The podcast where you'll get answers to those questions you’ve been secretly Googling and all those things you’re too embarrassed to ask your doctor, because… well – We’re women! Shouldn’t we just know this stuff??
I'm obsessed with all things periods, pregnancy, pelvic floor and helping women just like YOU to navigate all of life's major milestones!
If you’ve been listening to me rabbit on about mucus for any length of time now, then you would know that I see it as the number one indicator of your fertility.
The key to understanding when you are fertile or not fertile relies on you being able to track the changes in your cervical mucus throughout your menstrual cycle. So what you see and feel is everything when it comes to identifying your fertile window.
And the research shows that this is really effective.
Why? Because studies show that cervical mucus is the most reliable of all your body’s fertile signs. More than taking your temperature, cramping, spotting or sore boobs, your mucus is the primary indicator of ovulation and your fertile window.
In this episode, we’re talking about your mucus plug. What the hell is it and why is it so important in determining whether or not you are fertile?
Hello, and welcome to episode 43 of The Fertility Co Podcast. I’m your host, Rachel and today we are talking about the mucus plug. Not the mucus plug you have in pregnancy, but the mucus plug you have with every menstrual cycle during your non-fertile phases.
If you’ve been listening to me rabbit on about mucus for any length of time now, then you would know that I see it as the number one indicator of your fertility. The key to understanding when you are fertile or not fertile relies on you being able to track the changes in your cervical mucus throughout your menstrual cycle. So what you see and feel is everything when it comes to identifying your fertile window. And the research shows that this is really effective. Why? Because studies show that cervical mucus is the most reliable of all your body’s fertile signs. More than taking your temperature, cramping, spotting or sore boobs, your mucus is the primary indicator of ovulation and your fertile window.
We know that your cervical mucus is produced by, surprise surprise, the cervix, which is the neck of the uterus and the bridge between your uterus and your vagina. The cervix contains glands that have the sole function of producing mucus. As hormone levels fluctuate throughout the menstrual cycle, these glands will produce different types of mucus.
During the non-fertile phases of the menstrual cycle, the mucus is thick and forms a dense plug at the cervix. This mucus plug closes the cervix and blocks sperm cells from entering the uterus, meaning they die in the vagina after a few short hours. When this mucus plug closes the cervix, you are not fertile.
When the thick mucus plug breaks down in preparation for ovulation, the mucus-producing glands begin to secrete a thin, watery, lubricative fluid that nourishes sperm and helps sperm cells to move through the vagina towards the egg. This type of mucus can keep sperm alive for up to 5 days inside the acidic environment of the vagina. Without it, sperm dies within hours and makes pregnancy virtually impossible. Fertile cervical mucus also forms channels that guide sperm through the vagina, through the cervix and into the uterus and towards the fallopian tube where an egg is waiting to be fertilised after ovulation, which I honestly think is one of the most incredible things about it!
So let’s break down each of the four phases of the menstrual cycle and how your mucus plug plays its role in encouraging or preventing pregnancy.
First we have the menstrual phase. In the absence of pregnancy, menstruation will almost always follow ovulation, 10-17 days later, which we know is due to the consistent length of the luteal phase. If you didn’t know this, then make sure you have a listen to Episode 41, where we talk about why the length of your luteal phase is so important. But we’ll get to the luteal phase shortly.
The first day of bright bleeding is day one of the menstrual cycle, day one of our period and the cervix is open to allow that flow of blood from our body. Remember, our period is the body flushing the lining of the uterus and the unfertilised egg out from our body, ready to try again this cycle, so it really does make sense when you think about the cervix being open. You can’t judge if you are fertile or not during the menstrual phase because bleeding will block the presence of fertile mucus, so we consider ourselves to be potentially fertile – especially if our cycles are on the shorter side. Back to the reason why in just a minute.
As menstrual flow reduces, and our period ends, the cervix closes and a mucus plug forms. This is when we enter the follicular phase. The cervix is closed with a mucus plug and you feel very dry, or only a little moist, but you’re not seeing much cervical mucus. I think of mucus during this non-fertile phase as Clag. I don’t know if Clag is an Australian thing, but it’s that glue we had when we were in early primary school, really thick and gluggy and we literally spread it onto paper with a little brush, some of us ate it, and basically it was thick and gluey and would form a solid little plug at the top of the container, so the next time we opened it up, we couldn’t get anything out. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, think of a squeezy plastic sauce bottle and that dried bit that sticks in the top and stops sauce from coming out when you squeeze it. I hope you’re still with me throughout that Clag tangent.
Anyway, during this phase after your period you are not fertile. There is a feeling of either dryness, with no mucus present, or moistness and the important part here is that your mucus is unchanging, from one day to the next it is the same. So why does the mucus plug play such a key role in deciding whether or not you can pregnant? Well, it prevents sperm from entering the uterus, so instead of passing through the cervix and swimming to the fallopian tube where it hopes to meet and fertilise an egg, it won’t be able to pass through – just like the sauce that can’t get out that little hard plug at the top of the bottle, and it will die in just a few hours in the acidic vagina. This is why you are not fertile during the follicular phase.
But, if you’ll recall earlier, I said that you need to consider yourself potentially fertile during your period. Why would you need to do that if bleeding is followed by this non-fertile phase? Well, for some women with shorter cycles, say less than about 26 days give or take, they don’t have a follicular phase. Their cycles transition straight from bleeding into their fertile window, and their cervix starts producing fertile quality mucus at the tail end of or just after their period ends. Which means that a mucus plug doesn’t form at the cervix, meaning the cervix is open, meaning sperm can get straight through. And if you ovulate close enough to your period, then sperm can survive long enough to fertilise an egg. Which is why some women can in fact get pregnant during their periods. More on that in Episode 9. So basically, you will never be fertile during this phase, it’s just that some women bypass this phase and move straight into the ovulatory phase.
