While most of us don't like to think about cervical mucus, the reality is that every cervix makes it. If you have a cervix, you may have noticed that what comes out of it changes from time to time. For instance, cervical mucus after ovulation looks very different than it did before.
Shortly after ovulation, your cervical mucus begins to undergo specific changes that make it look and function much differently than it did during the first half of your menstrual cycle. Learning to identify these changes in your mucus can be useful if you are trying to keep track of your ovulation and other signs of fertility.
How Cervical Mucus Changes With Ovulation
Let's start with a quick menstrual cycle review. On day one of your cycle, you start your period. At this time, your cervix stays busy letting your uterine lining out. After your period finishes, your body gets ready to ovulate again (no rest for the weary).
About halfway through your cycle, one of your ovaries spits out a new egg (ovulation). That egg travels through your reproductive tract and if it doesn't meet a sperm it likes, it heads on out through the cervix and the whole thing starts again.
So, back to the mucus. What do its color and consistency tell you?
Cervical Mucus Before 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. You will see your secretions become more and more:
- Easy to stretch five centimeters or more between two fingers before it breaks
- Thin and transparent, with the appearance of raw egg white. (called egg-white cervical mucus or EWCM)
- Watery and slippery
The peak of these characteristics occurs just before ovulation. This mucus consistency allows sperm to easily move through your cervix and into your uterus.
Cervical Mucus After Ovulation
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.
As your progesterone level rises, changes in your mucus quantity, appearance, and texture continue to progress. Your cervical fluid after ovulation will:
- Become more difficult to stretch to a thread when you try to pull it between two fingers
- Become thicker and look more cloudy
- Feel more sticky and gummy
While initially you may have creamy cervical mucus after ovulation, about a week later, when your progesterone level is at its highest, you may see little or no mucus on your underwear.
Cervical Mucus and Conception
To recap, cervical mucus is to your reproductive tract what water is to a slip 'n slide. It lubricates the sperm highway to make it as easy as possible for those little swimmers to get where they're going.
Sperm may find it difficult to swim up into your uterus through thicker, stickier cervical mucus after ovulation. This makes it unlikely for you to conceive after 24 hours past ovulation, though not impossible.
How to Check 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 like this:
- Insert a clean finger into 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.
- Check 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 quality of your cervical mucus to 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 Cervical Mucus Changes
Other changes in your cervical mucus can make it difficult to assess the normal effects of your hormones. Sometimes cervical mucus changes can point to inflammation or bacterial or fungal infection in your vagina or cervix. Here's what to look for:
- Bad-smelling odor
- Larger amount than normal
- Slimier or thicker than normal
- Thick and curdy like cottage cheese
- Yellow or green color
Vaginal itching and burning often accompany these signs of infection. Don't forget that semen, spermicides, vaginal medications and douching can also change the appearance of the mucus you see.
Cervical mucus after ovulation looks very different from mucus just before you ovulate. Observing 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 can help you time intercourse whether you are trying to conceive or avoid a pregnancy, although other forms of birth control are recommended.