You’ve probably noticed that sometimes you have vaginal discharge, also known as cervical mucus. But did you know that it has a different consistency at different times of the month? That means you can use vaginal discharge to predict when you’re most likely to get pregnant, as well as to keep track of your vaginal health in general.
Read on for our step-by-step guide on what to look out for—and when to be concerned.
First of all, what is it, exactly?
Your body makes vaginal discharge to keep your vagina clean and healthy. Depending on the time of the month, it can block sperm or guide it to fertilize an egg. It’s triggered by the amount of estrogen your body makes (more estrogen = more mucus), and it’s totally normal—don’t try to wash or douche it away.
How do you check it?
You might see it in your underwear, or when you wipe yourself after you pee. If not, or if you want a clearer picture, then sit, squat, or stand with one leg on the side of the bath and insert a (freshly-washed) finger into your vagina, as close to the cervix as possible. TMI but true: after you poop is the best time to check. The worst? When you’re turned on or after you have sex, as other bodily fluids complicate matters.
How does it change throughout your cycle?
The amount and consistency of mucus you produce changes throughout your cycle and from one cycle to another. It also varies from person to person. But generally speaking, there are some trends you can expect:
- During your period, you might have a little mucus mixed with blood, but it will probably be pretty light.
- After your period, your estrogen level drops so you probably won’t find much mucus. If you do, it will probably be sticky, which means you’re not ovulating yet.
- Before ovulation (that is, when your body releases an egg that will either be fertilized or become part of your period), any discharge will be wet and slippery with a bit of a stretch to it. It’s more likely that you’ll become pregnant from now until after ovulation.
- Just before and during ovulation, your mucus will be wet and very stretchy – the consistency has often been compared to egg whites.
- After ovulation and before your next period, it can be wet and thick.
If your periods are regular, tracking your mucus can be part of natural birth control, but do your research first – and preferably take a class.
Are there any exceptions?
If you have polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), you’ll probably have thick discharge throughout your period, so it’s not a good way to track your cycle.
Hormonal birth control blocks ovulation at all, so there’s no point trying to track it.
The amount of mucus you produce can be affected by stress and anxiety (which increase production) and medications like antihistamines (which dry it up).
How can it show illness?
Some changes are within the normal range – for example, if it’s light yellow or has a slight odor. Others can signal a bacterial or sexually-transmitted infection.
- A thick white discharge plus vaginal itching suggests a yeast infection. Similar symptoms with an additional fishy smell and perhaps more of a gray tinge point to bacterial vaginosis.
- If the mucus is yellow or green, that could mean trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea or (if it’s also smelly) pelvic inflammatory disease.
- If you’re experiencing a brown or dark red tint to the mucus, and it’s the middle of your cycle, this could point to cervical or uterine cancer, but don’t panic – that’s rare.
Whatever the color or smell, though, see a medical professional ASAP. Any significant changes need to be treated before they cause further problems, so your cervical mucus can go back to keeping your vagina healthy, as it was designed to do.