By: Megan Kelly (CNP)
Did you know that your body sends you a multitude of signals every month to tell you where you’re at in your cycle?
If you pay close attention, you can use these physiological signals sent out each month to determine when you’re ovulating so that you know when you are most fertile!
These three signs are:
- Cervical Mucus
- Cervical Position
- Basal Body Temperature
These things change depending on the stage of your cycle you are in. If you can become well aquatinted with how these things present at each stage, you can learn to identify your most fertile times and begin to accurately track & predict your cycle.
So, let’s break it down shall we?
As you have probably noticed, even without paying that close attention, your cervical mucus (or vaginal discharge) changes in appearance throughout the month.
You may not have got up close and personal with it just yet, but as you begin to take a closer look you will notice that it changes not only in appearance & colour but also in consistency, stickiness and texture. Tracking the properties of you cervical mucus can give you hints as to where you are in your cycle and when you are ovulating.
While everyone’s body is different, throughout the cycle the progression tends to follow this pattern:
- Dry or sticky
- To creamy like lotion
- To wet & watery
- To extremely slippery, clear & stretchy
- Then back to dry, sticky and thick
- Back to menstruation
We see the slippery, clear and stretchy mucus when we are about to ovulate. This indicates the most fertile time in your cycle. This fertile mucus is often described as looking like egg whites. You can test for it’s stretchiness by using “finger testing”, a method wherein you take the mucus between your thumb and index finger and slowly separate your fingers. If the mucus stretches more than two inches without breaking in the middle, that is a very clear sign of fertility.
Non-fertile mucus is tackier and breaks apart easily at short distances between the fingers.
Assessing cervical mucus is recommended before and after using the toilet. If you wish to avoid using your fingers, you may take a flat piece of toilet paper and wipe from front to back. If you see mucus on the toilet paper, assess its colour and consistency, ideally using finger testing. However, you will more easily and consistently be able to assess with accuracy if you feel comfortable reaching your finger inside the vagina. First, wash and dry your hands. Then, find a comfortable position and reach one finger inside the vagina to get a sample of cervical mucus as close to the cervix as possible. Remove your finger and observe the consistency of whatever mucus you find.
- If what you find seems sticky, or findings are scant, you’re probably not ovulating yet
- If what you find is creamy, ovulation may be coming, but not just yet
- If what you find is wet, watery, and slightly stretchy, ovulation is very likely close. Intercourse at this time may lead to conception.
- If what you find is very wet, stretches between your fingers for an inch or more, and resembles a raw egg white, your cervical mucus is very fertile. Ovulation is right around the corner and now is the ideal time for intercourse if you are trying to conceive.
We recommend charting your cervical mucus each day so you can start to see a pattern emerge and become more comfortable with understanding the length of your cycle and when you experience your most fertile days.
A few quick tips:
Don’t check your cervical mucus during or right after sex. Also, avoid checking when your feeling sexually aroused. Arousal fluids are not the same as fertile cervical mucous, but you probably won’t be able to tell the difference. It is also difficult to differentiate semen from cervical secretions.
Consider checking your cervical mucus after bowel movements. If you tend to have trouble finding cervical mucus, it may be easier after a bowel movement because it moves the discharge down closer to the entrance of your vagina.
Some medications may interfere with your cervical fluids. For example, antihistamines can dry up your cervical fluids. If you use these regularly, you may want to consider other methods of fertility tracking.
This is something you are less likely to have noticed without investigation, but your cervical position also changes throughout the month according to your cycle. You can detect when you’re most fertile and when you’ve already ovulated by tracking cervical position.
There are three changes you are feeling for when checking your cervix.
First, is your cervix’s position high, medium or low? As you approach ovulation, your cervix moves up and back. It may be so high that you can’t reach it.
Second, does your cervix feel soft or firm? Estrogen softens the cervical tissue, making it feel softer and less firm when you’re most fertile. Some say it feels like the tip of your nose when you’re not fertile and like the firmness of your lips when you are fertile.
Third, is your cervix open or closed? Your cervix will be just slightly open just before ovulation. The opening is tiny, no more than a thin slit. It will open again just before and during menstruation. However, during your period, the cervix will be lower and not high, like it is before ovulation.
If your cervix always feels slightly open, don’t worry. Especially if you’ve every given birth or miscarried, your cervix may never fully close. As ovulation approaches, you should still be able to notice the height and softness changes of the cervix.
