Ovulation can be determined by monitoring changes in your cervical mucus. Throughout your cycle, hormonal fluctuations alter the amount and consistency of your cervical secretions. During times of peak fertility (ovulation), the fertile cervical mucus becomes transparent, slippery, and more elastic in nature. This texture is most often compared to egg whites in quality and appearance. By collecting samples of cervical mucus, a woman can determine if she is approaching a fertile time in her cycle and plan accordingly.
There are several ways to collect samples, but it is important to remember to wash your hands thoroughly prior to attempting any of them so that you can prevent unwanted spread of bacteria or other harmful germs.
Listed below are the most common ways to obtain a sample of the cervical mucus:
- Inserting a finger into the vagina and sweeping around the entrance to gather an adequate amount of secretions.
- Wiping the vaginal entrance with toilet/tissue paper and analyzing the discharge collected.
- Inserting a finger or cotton swab into the vagina and sweeping along the cervix itself (or as near as you can get) to obtain a specimen directly. This is the most accurate method of collecting mucus samples as it is less likely to be confused with moisture.
Monitoring changes in the cervical mucus is desirable as it is the only method in fertility planning that does not require you to review previous cycles for comparison. When performed correctly, it is also a reliable indication of the optimal time for conception when the egg white fertile cervical mucus is present. In addition, it requires no special training and can be performed by the woman who is looking for her most fertile phase. Once the cervical mucus sampkle is collected, the mucus is placed between the thumb and index finger and stretched apart to examine the texture. This finger stretch test can be very helpful in determining the timing of your ovulation and thus increasing your chances of becoming pregnant.
Below are descriptions of the quality of the cervical mucus during different phases of the menstrual cycle. This can assist you in finding out what part of your cycle you are entering.
1. Before Ovulation (lower probability of pregnancy)
In the first days following your period, you will notice very little discharge and the vulva area can be dry. During this phase, the possibility of pregnancy is low.
2. Approaching Ovulation (increased probability of pregnancy)
The discharge that appears during this time will be moist or sticky and white/cream colored. When performing the finger stretch test, the mucus will break apart easily after a little distance (< 1 cm). As this phase progresses, you will notice an increase in volume, that the color becomes more opaque, and that you are able to stretch the fingers farther apart before it breaks.
3. During Ovulation (highest probability of pregnancy)
This is the stage in which the cervical mucus resembles egg whites. It will be at its thinnest, clearest, and most copious during this time. The sample will stretch several centimeters with the finger test before breaking apart, if it does so at all. The volume will continue to increase until it reaches a point called the ‘mucus peak’. At this point, ovulation is most likely occurring and chances of conception are highest. Additionally, the survival rate of sperm is highest at this time than at any other time of the cycle (up to 72 hours), which greatly increases the chances of fertilization.
4. After Ovulation (decreasing probability of pregnancy)
During this phase, the cervical mucus returns to its previous, tacky consistency (breaks apart easier), the volume decreases, and the dryness returns to the vulvar area. As a note, the consistency of semen (the fluid carrying the sperm) can be confused with cervical secretions, so use caution with this test after intercourse to decrease likelihood of incorrect interpretation. Other factors may also influence the accuracy of the reading, including vaginal infections, certain medications, and birth control methods and should be taken into consideration during your examination of discharge. Advanced reproductive age (over 35), irregular menstrual cycle, hormonal imbalances, or recent surgical procedures on or near the cervix can also have an effect on the quality of cervical mucus produced and make this test more challenging to interpret.
If you are interested in learning more about charting cervical mucus to determine ovulation, you may download any one of our free cervical mucus charts.
Cervical Mucus Chart
If you find that you are not able to determine the time of ovulation using this method, there are alternative ways that can be used to assist you in your fertility planning. These include measuring basal body temperature or using commercially available ovulation tests.