and hyperthyroidism, can decrease the amount of CM that you have (11). If you've recently been pregnant, have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), Turner's syndrome, or chronic cervicitis, you may also find your mucus hard to track or not changing, since these conditions impact your hormones and therefore ovulation.
If you're finding that you have little to no cervical mucus, that can happen for a number of reasons as well. One of these is the practice of douching, or cleaning your vagina with a liquid. Not only can this lead to the growth of harmful bacteria and therefore yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis, but it can remove the cervical mucus you do have (12). Another factor? Age. Your age impacts a lot of aspects of fertility, including cervical mucus, since your menstrual changes as you get older, your periods get shorter, and you miss ovulation (13). Being underweight can also interrupt or completely stop ovulation, interfering with how much and what kind of cervical mucus you have (14).
Clomid, a fertility drug aimed at triggering ovulation, can actually decrease the amount and quality of your cervical mucus (15). Other medications, like antihistamines and antidepressants may cause the mucus in your body to dry up, and that includes your cervical mucus, so it can be helpful to keep track of what you're taking, when, and what your CM, if you have any, looks like during that time (16).
It's vital to get to the bottom of why you might not be seeing a change in your cervical mucus, or not seeing that "peak" CM or the most fertile CM. Your doctor may test your hormones to investigate what underlying causes may be the culprit behind the lack of CM and what the best course of treatment could be.
About the author
Chanel Dubofsky's writing on gender, reproductive health, popular culture, and religion, can be found in New York Magazine, Lilith, Rewire, Modern Fertility, Cosmopolitan, and others. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Follow her on Instagram at cdubofsky.
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