When you first learn about tracking cervical mucus (CM) to predict ovulation, it sounds great. Learning to tell where you are in your menstrual cycle by reading your body’s signs? Yes, please! However, when you start charting your CM, you may notice that it doesn’t quite match up to the patterns you found online or in books.
Websites, ours included, that talk about cervical mucus as a sign of fertility describe the different changes that CM goes through before and during ovulation: dry, sticky, creamy, egg white, and watery. But CM varies widely between individuals, and there’s no one-size-fits-all instruction manual for understanding your own personal CM patterns.
Fortunately, your CM doesn’t have to fit neatly into those categories for you to notice the patterns that happen each cycle. Below, we answer five of the most common questions people have about tracking their CM.
How long do you get fertile cervical mucus before you ovulate?
Fertile cervical mucus typically lasts around 4 days, though this can vary from person to person. Immediately after your period, you may have a few days where you don't have any noticeable CM. Then, over the next 3 to 5 days, as your body gets closer to ovulation, you'll start to see some CM. During this time, CM can be sticky or creamy, like paste, and is typically white or yellowish. In this part of your cycle, CM is still considered infertile for those who are trying to conceive (1, 2).
In the days right before and during ovulation, your CM may get even more watery. First, it will get clearer and become slippery and stretchy. This type of CM is called egg white cervical mucus (EWCM) because it's roughly the same texture and thickness as egg whites. EWCM marks the start of your fertile cervical mucus because it has the right pH and consistency to support the sperm's journey to the egg (3). This phase usually begins about 3 or 4 days before ovulation (1, 2).
When the water content of your CM is at its all-time high, that’s when you’re at your most fertile (4). Then, in the days after you ovulate, your CM starts getting more sticky or creamy again, and less watery. At this point, you’re no longer fertile (1, 2, 4) — if you’re trying to avoid pregnancy naturally by monitoring CM and other body signs, be sure to understand and follow the 4 rules.
Of course, cervical mucus can look different for everybody. It’s possible to not notice any egg white or watery CM at all during your cycles. However, you can still figure out your CM patterns by measuring and recording the details of your CM each day. You may need to track your CM for several cycles before you can reliably identify the changes in your CM, so don’t worry if it’s confusing for the first few weeks. Tracking another body sign, such as basal body temperature or continuous core body temperature, can help you confirm when ovulation happens. That way, you can see what your CM looks like during your fertile window, usually defined as the five days before and one day after you ovulate (5) — though how long you are fertile really depends on a variety of factors.
What time of day should I check my cervical mucus?
You can check your cervical mucus whenever it’s most convenient for you. In fact, the best practice is to even check multiple times throughout the day. Don’t be surprised if you see more than one type of cervical mucus in a single day. That’s totally normal (6). Just make sure you record it!
You can check your CM anytime you go to the bathroom, and you should look both before and after you pee. (Pro tip: Many find CM easiest to identify right after a bowel movement.)
Using either a folded piece of toilet paper or a clean finger, wipe from front to back. Is there anything on it? If there’s cervical mucus present, rub it between your forefinger and thumb. Note how it feels. Is it sticky, tacky, creamy, stretchy, or slippery? Make sure to record all the details of your CM because they’ll make it easier for you to spot your patterns over time (1, 2, 4). If you want detailed descriptions of CM, check out The Many Faces of Cervical Mucus, which also describes what each type of CM may look like on your underwear.
I don’t seem to have cervical mucus. Does this mean I’m less fertile?
It’s understandable to worry a little bit if you’ve just gone an entire cycle (or more) without seeing anything that looks like fertile cervical mucus. While it is possible for a lack of CM to indicate a lack of ovulation, this isn’t always the case. It’s possible to ovulate regularly and still never see fertile cervical mucus when you check. That doesn’t mean that you aren’t producing enough CM to get pregnant (7). In fact, as long as you’re ovulating, it’s unlikely for problems with cervical mucus to affect your chances of getting pregnant (8).
(If you’re trying to conceive, and your lack of CM means you need or prefer lube for sex, we recommend using a fertility-friendly lubricant to help with any vaginal dryness without harming sperm, eggs, or embryos.)
I recently read about hostile cervical mucus. What is that, and how can I tell if I have it?
“Hostile” cervical mucus is CM that is still thick and sticky around the time of ovulation, instead of watery and slippery. This kind of CM can make it difficult for sperm to swim safely to your fallopian tubes to fertilize an egg. It’s worth noting here that the absence of obvious watery or egg white CM isn’t necessarily the same thing as having hostile CM (3).
Your diet, stress, hormonal imbalances, and some medications may affect the quality of your cervical mucus (3). However, CM problems don’t usually cause infertility, except for women who have chronic inflammation in their cervix or have been treated for precancerous cells in the cervix (8).
If you’re concerned that your cervical mucus isn’t watery enough to protect sperm as it travels towards an egg, the answer may be as simple as drinking more water. If you’re dehydrated, that can lower the water content of your CM. You can also ask your doctor if they recommend any supplements to promote cervical mucus production (3).
Some research suggests that decongestants such as Mucinex, where the only active ingredient is guaifenesin, may help improve the quality of CM. But remember, it’s best to talk to your doctor before starting any new medications while trying to conceive (9).
When I’m having unprotected sex, I have trouble telling the difference between my cervical mucus and semen. How should I record my CM when this happens?
When you’re having unprotected sex, whether it’s during your fertile or infertile days, charting CM can get confusing. Arousal fluid and semen can both mask your cervical mucus and make it difficult to make accurate observations for your chart. Arousal fluid typically goes away within an hour after having sex, but semen can stay in the vagina for 12 to 14 hours (6).
Depending on how often you’re having sex, you have a couple options for charting your cervical mucus. You can record your CM before you have sex — before you’re even aroused — and wait to record it again until at least 12 to 14 hours have passed. Or, you can record CM throughout the day, regardless of when you have sex, and simply make a note that recent intercourse may have affected the appearance of your CM (6). If your goal in charting is to avoid pregnancy, you must consider yourself potentially fertile if semen is still present the following day and masking your CM (4).
When you’re charting, there’s no need to stress about days when your cervical mucus doesn’t fit neatly into the established categories. The most important thing is to observe how your CM changes throughout your menstrual cycles, not how it compares to others. Be patient with yourself. It will probably take a few cycles of daily charting before you can confidently spot your CM patterns. The longer you keep track of your CM, the easier it will be to use it to help predict ovulation.