Cervical fluid, often called cervical mucus, is a healthy secretion produced by your cervix beginning at puberty. Regular cervical fluid self exams are an important way to keep tabs on your reproductive health and can even help you prevent pregnancy or get pregnant. Believe it or not, you already interact with this fluid every day when you wipe! But where does it come from?
Have you ever noticed dried stains or liquid in your undewear? Or a slick feeling when you wipe? That’s cervical fluid!
It undergoes noticeable changes throughout your menstrual cycle—including changes in the way it looks and feels—in response to the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone.
Each woman’s cervical fluid will follow a unique pattern throughout the menstrual cycle, and this pattern can reveal a great deal about your reproductive health. Next up, you’ll learn how and why your body produces this special fluid.
The first half of your menstrual cycle is called the follicular phase, and it is primarily governed by the sex hormone estrogen. All of your eggs are housed in tiny sacs called ovarian follicles, which are located inside your ovaries. Every menstrual cycle, in the weeks before ovulation, several of these ovarian follicles will begin to mature.
As these ovarian follicles grow and develop, they produce the hormone estrogen. This estrogen triggers your cervix to produce cervical fluid, which usually starts out thick and sticky. As ovulation gets closer, your follicles produce increasing amounts of estrogen (as shown in the chart), which causes your cervical fluid to become wet and slippery.
A few days before you ovulate, your cervical fluid will be wet and slippery. This wet, slippery fluid may be very stretchy or thin and watery. You may even feel leaky or notice a slickness when you wipe after using the bathroom. This slippery cervical fluid mimics seminal fluid and is extremely hospitable to sperm. It helps sperm reach your egg, so unprotected sex is much more likely to result in a pregnancy when it is present.
During ovulation, your body releases a matured egg, or an ovum. Even though an ovum will only live for 12 to 24 hours after ovulation, slippery cervical fluid helps sperm reach it before it dies. Even if ovulation hasn’t occurred, sperm can live in cervical fluid for several days waiting for an ovum to be released.
The second half of your menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase, and is governed primarily by the hormone progesterone. After you ovulate, the empty ovarian follicle that released the ovum will take on a new role.
The empty follicle becomes a structure called the corpus luteum, which produces the hormone progesterone. Progesterone dries up slippery cervical fluid and thickens the lining of the uterus in case the ovum is fertilized and a pregnancy occurs.
Your cervical fluid may be sticky, creamy, or even a little bit stretchy after ovulation, but it will no longer be wet and slippery.
Getting acquainted with your unique cervical fluid pattern is both easy to do and has some amazing health benefits.
Becoming familiar with your unique cervical fluid pattern can help you uncover reproductive issues or hormonal disorders that may require a visit to your doctor. Sudden or abnormal changes in your cervical fluid can help you identify signs of a vaginal infection, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, hormone imbalance (like polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS), and even potential infertility.
Fertile cervical fluid is vital for sperm survival and transport, so it plays a huge role in helping you get pregnant. Daily cervical fluid self exams help you pinpoint the most fertile days of your menstrual cycle, maximizing your chances of getting pregnant quickly. Familiarity with your fluid can even guide you and your doctor in the diagnosis and treatment of infertility.
The ability to distinguish fertile cervical fluid can help you prevent pregnancy without the use of hormones. Fertility awareness-based methods (FABMs) prevent pregnancy by helping you pinpoint the days that you’re fertile and at risk of getting pregnant. The sympto-thermal method (STM) is the most effective FABM and rivals hormonal contraceptives in effectiveness when practiced correctly and consistently. Practicing STM requires daily observations of cervical fluid and basal body temperature, and is backed by reproductive science. Learn more about the sympto-thermal method.
Like breast self exams, cervical fluid self exams provide important information about your health. Understanding what’s normal for your cervical fluid helps you support your reproductive health, just like knowing your body’s normal temperature helps you detect a fever. The earlier you notice a potential problem, the sooner you can take steps to keep your body healthy.