If you’re one of the many women seeking natural options for tracking your fertility, you’ve probably heard of the fertility awareness method (FAM). The FAM helps women monitor their menstrual cycle and fertility signs in order to determine their fertility at any given day of the month. There are several FAMs that can help you track your fertility, so that you can either plan to have or avoid sex on your fertile days, depending on your reason for fertility tracking.
The most common FAM is the temperature method, which is based on a woman’s basal body temperature upon waking. A lesser-known FAM, and the one we’ll be discussing today, is the cervical mucus method, by which you can check and track your cervical mucus every day, multiple times a day, to determine your fertility. Throughout the course of a healthy menstrual cycle, a woman’s cervical mucus will change, and noticing and charting these changes is a remarkably reliable and low-cost way of monitoring your fertility.
Of course, it’s necessary to disclaim that the FAM is not 100% effective at ensuring or avoiding pregnancy, so use this method with some caution, and consult with your healthcare provider if you have questions about the reliability or health of your cycle.
What is cervical mucus?
First things first: what is cervical mucus (CM) anyway? CM, also referred to as cervical fluid, is vaginal discharge, but not just any old discharge. Because the vagina is a mucous membrane, it will always be moist, to some extent. CM is discharge beyond your baseline moistness. In other words, your discharge only counts as CM when there is a physical substance on your fingers, underpants, or toilet paper.
CM changes in color and consistency based on where you are in your menstrual cycle. (For a more comprehensive understanding of the different phases of your cycle, click here). Keep reading to understand what these changes tell you about your fertility.
How do I collect my cervical mucus?
The most important element of using the CM method to track your fertility is collection! How do you actually get a good look at your CM?
The easiest way to collect the CM is from the vaginal opening with your fingers. With two fingers, wipe your vaginal opening from front to back, and then rub your fingers together to check the consistency. If the finger-collection process is too “hands on” for you, you can also use a piece of toilet paper to wipe your vaginal opening in the same way (front to back) and look closely at the paper to see the color and consistency of the CM you’ve collected.
The first day of your period is also day 1 of your cycle. During your period, your body excretes blood and menstrual fluid, and this blood flow covers your CM, so you won’t notice any. Therefore, if you are using the CM method to track your fertility and you are trying to avoid pregnancy, this is not a safe time to have unprotected vaginal sex, especially if your cycle is shorter than 28 days.
1-3 days after menstruation: DRY phase
The follicular phase of your menstrual cycle begins after your period, and these days immediately following your bleed are typically your dry days. Of course, your vagina will always be somewhat moist, but during the dry phase, you won’t notice CM on your underwear or toilet paper.
What dry CM looks like:
Nothing! If you insert and your fingers into your vagina and remove them, you’ll notice, if anything, only a slight dampness on your fingers that quickly evaporates.
What a lack of CM says about your fertility:
You are not fertile during your dry phase, so this is a safe time to have unprotected vaginal intercourse if you are trying to avoid pregnancy.
4-6 days after menstruation: STICKY phase
As your dry phase ends and your cycle creeps toward ovulation, your body produces non-fertile CM, which is whitish or yellowish in color, feels tacky, sticky, or gelatinous to the touch.
What sticky CM looks like:
Sticky CM is white or yellow and cloudy in color. It often forms small globs that look like lightly cooked egg whites or wet Elmer’s glue. Sometimes sticky CM is more pasty and can appear like crumbly Play-doh. These globs, if rolled between your fingers, would hold their shape and stay intact. On your underwear, sticky CM will appear nonabsorbent and crusty when it dries.
What sticky CM says about your fertility:
Sticky CM is non-fertile CM. While it’s possible to get pregnant during the sticky phase, pregnancy is unlikely.
7-9 days after menstruation (pre-ovulation): CREAMY phase
As your body inches even closer to ovulation, it is also inching closer to your prime fertile days. During this “semi-fertile” stage, your CM will still be creamy or cloudy in color, but now instead of the sticky globs that were present during your sticky phase, your CM will be less sticky, thicker, viscous, and there will be lots of it.
What creamy CM looks like:
Semi-fertile CM looks cloudy or milky, like hand lotion, yogurt, or heavy cream. It will likely stick to your underpants rather than soaking into the fabric, leaving a crusty discharge. It should feel smooth and creamy when rubbed between your fingers.
What creamy CM says about your fertility:
Creamy, or semi-fertile CM arrives when you are still a few days away from your peak fertility, however because sperm can live inside the female reproductive organs for up to six days, you can become pregnant if you have sex during this phase.
10-14 days after menstruation: CLEAR phase
Your clear phase starts 10-14 days after your period, as your body is about to ovulate and preparing to release the egg from its follicle. Your levels of luteinizing hormone increase during this time, creating CM that is clear and very stretchy. This is your fertile phase.
What clear CM looks like:
The best way to describe clear CM is by comparing it to egg whites. Clear or fertile CM looks like clear, raw egg white. It is very stretchy, and when rubbed between the fingers will feel slippery and lubricative and can be stretched an inch or more.
What clear CM says about your fertility:
Clear CM is fertile CM. If your CM is clear and slippery, that’s because it is preparing to transport sperm, indicating that you are in your prime fertile stage. If you are not trying to get pregnant, you should avoid unprotected sex during this stage. If you are trying to conceive, this is your time! In fact, the best time to have sex would be one or two days before ovulation, to ensure that the sperm is in the proper place to inseminate the egg when your ovary finally releases it.
Following ovulation, your CM will decrease in volume and likely start to dry up. Sometimes women experience watery CM, which is non-fertile CM, that leaves wet spots on the underpants.
In the absence of pregnancy, some women notice creamy CM a few days before their period; this creamy CM is also non-fertile CM, that the cervix sometimes excretes as it helps the uterus prepare to shed its lining.
Even in the case of pregnancy, some CM may be present, so if you’re trying to conceive, the best way to check for pregnancy is through a pregnancy test, rather than by monitoring your post-ovulation CM.
Hopefully this article has provided you with useful tips for tracking your fertility at all stages of your menstrual cycle, simply by analyzing your own CM. If you’re looking for a low-cost and effective way to monitor your fertility, the CM method is remarkably reliable and requires only your own two hands!
Written by: Sarah Jornsay-Silverberg