“How can I pinpoint when I’m ovulating?” Something that patients ask us all the time here at the Yinova Center. And this is what we tell them:
Paying attention to the cyclical changes in your cervical mucus (your vaginal discharge) is your single best guide to ovulation.
To find out more about why this is, check out my book Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility. I wrote it with a Reproductive Endocrinologist and it’s full of helpful fertility advice.
Plus you can find out more about how to work out when you are ovulating by reading this article from our Yinova Center blog. It covers three strategies that will serve you well:
- Charting your Basal Body Temperature (for a more in-depth look at BBT charting check out this explanation.)
- Monitoring your cervical mucus
- Feeling for changes in the position of your cervix.
But let’s focus on cervical mucus, shall we?
It’s a subject that’s rarely discussed. Your doctor is no more likely to mention it than your best friend (despite the details you might get about their period). So most people know next to nothing about it nor the messages it carries about their fertility.
Learning how to hear what your body is telling you is really quite simple. What you’re looking for is fertile cervical mucus— fluid that will be the most hospitable to sperm, helping them along their journey toward the egg. This article is about how to recognize it when you see (and feel) it, how to know when to expect it, and how best to take advantage of the opportunity it signals.
As you are getting to know your body’s rhythms in more detail, you may want to jot down your observations in a log or diary for a few months to help you pinpoint your personal pattern. If you keep a BBT chart, that’s a great place to record any notes on cervical mucus as well.
If you’re a Yinova Center patient, bring that chart with you to your session every week and your practitioenr will help you to interpret it. We all have many years of experience when it comes to helping couples conceive.
First, a few ground rules. You need to check your cervical mucus at a time when you are not sexually aroused, or you won’t be able to sort out whether you are observing lubrication or regular fluids. Artificial lubricants, spermicides, and semen will all cloud the results as well, so choose a time when none of those will be running interference. Vaginal infections can also confuse matters. If you have one, don’t begin your monitoring until after it is cleared up. Antihistamines can dry up cervical mucus, so you won’t be able to learn much if you take them regularly. (And because of this, you’re going to want to avoid them while trying to get pregnant.) If you are dehydrated, the mucus may be quite scanty, so keep drinking water!
Anytime you are checking your cervical mucus, tune in to vaginal sensations as well. Do you feel dry? Wet? Slippery? One easy way to see what’s going on is to wipe yourself with a tissue, from front to back, and note how easily the tissue slides.
You’ll begin to attend to your cervical mucus on the first day after your period ends. Your vagina will feel dry or very slightly moist. After a few days— and about a week before ovulation, so around day 7, 8, or 9 of your cycle— you’ll begin to have some mucus discharge, which will be thick, a bit sticky, or rubbery and springy. It may be white or yellowish. How long this lasts varies from woman to woman, but once you start paying attention, you’ll quickly be able to identify your body’s pattern.
Then for a few days, your vagina will feel wet, and your mucus will become opaque and quite creamy, like hand lotion. It will still be white or yellow. There will be enough to make a mark on your underwear. There’s not a lot of water in the mucus at this point, so the mark it makes will be rather square or oblong.
Next comes the fertile cervical mucus you’ve been waiting for, thinner and transparent. It will be slippery and very stretchy; many people say it looks like raw egg white. Usually it is clear, but it can be pink or blood-tinged. It may also be watery. Your vagina will feel wet and lubricated. The discharge will now form a round, moist patch on your underwear (there’s more water in it); it will show up more clearly on dark underwear.
Fertile cervical mucus won’t dissolve in water like the other secretions; it’ll form little balls, like opaque marbles, in the toilet bowl. You’re most likely to see it after a bowel movement, when you’ve been straining a little. You are at your most fertile during this time. Fertile cervical mucus lasts three days on average. Young women have up to five days of it; older women may have only two days, or even just one. (This is one reason young people get pregnant more easily.)
Higher estrogen levels create the fertile mucus. When estrogen levels drop and progesterone appears, the fertile mucus dries up within a day. Your peak fertility is the last day of this egg-white mucus. Let me say that again because, trust me, it’s useful advice.
Your peak fertility is the last day of this egg-white mucus.
In the many decades that I’ve been counseling couples on how to conceive, that one piece of advice has helped more patients than just about anything else.
Most people are pretty consistent from month to month as to how many days of fertile mucus they have, so once you’re familiar with your pattern, you’ll be able to target the very best day to have intercourse. For example, if you usually have three days of fertile mucus, on the first day you can make a date for the day after tomorrow.
Feel free to throw in the rest of the days, too, of course; it can only help (so long as your partner’s sperm count is normal – you can read more about why this is in Making Babies).
If you don’t experience egg-white mucus as we’ve described it, try having sex on the last day of the wettest cervical mucus you do observe. We call the egg-white stuff fertile mucus because, besides marking for you when ovulation will occur, it is in and of itself a great boost to fertility. Cervical mucus is the equivalent of semen. People with male reproductive organs are fertile all the time, so they produce seminal fluid all the time. People with female reproductive organs, however. are fertile only once a month so they produce fertile cervical mucus only once a month.
Sperm can live longer in fertile cervical mucus— up to five days— than in regular cervical mucus. It has nutrients for the sperm, and little striations, sort of like channels, for the sperm to swim in. All of this means that there can be a reservoir of sperm waiting for an egg to be released, headed toward it, so timing intercourse doesn’t have to be so precise.
The mucus also capacitates sperm— that is, it prepares the sperm to fertilize the egg. Without the chemical changes the mucus makes possible, the sperm could not attach to or penetrate an egg. Mucus also helps filter out bacteria and prevents bacteria from taking hold in the uterus.
The pH of fertile mucus matches that of semen, and this alkalinity protects sperm from an environment in the vagina that is generally acidic, which is detrimental to sperm. So in addition to cracking the code of your cervical mucus to help you know when you’re ovulating, you’ll also want to make sure you have healthy mucus for its own sake.
If you have to put a finger inside your vagina to get any, you probably don’t have enough. If you have too little mucus, you need to double-check that you aren’t taking any medications that could be drying it up. (The most common culprits are diuretics, antihistamines, decongestants, and high-dose vitamin C.)
If your mucus is too thick or is otherwise “hostile” to sperm, you may want to use the over-the-counter decongestant guaifenesin (Mucinex or Humibid) or a natural alternative to liquefy thick mucus or otherwise balance it out. (You can find out more about this by asking a practitioner here at Yinova or reading about hostile cervical mucus in Making Babies).
After ovulation takes place, progesterone makes the mucus very thick, thereby preventing sperm from swimming into the uterus. It will get cloudy again, compared to the transparency of the fertile stuff. It will likely be so thick that it more or less stays in place, and you may not see it at all during this phase. In most cases, people have essentially no discharge until their periods start again, eleven to fourteen days after ovulation. But thanks to the drop in progesterone, some do get a wet, watery sensation just before their periods.
If you need more in-depth fertility counseling, all the practitioners here at the Yinova Center have many years of experience helping couples to conceive. We love our job and are happy to chat to you about any aspect of the fertility journey.