In celebration of Cervical Health Awareness Month, what better topic to write about than cervical mucus! Learning to chart this body fluid throughout the menstrual cycle can open the doorway to good health practices, body literacy, and also confidence in family planning.
For those that struggle with charting mucus, I hope these pointers can help clear things up! For those who are new to charting in general, hopefully this can encourage you to give it a try. :)
When discussing NFP and how it works, I sometimes find myself having to talk a lot on the signs of fertility. And the one most tricky to discuss, in my opinion, is cervical mucus!
Yet, it is also the most important. A woman can start charting her mucus signs at any time, and it is something she will always have throughout her reproductive life. It opens and closes the fertile window of her cycle, and can give an insight to her state of health.
Still, few people seem to understand not just what cervical mucus is, but what it can look like. There are also NFP users who feel unsure in their ability to chart what they see, or they have confusing mucus patterns and find it hard to interpret it.
So it's Biology 101! Lets dive into what cervical mucus is, what it can do, and what it can look like!
What is it?
Cervical mucus (sometimes referred to as cervical fluid) is an important marker and sign of fertility in a woman’s cycle. Produced by the cervix (located at the end of a woman’s vagina), varying types of mucus are produced depending on how close or far ovulation will occur.
Cervical mucus's role in fertility is to aid sperm transportation and survival in the hopes that it will fertilize an egg. As we will go over later, some traits of mucus can be more conductive to sperm survival than others.
Every woman’s own particular mucus pattern is unique to her, but the coming and going of mucus can give any woman an idea of when she is about to ovulate, and when ovulation has passed, and the egg is dead and gone. While initially learning to chart, a woman over time usually finds her own pattern; charting this sign becomes easier once she understands it and gets into the habit.
Unfortunately, the way cervical mucus varies in appearance may not always perfectly line up with how it is described in our NFP books and classes. This can lead to confusion if a woman’s mucus pattern appears and changes in a way that is not typical, or "textbook perfect".
Add onto the fact that each NFP method has its own way of describing and categorizing types of mucus, and it can be even more overwhelming for a woman who is already confused.
The goal of this post is to hopefully inform women the universality of cervical mucus, and how to discover who her particular pattern to make charting easier.
Note that I will be describing cervical mucus as taught by SymptoPro.
What does cervical mucus look like?
Mucus will not always be so clear cut for every woman. Perhaps she is confused by mucus that *looks* more fertile, but *feels* less fertile when touched, as an example. We must remember one thing: cervical mucus changes from less fertile to more fertile on a spectrum, not from one clearly defined stage one stage to another. This is why some women find that they
So how can you know when this point of change occurs? By focusing on the specific traits of the mucus, rather than trying to push a specific definition onto it right away.
The more slippery, wet, transparent, and/or stretchy the mucus is, the more supportive of sperm survival and transport it will be in the woman’s body. Some people describe this mucus as more fertile. In SymptoPro, we call any mucus with even just one of these traits as eggwhite. Even if the mucus only has ONE of the following traits -- slipperiness/wetness, transparency/semi-transparency, or stretches an inch or more -- it is considered eggwhite.
Cervical mucus with drier and less stretchy qualities, and the more opaque colored it is, the less supportive of sperm it will be. Some people call this less fertile, because it is not as conductive of sperm survival and transportation (though it is still able to aid sperm mobility at least a little). This kind of mucus is simply called sticky. Sticky mucus is defined as any mucus that does not have any eggwhite mucus traits. It can also be described as creamy or lotion-like, or even gummy, rubbery, or tacky. It is solid colored (white or yellowish) and only stretches to less than an inch.
And of course, when no cervical mucus is present at all, sperm will not survive for more than a few hours in the acidic vaginal environment. On "dry" days, you may experience vaginal moisture, which is the natural moisture created by the vagina, and does not have the same body or dexterity of mucus. If it dries up and disappears into the toilet paper when rubbed, or if it dries off quickly when you wave your finger, then it is likely vaginal moisture. You may also see dampness because of urine or perspiration soaked into the toilet paper; again, it has no body like that of mucus.
So what about tricky mucus patterns?
