When you’re trying to conceive, it’s very important to have the right amounts of cervical mucus. In addition, that mucus needs to be the right consistency. Cervical mucus can either deter sperm from fertilizing an egg or nourish and protect them as they travel through your reproductive tract on their way to meeting up with an egg. If you’ve ever visited a fertility forum or message board, then you may have seen the following abbreviations and wondered what they mean.
CM – Cervical Mucus
TTC – Trying To Conceive
EWCM – Egg White Cervical Mucus
FQCM – Fertile Quality Cervical Mucus
What is Cervical Mucus?
Your estrogen hormone stimulates the production of cervical mucus. It’s a fluid that is secreted by your cervix. Your cervix secretes different amounts and different qualities of cervical mucus during each phase of your cycle. If you observe these changes throughout your cycle, you can begin to see the days when you will be at your most fertile.
The Important Role that Cervical Mucus plays in Ovulation
During ovulation each month an egg will become mature. It is then released by your ovary, goes into your fallopian tube, and travels towards any sperm that may be waiting to fertilize it so that it can implant in the wall of your uterus. As you get nearer to the time of ovulation, your levels of estrogen start to rise rapidly. This triggers your cervix to secrete a burst of cervical mucus.
Egg White Mucus
This is cervical mucus that is fertile quality – FQCM. It’s called egg white because it has a similar consistency to egg whites – clear and stretchy. This CM has the perfect texture and pH balance to protect sperm. If your CM is plentiful and of the right consistency during your most fertile time, it will greatly improve your chances of becoming pregnant. If you can tell when your cervix is producing egg white quality mucus, you can more easily identify when you are at your most fertile.
3 Steps to Identifying and Keeping a Record of Changes to your Cervical Mucus
Step One – Obtain Your CM
There are two easy methods.
Method 1 – wash your hands and then put your longest finger into your vagina. You need to get as close to your cervix as you can.
Method 2 – if you see cervical mucus when you’ve used toilet paper, take some of the mucus from there.
When you have found the method that is best for you, repeat it each day.
Step Two – Observe the CM
Once you have a small amount of CM, roll it between your thumb and forefinger and then gently pull them apart from each other.
Step Three – Record Your Findings
You can do this in a diary, on a specially designed chart or on a phone app.
Phases of Your Cervical Mucus
Days 1-5: Your Period
Days 6-9: When your Period has Ended
This is when your cervix secretes the least CM. Your vagina may even feel dry right now. Over the next few days the amount of mucus will increase. It will be white, cloudy or pale yellow, it will feel sticky.
Days 10-12: As you Get Closer to Ovulating
Your CM will increase, it will initially be more moist, thick and sticky and become thinner as the days go by, it may be the color of cream.
Days 13-15: The Few Days Prior to Ovulating
Mucus becomes thin, slippery, stretchy, and clear, similar to the consistency of egg whites. This is the most fertile stage, you should have the highest amount of CM now, it should be in its egg white phase. It can also be watery. This is not quite as ideal as egg white, but it is still fertile and the sperm can easily move toward the egg.
Days 16-21: Just After Ovulation
The quantity of CM will start to diminish. It will become thicker and stickier.
Days 22-28: Your CM will diminish to the point where your vagina may feel dry
Why Cervical Mucus Changes During Your Cycle
You can see from the timeline above that CM is thicker and stickier when you’re not ovulating or near to the time of ovulation. This consistency inhibits sperm from getting into your uterus when it’s not ready to implant an egg. When your uterus is ready, the CM becomes as helpful as it can to facilitate conception.
What if My Cervical Mucus isn’t Like That?
You might discover that your mucus isn’t egg white/fertility quality when you ovulate, or instead of it being thin and stretchy, it is thick and sticky. If you have either of these results, it could mean that this month you may find it difficult to conceive.
Causes of ‘Hostile’ Cervical Mucus
It’s called ‘hostile’ because rather than helping sperm to arrive in your fallopian tube (and thus be available to fertilize your egg), it hinders the progress of the sperm. This may be caused by many factors, including:
- An issue with your hormones
- Prescription medications, such as Clomid
Please note that if you have just come off of birth control your cervical mucus may be very low and you may feel dry.
It can take a long time for the body to naturally recover the CM, however the right herbal nutrition can make a big difference quickly.
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Charting Your Fertility
This can be very helpful in determining the best time for you to try and conceive. In addition to cervical mucus changes, it is usual to chart your basal body temperature (BBT).
What is Basal Body Temperature?
It’s your lowest body temperature in a 24-hour period. To get the most accurate reading, it’s important to take your temperature as soon as you wake up in the morning.
Tips for Taking Your BBT
You will need a special thermometer that can measure by tenths of degrees. Handy Tip: Get 2 digital basal thermometers. They tend to stop working after a while.
Start by taking your temperature on the first day of your next period. You can take it however you prefer – orally, rectally or via your vagina. Don’t switch between methods as this could give confusing readings. For optimum results, your BBT should be taken after 3 hours of uninterrupted sleep. If you didn’t get that, take your temperature anyway and note it down on your chart. As previously mentioned, it’s important to take your temperature *as soon as you wake up in the morning.
*Don’t stress about this on the weekends – just make sure that you do take your BBT to keep the data complete.
Important Note: Before you take your BBT, remember that you’re measuring your temperature with a highly sensitive thermometer. So before you take your BBT, don’t do anything that could elevate your temperature. Before taking your BBT do not:
- Move around
- Drink any liquids
Record your daily temperature on your chart.
