IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT YOUR PERIOD—WHAT YOU CAN LEARN FROM VAG DISCHARGE
All this talk about our periods, but we actually have TWO flows: We got blood (that’s the shedding of the endometrium) and we got the clear and sometimes white stuff that tells us what’s going on in our ovaries and identifies our fertile window. And they are both V. important signifiers of our overall health!
You know the age-old narrative about how the sperm meets the egg? Against all odds, the sperm press on, navigating the difficult and troublesome corridors of the vaginal canal. They crusade to find the Queen egg who waits patiently on the throne. Pshhhh—that’s not actually how it goes.
In reality, the sperm show up hungry, tired, and too stubborn to ask for directions. Go figure.
How do the sperm actually make it to the egg? They need a lot of help. And that help comes in the form of CERVICAL FLUID, BABY!!! Yup, the stuff on your underpants at the end of the day basically has superpowers.
It’s All About The Cervical Fluid:
Cervical fluid is quite literally the substance of life and it totally determines the viability of sperm. For one, cervical fluid helps filter out abnormal sperm. Second, without cervical fluid, sperm wouldn't even last MINUTES inside the vaginal canal. Finally, in the right conditions, cervical fluid can keep sperm alive for days—even up to a week by giving it free room + board.
Here’s how: not only does the cervical fluid provide the sperm with nourishment, if the egg isn’t quite ready for the big sperm debut, cervical fluid gives the sperm a place to stay and rest a while (hello Motel Cervical Crypts). Then, when the egg is ready, cervical fluid directs the sperm, making little highways that the sperm can quickly and easily navigate past the cervix to find the egg. #baller
Without cervical fluid, forget the uterus and fallopian tubes, sperm wouldn’t even make it past the cervix.
Why does cervical fluid change?
As the ovaries make estrogen and progesterone, our cervical fluid responds directly to the changing hormones.
When hormone levels are low, any discharge is part of our baseline (a combination of vaginal cell slough and any non-estrogen mucus—you know the whole self-cleaning oven idea). As ovulation nears, estrogen rises and cervical fluid responds by progressing from baseline to an increasingly creamy and then slippery consistency. Your most fertile fluid occurs when your estrogen levels are peaking. After ovulation, progesterone begins to dominate, drying up most of the cervical fluid and making the cervix inhospitable for sperm, just in case Motel CC is, um, busy... if ya know what we mean. So, as annoying as that stuff in your underpants may be, it’s kind of like having a direct line of communication with your ovaries.
Here’s how to know if your cervical fluid is fertile:
After your period and prior to ovulation, ANY cervical fluid you see is considered fertile!
Right around ovulation, estrogen peaks and causes the cervix to make SUPER FERTILE cervical fluid. It’s often stretchy, clear, lubricative or watery (think egg whites!)
After ovulation, progesterone dries up cervical fluid. It can look creamy, white, yellow, or sticky, or dry up altogether. This is no longer fertile fluid.
A note on post-ovulatory fluids:
Some people see fertile-looking cervical fluid after ovulation, but it’s not fertile fluid: Right before their period, some ovulators may see egg-white cervical fluid. This means hormone levels are dropping, and progesterone is dropping faster than estrogen, BUT it’s not a sign of fertility since the egg is already gone.
Interesting things to know about your Cervical fluid
Your most fertile cervical fluid will make a fern like pattern under a microscope, and that’s not it—your saliva will too during those high estrogen days!
Medications can affect your cervical fluid pattern, including antihistamines, expectorants, and hormonal birth control.
Learning how to read your cervical fluid can be useful for contraception! Just be sure to learn the method properly first. We recommend speaking with an educator if you can, to ensure that you’re using the method most effectively. Learn more on this here.
How your cervical fluid can help you identify imbalances or infections:
Getting to know your own cervical fluid pattern is also helpful for identifying any imbalances or infections. Once you are familiar with your pattern, you’ll know if something’s not right. For example, grey or dark cervical fluid can be an indication of bacterial infection, thick cream cheese-like mucus that itches could be a yeast infection, and a really putrid smell (like something gone bad) coupled with thicker discharge could indicate something more serious. Be sure to check with your care provider if you notice something different in your other flow.
Co-contributed and Researched by : Katinka Locascio and Cassie Moriarty of Appleseed Fertility. Certified Fertility and Sexual Health Educators based in NY.