As you can tell, cervical mucus can come in different forms. Each woman will have her own pattern of mucus that is more fertile or less fertile; in other words, her own "variety" of eggwhite and sticky mucus. For some women, they may even produce a less fertile kind of mucus during their infertile time instead of being dry, and it is important to know what their infertile pattern is in connection with mucus production (this is known as her Basic Infertile Pattern, or BIP). In some cases, a woman will have a BIP of mucus with eggwhite quality!
To know your own particular mucus pattern, you must chart your cycles for 4-6 cycles to understand not only the type of mucus you produce, but also the mucus production's relation to the opening and closing of your fertile window. With the help of an instructor and much practice, any woman can come around to understand her own particular mucus.
Do you produce a lot of mucus? Do you begin to produce mucus on or before a safe period before ovulation? If you produce constant mucus, how can you tell what your Basic Infertile Pattern is? Having an instructor look over these charts will help you know what is and isn't normal for you.
When Cervical Mucus is weird
Some women have the 'blessing' of having particularly frustrating mucus patterns. If you feel this is the case, then you should focus on two things:
- Charting as much detail as you can about your cervical mucus observations, and
- Finding any changes in cervical mucus from less fertile to more fertile in connection to your waking temperature
Recall my earlier comment of cervical mucus differentiating on a spectrum, not in specific categories. The more detail you chart, the better able you are to know when your BIP of mucus makes a point of change to more fertile (even if you produce day after day of eggwhite). Remember: no matter your mucus pattern, or any pattern with your fertile signs, you can always know when your body is trying to ovulate. With charting, you can note down these signs (however subtle they are) and pinpoint when this change from infertile to fertile occurs.
Detailing Your Mucus Traits
When you observe your mucus through out the day, take note of the following:
- What were the most fertile mucus traits you saw that day? Remember that eggwhite mucus traits are considered most fertile, but try not to get too wound up in figuring out the type of mucus you saw. Focus only on the traits you observed. You can figure out the overall type later; it's easier to first focus on only the traits you see. And whatever most fertile traits you saw, that is what you chart.
- How many times that day did your most fertile mucus occur? Do not count all the times you saw any mucus that day, only occurrences in which eggwhite traits occurred (and if you had no eggwhite traits, the number of times you has sticky mucus traits). If you had semi-transparent mucus that appeared only twice that day, and that was the most fertile sign you saw all day, then you write down that you had semi-transparent eggwhite two times.
- As you touch and feel your mucus, did it dry up quickly, or was it very wet? Some women note that their "fertile mucus" is wetter than mucus that is associated with an infertile time. Even if they are both sticky or both eggwhite, mucus occurring around ovulation leaves behind more moisture. You can look out for this pattern.
- Check your undies. While not a totally reliable sign by itself, this little tip can be a handy cross check. More fertile mucus often leaves behind a damp circle in your underwear crotch, while less fertile mucus leaves drier and sticker rectangular lines. You shouldn't chart by underwear alone, but it can be handy when assessing your mucus that day.
- Look out for other fertile signs. Things like midcycle spotting, food cravings, breast tenderness, and more can occur at specific times during your cycle in relation to ovulation or post-ovulation. Again, like with the underwear trick, they are not consistent enough to be charted on their own. Yet by cross checking them when any mucus patterns you catch, you can have an extra boost of confidence in identifying mucus changes.
Keep it Simple: Cross Check!
Perhaps you do all that I recommend here, and follow your instructor's guidance to a "T". However, you may still be confused by your patterns, or you simply don't have the confidence to trust what you see by mucus alone.
Luckily, a woman can give more than just one sign of fertility! Other objective signs include temperature pattern, vaginal sensations, and changes in the cervix's position, feeling, and shape. By checking these signs along with your mucus pattern, you can get that extra "boost" you need to know the beginning and end of your fertile window.
Any woman can depend on her body to give her signs of fertility and infertility.
With the right support and education, a couple can know that the woman's menstrual cycle can be "deciphered". Ovulation is no longer some random event we can not anticipate: science has given us a way to track this event through cervical mucus and other signs.
Good luck! And if you ever need consultation on a chart, you know where to find me. ;)