The ovulatory phase is where the magic happens. It’s a short window of time where the body prepares to and finally does ovulate. The mucus plug dissolves, which means that the cervix opens and it will releases that fluid wet mucus until ovulation occurs. And you can feel this mucus at your vulva. So as soon as you notice a change in your mucus, remember throughout the follicular phase it’s unchanging, as soon as it changes from dry or a bit moist, to moist, to wet, to slippery and lubricative, it’s go-time. This is what is commonly described as looking like raw egg whites, but not for everyone. For some, it might be creamy or milky. But it’s the wettest, slipperiest mucus you observe, often you will literally feel your hand slip when you wipe after going the toilet. This is when you are fertile and when pregnancy is possible. Only for this window of a few days every cycle. So this is when you have sex if you’re trying to conceive, and this is when you avoid unprotected sex if you don’t want to conceive. The last day you observe this wet mucus is called your Peak Day and this is when ovulation happens.
The day after ovulation, you’ll feel quite dry again but you need to consider yourself fertile for the 3 days after your peak day and confirmed ovulation. Why? Because it takes about 3 days for the mucus plug to re-form. For my pregnancy people, this is great news because it’s a 3 day buffer and 3 extra days to try to conceive without stressing that you have to pinpoint ovulation day. For those who are avoiding pregnancy, don’t forget about that 3 day window because pregnancy is still possible even if you’re feeling dry! And this just goes to show that it’s this mucus plug that drives our fertility. Of course, our fertile quality mucus plays a part in keeping sperm alive and gently guiding it towards our waiting egg, but the mucus plug is literally that physical barrier to sperm, the gateway. If the gate is closed, sperm can’t get through. If the gate is open, pregnancy is possible.
And so, our final phase is the luteal phase, which begins the day after ovulation. Meaning, the first 3 days of the luteal phase, we are still fertile as we wait for the mucus plug to form and close the cervix. Once that mucus plug re-forms, we are not fertile, and we will continue to not be fertile until our next period begins and we start a new cycle. And because our cervix is closed with a plug and our glands are producing that thicker, sticky type of mucus which ultimately forms the plug, we once again feel quite dry at the vulva and we’re not seeing much mucus. So basically, we have 2 non-fertile phases in our menstrual cycle, unless of course we transition straight from menstruation into our fertile window. But for most women, we have 2 non fertile phases with that fertile window in between.
Now, that subtle feeling you get when you feel like you maybe just got your period, but when you run to the toilet and check there’s nothing there? That sensation first of all means that you will be more than capable of using mucus to track your fertile window, because that feeling is very subtle. Second, that sensation is your mucus plug breaking down. This happens a day or two before your period starts, the cervix opens and the plug dissolves so that bleeding can quite literally leave the body. That gate at the cervix goes both ways. This same sensation occurs at the start of our fertile window around ovulation, but of course we feel wet anyway during this phase, so this is the one we tend to notice more. So in the days leading up to your next period, keep an eye out for that subtle wet sensation and remind yourself that that’s your mucus plug breaking down, and that your period is going to arrive soon.
I hope you found that helpful. I’ve talked about the mucus plug on earlier episodes and especially during the Menstrual Cycle Masterclass series, where I broke down each phase of the menstrual cycle in its own episode, but I’ve never really focused on how important the plug itself is and so thanks you one lovely listener who asked me about it and I promised I would dedicate an entire episode to just how damn significant this little plug of sticky mucus is. So it’s not just the fertile stuff that matters, it’s the thick sticky mucus that plays its part too.
If you learnt something new or found value in today’s episode, I’d love to hear from you! If you have any suggestions for upcoming episodes before I head off on maternity leave, send me an Instagram DM and let me know what you want me to talk about.
You can get today’s shownotes with everything I talked about in this episode, as well as links to freebies and other related episodes at fertilityco.com.au/43
Don’t forget you can learn more about using mucus to understand when you’re fertile by joining me in my free Fertility Masterclass. Link is in the shownotes or head straight to fertilityco.com.au/masterclass to save your spot and get instant access to the training.
I will see you in next week’s episode, where we are talking about anovulatory cycles, so those cycles when ovulation is delayed or just doesn’t happen.
Ok, bye for now and don’t forget that knowledge is power!
When you truly understand your body, you are empowered to make informed decisions and take control of your health!
Until next time.
Want to say goodbye to hormonal contraceptives and their weird and unpleasant side effects?
Want to improve your chances of conceiving quickly and naturally?
You need my Fertility Roadmap– My simple 3-step system to understanding your body’s natural fertile signs and pinpointing ovulation day so that you can use this knowledge to achieve (or avoid) pregnancy.
Does your pelvic floor need a little extra TLC? Take the Pelvic Floor Quiz and find out how to start strengthening your pelvic floor today!
Want to make sure you’re exercising safely during your pregnancy? Get your Free Guide: 10 Exercises to Avoid During Pregnancy.
If you enjoyed this episode and the Fertility Co. Podcast generally, I have a favour. Please take two minutes to subscribe, and to write a rating and a review. You can do that on Apple Podcasts right now by clicking here. If you are an Android user, you can follow the podcast on Spotify here. Those actions will help the podcast reach more people, and I would be truly grateful. Thank you so much.
3 simple steps to find out exactly when you're ovulating (without tracking apps)
WATCH MY FREE MASTERCLASS