To check your cervix position, first you will want to wash your hands very well. Then, find a comfortable position that will allow you to easily reach your cervix. That may be sitting on the toilet, putting one leg up on the edge of the bathtub or squatting. If you think of your vagina as a hallway, your cervix is the door at the end. While your vagina has a sort of spongy feel that gives way to pressure, your cervix is like a firm, round dimple. Reach your index or middle finger inside of your vagina, and slowly slide your finger in as far as you can reach, a sort of in and upward motion. If you’re not close to ovulation, you should find your cervix easily. If you are ovulating, your cervix may be higher in your body and more difficult to reach. When you find it, observe how high, firm, soft and open it is. Track this daily to give yourself a better understanding of your cycle and to find your most fertile days.
A few quick tips:
Be patient with this practice. You may not understand what you’re feeling the first, second or even tenth time you try. This is a skill to be developed. Once you learn what the signs are by experience the changes in your cervix throughout a few cycles, you’ll become a pro!
Don’t check your cervical position during or after sex. Your cervix moves around according to your level of sexual arousal, regardless of ovulation.
Check your cervical position at the same time every day. It may be a good time to do it when you get dressed in the morning.
A good way to remember the most fertile cervical condition is by using the acronym “SHOW” – Soft, High, Open & Wet!
Basal Body Temperature (BBT)
Your basal body temperature (BBT) is your body’s resting temperature. It is your lowest body temperature. For accurate readings, self measurements must be taken immediately on waking, prior to any activity.
To predict ovulation, measure BBT daily for several cycles with no breaks. Right before ovulation, BBT usually drops, followed by a sharp increase right after ovulation.
In the first phase of the cycle BBT usually stays below 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C). Most often BBT falls between 97.52 – 98.24 degrees F (36.4 – 36.8 degrees C) because of low progesterone levels. If your BBT falls far below that range, that may be an indication of thyroid problems which you may want to speak with a health care practitioner about as thyroid conditions can affect hormone balance and fertility as well.
One day before ovulation, a luteinizing hormone peak is observed, which can be accompanied by a decrease in temperature by 0.36 – 0.54 degrees F (0.2 – 0.3 degrees C)
After ovulation, the progesterone level sees a sharp increase, which causes a temperature leap above 98.6 degrees F (37 degrees C).
With an adequate corpus luteum function, it will stay at this level for 10-14 days.
If the fertilized egg doesn’t implant, the progesterone level and BBT will decrease before menstruation.
If your BBT stays elevated for more than 14 days, this may indicate pregnancy.
A few quick tips:
A body temperature not influenced by any external factors can be considered the most accurate and reliable. Throughout the day, it fluctuates due to stress, cold, heat, exercise, food intake, etc. This is why it is important to track your temperature at the same time every morning before any activity (ideally before getting out of bed at all)! Keep your thermometer on your bedside table to remember to take your temperature before rising.
If you get out of bed to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, try to ensure that you have at least 3-4 hours of sleep between then and waking to accurately take your BBT.
Use the same thermometer for each reading (electronic or other). The electronic thermometer has some advantages. It is easy to use, it signals when the peak temperature is reached, and its memory stores the measurement value (in case you forget to jot it down immediately!)
Always measure the temperature in the same way (orally, vaginally or rectally). Unfortunately, the armpit method is not a reliable measurement. The rectal method is considered the most accurate.
According to statistic, in the first year of taking the measurements, the birth control method is 99% effective, if the menstruated cycle is regular. According to research, measuring the temperature regularly becomes a burden, and the method’s effectiveness goes down to 85%. If you are using this as a birth control method, be prepared to stay diligent and consider additional forms of tracking and contraception.
Frontiers in Bioscience: A Virtual Library of Medicine, https://www.bioscience.org/2013/v5s/af/S386/list.htm.
Men’s and Women’s Health Lecture Notes. CCNM. 2012
Sarris, J & Wardle J. Clinical Naturopathy: An evidence based guide to practice. Chatswood, Australia, Elsevier Australia, 2010.
Hudson, Tori. Women’s Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine. Toronto, Ontario. McGraw Hill, 2008.
Nott, James P., et al. “The Structure and Function of the Cervix during Pregnancy.” Translational Research in Anatomy, Elsevier, 2 Mar. 2016, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2214854X1530008X?via=ihub.
Tiemstra, Jeffrey D., et al. “Genitourinary Infections after a Routine Pelvic Exam.” American Board of Family Medicine, American Board of Family Medicine, 1 May 2011, https://www.jabfm.org/content/24/3/296.
Vigil, Pilar, et al. “Ovulation, A Sign of Health – Pilar Vigil, Carolina Lyon, Betsi Flores, Hernán Rioseco, Felipe Serrano, 2017.” SAGE Journals, https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1080/00243639.2017.1394053.
Wojcieszek AM, Stock OM, Flenady V. Antibiotics for prelabour rupture of membranes at or near term. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 10. Art. No.: CD001807. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001807.pub2.