Cervical fluid is the stuff you may notice on your underwear at certain times during your cycle. You may know of this ‘stuff’ as cervical mucus or discharge, but we’ve found that we prefer the term cervical fluid. In the groundbreaking book Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler, Toni writes,
“…I would suggest you never again use the “d-word” to describe your healthy cervical fluid. After all, we don’t refer to men’s healthy semen as “discharge."
Exactly! Though a lot of women who are unacquainted with their bodies may think of their cervical fluid as weird, or gross, or even abnormal, cervical fluid is a perfectly normal and healthy substance that’s produced by your cervix. It’s made up of water, sugars, electrolytes and proteins. And if you’re charting your fertility to avoid pregnancy, cervical fluid is really, really important. But why?
It’s important because sperm need cervical fluid in order to survive long enough in the vagina to be able to reach and fertilize the egg released at ovulation. Cervical fluid provides a friendly, alkaline environment to protect sperm from the otherwise hostile, acidic environment of the vagina.
Essentially, cervical fluid is to a woman what semen is to a man: the purpose of both is to keep sperm alive long enough to reach the egg, and to facilitate the sperm’s journey there as quickly and safely as possible. The difference, though, is that men are always fertile, so they’re constantly producing semen - whereas women are fertile for only a few days around the time of ovulation, so they produce fertile cervical fluid only during that time. And during that time, your cervical fluid will change in quantity and consistency, which can indicate where you are in the fertile window.
The pattern that your cervical fluid goes through each cycle is like this:
Menstruation: Bleeding for around 3 to 7 days. This varies from woman to woman. During this time there may or may not be cervical fluid present (if you notice any cervical fluid, theres no need to try to track it, as it’s too difficult to know exactly what type and how much cervical fluid there is. Just remember to follow the First 5 Days Rule of the Fertility Awareness Method).
None: After your period ends most women have a few days where there’s not a lot going on down there. If you don’t notice any cervical fluid, then you can apply the Dry Day Rule. Some women skip the None phase and go straight to the next phase, Sticky.
Sticky: Around day 7 or so, your cervix will start producing a sticky or pasty kind of cervical fluid. It may look like grade-school paste, or be slightly springy, but it’s mostly a solid kind of substance. This type of cervical fluid means that your fertile window has begun, since sperm might now be able to survive in the infertile cervical fluid long enough for the fertile cervical fluid to be produced, and in the fertile cervical fluid they can live for up to five days. So once you notice ANY cervical fluid, you need to assume you’re potentially fertile (and can get pregnant) until after you’ve confirmed ovulation. Use a barrier method or abstain during this time.
Creamy: As your cycle progresses, your estrogen level is rising every day, and with that rising tide of estrogen, the water content of your cervical fluid will increase. So essentially, take that pasty cervical fluid from yesterday, add some more water to it, and you’ve got Creamy cervical fluid! Remember, you’re still considered fertile during this phase. As your estrogen level rises, so does the water content of your cervical fluid, bringing it from sticky, to creamy, and on to…
Eggwhite: Eggwhite cervical fluid has its name because it resembles raw eggwhites. It’s clear, slippery, and can usually stretch an inch or more between a finger and thumb. This type of fluid can keep sperm alive for up to 5 days inside your body. Eggwhite is the really fertile stuff, and once you notice it, you’re likely very close to ovulation - so if you’re not abstaining, be EXTRA careful with your barrier method of choice at this time (not that you shouldn’t ever be extra careful with your barrier methods).
Watery: Sometimes the water content of a woman’s cervical fluid will be so high that the eggwhite cervical fluid is more like water - it’s clear, slippery, and doesn’t hold its shape at all. You will know it’s there by the very wet sensation in your vagina. You may even feel like you’ve started your period. Watery cervical fluid is still very fertile cervical fluid, so again, be careful to abstain or use barrier methods during this time. Some women do not have watery cervical fluid, which is also normal.
And that takes us up to ovulation - meaning that an egg is released from the ovary. After this, your estrogen levels drop, and your cervical fluid goes back to a dry or sticky pattern until your next cycle begins (Note: Some women will experience a watery cervical fluid the day before their period, as the endometrial lining starts to break up).
It’s important to note that cervical fluid can indicate when you may be approaching ovulation, but you need to track your basal body temperatures along with your cervical fluid to know if and when ovulation occurred. Several days after you’ve confirmed ovulation with a sustained temperature shift and peak day, you are considered safe to have unprotected sex without risking a pregnancy for the rest of your cycle (however, keep in mind that you are NOT safe from STI’s during this time, so make sure you and your partner get tested).
Congratulations, you’ve just passed Cervical Fluid 101! Now you know that cervical fluid is produced by your cervix, it helps sperm live long enough inside your vagina to reach the egg, and goes through a predictable pattern each cycle, getting wetter as you approach ovulation, and drying up after the egg is released.
The next step is making sure to check your cervical fluid every day. If you’re not sure how to do that, read this post.