Hormone fluctuations cause your cervix to secrete a discharge called cervical mucus. This discharge changes in appearance, texture and amount throughout each month based on your estrogen levels. Checking your cervical mucus can help you predict the days you’re most likely to conceive.
Finger testing—observing the feel and consistency of the discharge by rubbing or pulling it between your index finger and thumb—is the best way to check cervical mucus. To obtain cervical mucus, you can:
1. Wipe with white toilet paper before you pee.
2. Insert a clean finger into your vagina.
3. Examine discharge on your underwear.
There are four types of cervical mucus, ranging from type 1 (least fertile) to type 4 (most fertile). If you’re trying to get pregnant, chart your daily discharge changes in a journal or via an ovulation app, such as Kindara or Ovia Fertility. “Don’t get discouraged if you can’t tell differences right away,” says Cindy M.P. Duke, MD, PhD, medical director of the Nevada Fertility Institute in Las Vegas. “It may take up to four months to get familiar with your body and be able to detect mucus changes.”
Blood flow during your period makes it difficult (and a bit icky) to check for cervical discharge. Skip the finger test, but remember it’s still possible to get pregnant even when you’re menstruating. Use birth control if you aren’t trying to conceive.
You produce the least amount of cervical mucus immediately after your period. In fact, you might feel rather dry and not have any discharge at all. “Your chances of getting pregnant are lowest when you’re in the type 1 mucus phase of your cycle,” says Dr. Duke.
About a week after the end of your period, you’ll start to notice thin discharge with a light white color. “Your underwear may feel a little damp as you produce type 2 cervical discharge,” says Dr. Duke. Your odds of getting pregnant are still pretty low.
As your egg starts to ripen, your body produces type 3 cervical mucus. “This thicker discharge has a creamy appearance and feels sticky or tacky between your fingers,” says obstetrician and gynecologist Sheryl A. Ross, MD, author of She-ology: The Definitive Guide to Women’s Health. Period. “This discharge is a sign that you’re going into your most fertile period.”
Your body produces the most cervical mucus as it prepares for ovulation. “Type 4 discharge is clear and has a stretchy consistency similar to raw egg whites,” says Dr. Duke. “Your odds of getting pregnant are two to three times higher now.”
You’ll start to produce less cervical mucus after ovulation in the days leading up to the start of your period. This discharge may be cloudy and sticky. It’s normal to have some dry days leading up to your period.
Early in pregnancy, the body ramps up production of estrogen and progesterone. As a result, you may notice a heavier flow of discharge after implantation.
You might see increased discharge during your third trimester as well. If it has a slight odor—the result of hormonal changes—clean yourself with soap and water (never douche); if it's foul-smelling, see your doctor. As your delivery date nears, your cervix begins dilating and releases thick (clear or blood-streaked) discharge known as the mucus plug. Some women go into labor hours after the plug descends, while others wait several days for their water to break.
Certain factors can affect cervical mucus, including:
• Hormonal contraceptives
• Sexually transmitted infections
• Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
• Irregular periods
• Cervical surgery
• Early menopause
• Vaginal infections
“If your discharge has a strong odor, seems overly thick, or is greenish or yellowish in color, see your doctor,” says Dr. Ross. “You may have a bacterial, yeast or sexually transmitted infection that requires treatment.”