There will be times when you get an unusual reading that does not fit with the overall pattern. This can happen. As long as it isn’t happening too frequently, don’t worry. Remember that charting your temperature every day will start to show you a pattern. This also applies to your cervical mucus. It’s not so much the daily temp and CM, but the overall pattern which will emerge.
NOTE: Although charting your BBT is a commonly used technique, it doesn’t work for everyone. You may not see a clear pattern emerging. Also, because ovulation may occur at different time in your cycle from month to month, your chart may not be an effective tool for predicting your ovulation time.
What You Are Looking For
Don’t forget that these are numbers based on average statistics. Every woman is different, so don’t worry if your pattern is slightly different. Use your BBT is to find your own pattern.
Before you ovulate your BBT is usually around 97.0 to 97.5 degrees Fahrenheit. During ovulation your body releases the hormone progesterone. This usually means that your temperature may go up by around 0.5 of a degree one or two days after your have ovulated.
The time before your next cycle starts your temperature will usually stay at that elevation. If you become pregnant during that cycle, your temperature will continue to stay elevated. A difference of a tenth of a degree doesn’t sound much, but it does count. Bear in mind that the change in temperature occurs after you have ovulated. This means that once you see that rise, you may have missed your chance to benefit from your most fertile time.
This is why it’s important to chart your BBT for a few cycles so that you can start to see a pattern that will help you to predict your most fertile time.
Tips to Help You to Improve Your Fertility
Traditional Chinese Medicine sees your cycle as having four phases.
Phase 1 – Menstruation
The main aim of this phase is to move blood. The first phase begins on the first day of your period. Even if you only menstruate for 1 to 3 days, this first week is your first phase. During this phase, you move blood by shedding the lining of your uterus. To do this, your energy needs to be flowing properly and in the right direction. Because this is a delicate phase, you should get as much rest as possible to support your body in its endevours.
If you don’t rest enough, your body may not have the energy it needs to successfully shed the lining. This can lead to old blood not being expelled properly.
Your pituitary gland starts to make Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) and Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which stimulate the growth of new follicles (eggs).
To help this process, stay well hydrated, and if you feel particularly low, take an electrolyte drink. If you have any cravings at this time, your body is telling you what it needs. A craving for red meat could mean that you are low in iron.
Try to avoid eating foods that are heavy and greasy, as these are hard to digest, which means your body has to expend energy to deal with them. While you are menstruating, avoid expending energy on exercise apart from gentle stretches and walking.
Phase 2 – Follicular Phase
The main aim of this phase is to build energy and blood. The second phase starts around 1 week after your period starts. You stay in phase 2 until you ovulate. During this phase, your body has finished losing blood, and so it needs to build that blood back up. This is necessary to nourish the lining of your uterus so that it can successfully implant an egg.
Sleep is always important, but during this phase it should be a priority. Try not to go to bed any later than 11pm. According to TCM, this is the time when your body is best at rebuilding lost blood and healing bodily tissues. If you go to bed too late to have good quality sleep, it hinders these restorative functions. This can be detrimental to having a healthy womb lining and good quality eggs. To support your body at this time, try to eat nourishing food such as vegetables that are rich in iron. Protein in the form of beans, fish, eggs and meat will also be helpful. You may return to more vigorous exercise during this phase, but try to avoid anything that makes you sweat a lot. You need to hold onto your fluids.
Phase 3 – Ovulation
The main aim of this phase is to build and promote the energy of you body. Phase 3 begins with ovulation and lasts for one week following ovulation. This phase starts when the blood and fluids in your body have been fully restored. During this phase, your body releases a surge of Luteinizing Hormone (LH) which warms up your body.
This triggers your follicle to release the egg. You can see this when your BBT rises after you have ovulated.
In Chinese Medicine, we see that the warmth helps dilation and also help your blood to flow. Once this has been accomplished, your egg is released from the follicle and can easily make its way through your fallopian tubes. To help your body, keep warm. Pay particular attention to your abdomen, feet and lower back. Women in China often wear a Haramaki or NukuNuku belly warmer to keep their abdomens warm. Gentle stretches can help to promote your blood flow.
Try to avoid:
- Cold foods
- Uncooked vegetables
- Excess sugar
- Excess dairy products
The last two may cause congestion, which can lead to fluid building up in your reproductive system. This would make it harder for sperm to get to your egg and also for a fertilized egg to complete its journey through your tubes to your uterus.
Phase 4 – Luteal
This is the implantation or premenstrual phase. The main aim of this phase is to promote energy (if you are in the implantation phase) or regulate the flow of energy (if you are in the premenstrual phase). This phase begins about 1 week after you have ovulated. It ends on the day that you start to menstruate or confirm that you are pregnant (using the first day of your missed period). During this phase, the outer shell (called the corpus luteum) of the dominant follicle that released an egg, starts to secrete the hormone progesterone. This changes the lining of your uterus.
These activities cause your BBT to remain elevated. It will drop back down just before you menstruate. This is another warm phase. If an egg was implanted, then warmth and your blood flow are still the highest priority. If you didn’t become pregnant, your body will be using energy to adjust your hormones and shed the lining of your uterus. If this energy becomes stuck or isn’t flowing easily, it can give you the typical PMS symptoms of feeling moody and bloated and having headaches.
During this phase, it is very important to be under as little stress as possible. This is because stress can hinder the easy flow of energy which would make your PMS worse. Try to avoid nicotine, alcohol and caffeine. Reach for peppermint tea instead. It’s great for relieving the symptoms of PMS.
Exercise and stretches are also good for promoting good energy.