If you have done a little research on getting pregnant you've probably come across references to cervical mucus. But you may be wondering why it matters and how to identify it.

Many people are shocked to discover that the vagina is inhospitable to sperm in its natural state. The body alters the pH of the vagina in the days leading up to ovulation in order to support sperm survival and transport. It does this by creating fertile cervical mucus at the opening to the uterus. Not only is identification of this fertile mucus critical for correct timing of intercourse or insemination, but an overabundance or lack of this mucus can signify hormonal issues that may impact your fertility.

How to Identify Fertile Cervical Mucus

Using toilet paper that is folded flat, wipe from the front of your vulva (near the clitoris) to the back of your perineum (the area between your vulva and your anus). Notice the sensation on the perineum as you do this wipe. Is it dry? Or does it feel slippery?

Next, look at the tissue to observe for the presence or absence of mucus. If there is something there, try picking it up between your fingers to observe for colour and stretchiness. Generally speaking the more clear and stretchy it is (like egg white) the more fertile it is.

How Much Mucus Is Normal?

It is normal to have anywhere from three to seven days of "peak" mucus - that is mucus that is either clear, stretchy (will stretch between your fingers at least an inch) or has a lubricative sensation. However, you may only notice mucus once a day, so it is important to check throughout the day (whenever you go to the washroom) so you don't miss it. After a bowel movement is a great time to observe mucus since the pressure often causes the mucus to be pushed out of the vagina at that time.

Many people also experience a creamy or pasty mucus as they transition in and out of their fertile days. This is normal. However if you have many days in a cycle with mucus that looks like hand lotion, toothpaste or rubber cement, it would be a good idea to get checked for hormonal imbalances.

Yellow mucus, either that stretches a bit or congeals into a small ball, is often a sign of inflammation that you may choose to address with a Holistic Reproductive Health Practitioner or other health care provider.

How to Keep Track of Your Cervical Mucus

In order to determine your most fertile days, it can be helpful to track your cervical mucus. You can use paper charts from the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility, or from Justisse. You can also chart online using apps that are designed specifically for charting primary fertility signs. Examples include Kindara, Justisse, Groove, Clue and Ovuview.

How to Time Intercourse or Insemination

Time intercourse for days with the highest quality mucus, alternating days to allow for sperm to regenerate. Don't be concerned if this does not correlate with a positive result on your ovulation predictor kit (OPK). It is normal for the ovulation hormone surge to occur a day or two after mucus has dried up. This is fine since sperm can live up to five days in the presence of healthy cervical mucus.

What To Do If You Don't Notice Cervical Mucus

If you don't see any mucus, first review your observation technique. Make sure you are checking every time you go to the bathroom, with particular attention to what occurs following bowel movements, as mucus is likely to move closer to the vaginal entrance. If you are still not seeing any mucus, or very little, you may want to seek support from a Certified Fertility Awareness Educator (FAE). They can help you improve your technique.

Continuous mucus of a yellow or creamy nature throughout the preovulatory and postovulatory phase of the cycle can indicate cervicitis and should be checked by your doctor.

Creamy mucus throughout the postovulatory phase of the cycle is usually a sign of an imbalance of estrogen and progesterone and can be addressed through a combination of diet, herbal supplements and progesterone medication, if needed.

Yellow mucus in any phase of the cycle is usually indicative of an inflammatory response. The source (food sensitivities, household mold, etc.) should be identified and eliminated.