Vaginal discharge is a normal part of a healthy menstrual cycle.
It’s also normal to notice more or less discharge and different consistencies in this fluid depending on if you are at the beginning, end, or middle of your menstrual cycle.
In particular, many people with vaginas produce a lot more cervical mucus before ovulation.
In fact, some track their discharge and use the cervical mucus method as a form of birth control or to try to time sex to increase the likelihood of pregnancy.
In this article, I’ll explain what ovulation discharge is and what to watch out for.
Then I’ll discuss cervical mucus, including tips for checking it. I’ll also share specific changes you might notice in cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
Lastly, I’ll go over when to see a doctor about ovulation discharge.
Normal menstrual cycles range between 23-35 days, with the average cycle lasting 28 days.
Although ovulation can happen a few days to a few weeks after a period ends, it typically happens on day 15 of a 28-day cycle.
Ovulation discharge is produced when follicle-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, and estrogen all increase in preparation for maturing and releasing an egg.
This fluid prepares the vagina for being receptive to sperm.
What to look out for
As ovulation approaches, you may notice an increase in clear or white vaginal discharge.
You may experience this as a sensation of wetness or see residue on your underwear.
The discharge may also be visible after urination.
Seeing ovulation discharge does not guarantee that ovulation has happened.
It is also possible to have a few surges of hormones that mean a few different times of ovulation discharge.
What Is Cervical Mucus?
Cervical mucus is made by glands in the cervix.
In addition to lubricating the vaginal canal, this discharge helps clear old cells and other debris.
It also keeps the vagina at an acidic pH to prevent pathogens from easily entering the cervix and uterus and causing an infection.
Around the time of ovulation, the pH level of cervical mucus changes to be more friendly for sperm, allowing it to travel up the vagina and through the cervix.
Sperm can survive in this ovulation cervical mucus for 3-5 days and, if an egg was released, attempt to fertilize it.
Different types of cervical mucus
You may notice different types of cervical mucus throughout the menstrual cycle.
This tends to happen in a predictable pattern according to the hormone changes that regulate ovulation and your period.
After your period ends, you may have 3-4 days of dryness, or you may immediately notice sticky, thicker cervical mucus that may look white, off-white, or pale yellow.
This is not typically fertile and is part of the final shedding process of the uterine lining.
As ovulation approaches and hormone levels change, this cervical fluid becomes thinner and clearer.
During ovulation, cervical mucus levels are at their highest and the texture goes from thick and sticky to watery and, finally, to the consistency of egg whites.
Once ovulation is over, cervical mucus tends to noticeably decrease within 1-2 days.
The week before a person’s period may contain very little visible cervical mucus.
If you get pregnant, one of the first signs may be an increase in what appears to be watery, clear, or white discharge again around the time your period is expected.
To protect a growing embryo, the cervix creates a mucus plug to seal off the uterus.
This can lead to an increase in mucus during early pregnancy.
Tips for checking cervical mucus
It can be helpful to pay attention to your cervical mucus, especially if you are trying to become pregnant or avoid pregnancy without the use of contraception.
To identify your fertility status, you should also track your basal body temperature, since a rise in temperature can help confirm that ovulation has occurred.
You can also use at-home ovulation predictor kits in conjunction with charting your menstrual cycle to track ovulation.
If you want to track your fertility by cervical mucus, it’s best to check once a day.
Start when your period flow has ended and check at the same time every day.
You can use an app to record your daily observations, or keep a note on a smartphone or in a notebook.
To assess your cervical fluid:
- After you finish using the bathroom, wipe the external vaginal area thoroughly to ensure no urine remains.
- Pat the external vaginal area or just inside with a fresh piece of toilet paper. When cervical mucus is higher, you will be able to see it. It may be very slippery and glossy, or it may just be a small area of thicker substance.
- Wash your hands. Then briefly insert one finger into the vagina.
- Remove the finger and note the amount, color, and texture of any fluid. (The most fertile cervical fluid will have a texture and appearance similar to raw egg whites.)
You do not have to check cervical mucus to try to get pregnant, but some people with vaginas want to understand the subtle signs that can indicate higher fertility levels.
Cervical fluid is an easy at-home way to do this.
Note that if you have had intercourse within the last day or two, some semen may remain.
It can appear the same as cervical fluid if you are monitoring fertility this way.
Some people naturally produce less cervical mucus and may not notice much difference using the method above.
This does not mean that you cannot get pregnant or that you are experiencing reduced fertility.
If you are concerned about vaginal dryness or a lack of cervical mucus, talk to your healthcare provider.
Cervical Mucus Changes Throughout the Menstrual Cycle
Cervical mucus changes throughout a menstrual cycle in response to hormones.
The phases of cervical mucus typically include:
- After period: Dry or no cervical mucus
- Before ovulation: Sticky, thicker cervical mucus that may be white, pale yellow, or clear. This gradually increases in volume and turns more watery
- During ovulation: Highest volume of thinner, stretchy, egg-white-like cervical mucus that is typically clear
- After ovulation: Thicker, sticky cervical mucus that may gradually decrease or suddenly drop off
- Before period: Small amounts of white, thick mucus, with the 1-2 days before a period being the driest
Cervical Mucus Changes Throughout Pregnancy
Although increased cervical fluid can be an early sign of pregnancy, it is not a guaranteed sign.
It is possible to be pregnant without increased cervical mucus.
Higher levels of cervical mucus before a period can also indicate other things, including hormone changes or infection if the discharge smells foul or is accompanied by other symptoms.
Cervical mucus is also common throughout pregnancy.
It is typically thin, white or clear, and does not have a distinct odor.
Because blood flow dramatically increases during pregnancy, any vaginal irritation may lead to bleeding and cause discharge to appear pink or brown.
This may be no cause for concern.
However, any time you notice bleeding, spotting, or discharge with color, tell your healthcare provider.
In less common cases, this can be a sign of infection, cervical problems, or miscarriage.
Also, if you notice increased discharge at any point in pregnancy along with cramps or contractions, talk to your healthcare provider immediately.
When to See a Doctor
Most of the time, vaginal discharge is normal, especially if it is clear.
An increased amount of discharge before ovulation is a sign of a healthy reproductive system.
However, see a doctor if you have concerns about changes to your normal level of cervical mucus or if you experience any of the following conditions:
- Change in color
- Change in odor or smell
- Change in texture
- Abdominal pain
- Burning or pain during urination
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