Cervical fluids are a normal part of a woman's sexual maturity. To conceive a child, sperm have to swim up the cervix into the uterus up to the opening of the Fallopian tube to meet the egg as it is released. Cervical fluid provides not just a liquid in which the sperm can swim, but also the sugars, amino acids, and immune protection they need to make the journey. A woman's vagina is usually acidic, to protect it against infection. The cervical fluid is alkaline, which is better for the survival of the sperm.
Most women of reproductive age generate some cervical mucus through a substantial portion of their periods. It's not likely to be especially noticeable unless a woman has just had sexual intercourse or a bowel movement. However, a clean finger inserted up toward the cervix will usually capture a sample of the mucus. Cervical fluid will have different colors and consistencies at different times during a woman's period, which correspond to her fertility.
- Just before menstruation, when they are dealing with PMS, many women release a large amount of clear cervical fluid. Many women wear panty liners on these days.
- During menstruation blood is more noticeable than cervical fluids. There may also be very little production of cervical fluid for about a week after a woman's period.
- Just before and during ovulation, cervical mucus is white and has the consistency of egg whites. It can be stretched for an inch or two (3 to 5 cm) without breaking. The mucus is usually this color starting a day before a woman ovulates, which is the optimum time for sexual intercourse to conceive a child. At this point in a woman's menstrual cycle, the cervical mucus has, on the microscopic level, a crystalline structure that helps healthy sperm swim through clearly defined channels to the uterus but that captures and blocks sperm that have abnormalities. Because cervical fluid changes just before ovulation and temperature changes just after ovulation, changes in the color and consistency of cervical fluid are a better way of predicting fertility and timing intercourse to have a baby (or avoiding intercourse so not to have a baby). When cervical fluid takes on the consistency of egg whites, then unprotected intercourse is most likely to result in pregnancy.
- Fertilization has to occur shortly after a woman ovulates, or it won't happen during that menstrual cycle. As the uterus thickens either to accommodate the newly formed embryo or in preparation for the next menstruation, the cervical mucus thickens into a form that would not transport sperm (or germs) into the uterus. At this point in a woman's cycle, the uterus at first may become an opaque, creamy white, and then take on a glue-like consistency. In this way, the cervical fluid protects the uterus from infection when it is most vulnerable.
Women who are reproductively capable generate mucus in timing with their menstrual cycles whether or not they have sex. It's all about the potential for reproduction. It's not about having sex or not having sex. It’s also the way a woman’s body avoids sexually transmitted and other kinds of diseases around the time of menstruation. The stickiness of the cervical fluid is one of the ways that the body protects itself.
It’s probably helpful not to think of cervical fluid as a “discharge.” It’s not a waste product. It’s part of the process of reproduction and also of maintaining the health of the reproductive system. It’s nothing to be ashamed of or afraid of. It’s a natural part of a woman’s reproductive life that gives important information that often goes unnoticed.
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