Shortly after ovulation, your cervical mucus begins to undergo specific changes that make it look and function markedly different than it did during the first half of your menstrual cycle. These changes in your mucus can be useful if you are trying to keep track of your ovulation and other signs of fertility.
The Effect of Ovulation on Cervical Mucus
About a day after you ovulate, you may begin to notice fewer secretions on your external vaginal area (vulva), or your underwear. This is because your previously clear, watery cervical secretions begin to decrease in quantity and get thicker and more cloudy and creamy. According to a Global Library of Women's Medicine article, these changes occur as your ovarian progesterone secretion increases after ovulation.
The difference in the two types of mucus is illustrated in Figures 11.2 and 11.3 in the textbook, The Cervix, (page 159). The post-ovulation mucus might look reddish, pinkish, or brownish instead of creamy in some women. This is due to a small amount of uterine bleeding because of the hormonal fluctuations at the time of ovulation.
Progression of Changes
During the rest of the second half of your menstrual cycle (luteal phase), as your progesterone level rises further, changes in your mucus quantity, appearance, and texture continue to progress. Your cervical mucus will:
- Become thicker and look more cloudy
- Feel more sticky and gummy
- Become more difficult to stretch to a thread when you try to pull it between two fingers (the spinnbarkeit)
By about a week after ovulation, when your progesterone level is at its highest, you may see little or no mucus on your underwear. Infections or procedures on the cervix can cause scarring and will decrease mucus production throughout the whole cycle.
The Effect of the Changes on Conception
The changes in your cervical mucus make it difficult for sperm to penetrate and swim up into your uterus after ovulation and during the rest of your luteal phase. This makes it unlikely for you to conceive after 24 hours past ovulation.
The Cervical Mucus Before Ovulation
In contrast to after ovulation, during the first half of the menstrual cycle, the cervical mucus is controlled by ovarian estrogen. In the first few days following your period when your estrogen level is low, you will have only a scant amount of sticky, whitish, or creamy mucus.
As the level of your estrogen increases, your cervical glands secrete increasing amounts of mucus. According to The New Harvard Guide to Women's Health (page 403), you will see your secretions become more and more:
- Watery and slippery
- Thin and transparent, with the appearance of raw egg white ( called egg-white cervical mucus or EWCM)
- Easy to stretch five centimeters or more between two fingers before it breaks
In The Ovulation Method (page 9), it states the peak of these characteristics occurs just before ovulation. This fully estrogenized, fertile mucus allows sperm to easily move through into your uterus.
Checking Your Cervical Mucus
You can check the properties of your cervical mucus on your vulva, underwear, or toilet paper after wiping. You can also collect some mucus from your vagina to examine as follows:
- Insert a clean finger all the way in your vagina until you touch your cervix, which will feel firm like the tip of your nose.
- Gently try to scoop some mucus from below your cervix and remove your finger from your vagina.
- Examine the quantity and appearance of the mucus.
- Test the spinnbarheit by seeing how far you can stretch the mucus between your thumb and index finger.
- Record your findings if you are keeping a fertility chart.
Matching the signs of the effects of your hormones on your cervical mucus to the effects on other factors, such as your basal body temperature, can help you narrow down when you are most fertile, and when you ovulate. Cervical mucus is easier to evaluate if a doctor takes a sample directly from your cervix.
Other Signs to Note
Other changes in your cervical mucus can make it difficult to assess for the normal effects of your hormones. These signs can be clues to inflammation or bacterial or fungal infection in your vagina or cervix:
- Bad-smelling odor
- Yellowish or greenish color
- Thick and curdy like cottage cheese
- More slimy or thicker mucus than normal
- Copious creamy-colored drainage
Vaginal itching and burning often accompany these signs in the case of an infection. Don't forget that semen, spermicidals or other medications in the vagina, and douching can also change the appearance of the mucus you see.
Cervical mucus after ovulation looks very different from your mucus just before you ovulate. Observing for these specific changes, caused by the normal cycling of your hormones, can help you figure out when you are most fertile and when you have already ovulated. This will help you time intercourse whether you are trying to conceive or avoid a pregnancy.