The snail trail, fanny snot, the slippery wipe - call it what you like, if you're finding it trickier than you hoped to get pregnant, getting to grips (literally) with your cervical fluid is going to be really important. Toni Weschler, writer of Taking Charge of Your Fertility and the ultimate fertility awareness guru, tells a funny story in her book about being invited onto an American radio show to discuss her work. When the producer heard she wanted to talk about 'cervical mucus' he turned up his nose - she had to change her phraeseology to 'cervical fluid' before she passed the yuck test and was allowed on! I've lost count of the number of women in my clinic who turn and apologise to their man when we start to discuss their menstrual cycles in detail, "Sorry darling, this is all a bit too much gruesome detail, isn't it?" One woman even asked her husband to leave the room !
So yes, it's a bit yucky. But come on girls, if you can deal with your own snot and your periods, and you're planning to deal with all manner of messiness a baby can produce, there's really no need to be squeamish about cervical fluid. And knowing what's what in that department can be the difference between getting pregnant and not.
Fertile cervical fluid gets produced by cells near your cervix in response to hormonal changes shortly before ovulation. Its job is to help keep sperm alive and to help to transport it safely to the egg. Sperm is quite delicate and would be dead within a very short space of time if there wasn't fertile cervical fluid to keep it going. The idea is that you have plenty of sex when you are producing fertile cervical fluid (an article on timing sex to follow soon) - the sperm can then make it into your fallopian tubes and hang out there, bathed in the juicy cervical fluid, so that they are ready and waiting to fertilise the egg when it pops into the tube.
The type of cervical discharge you produce changes throughout your cycle. There is no better description of what to look out for than in Weschler's book and I do one to one sessions at The Natural Fertility Centre or via Skype if you want to be taught individually. It's not complicated and is very important for pinpointing your most fertile days in each cycle without the need for peeing on expensive ovulation predictor kit sticks and works even if your cycle is irregular. The most fertile cervical fluid is the stuff that looks like raw egg white, sometimes clear, sometimes a bit more streaky - (there are some amazing photos at www.beautifulcervix.com - see in particular Day 19 as this woman has a longer than usual cycle). The key characteristic of fertile cervical fluid (or egg white cervical mucus, often abbreviated to EWCM) is it's stretch. It will stretch for several cms between finger and thumb without snapping. When you see that it's time to get busy.
Hopefully you will notice several days of EWCM in each cycle but sometimes it's in short supply and as we get into our late thirties and early forties the quantity can certainly decline. When that happens paying close attention to what little you have will be key and a top tip is to look out for it especially when you have just opened your bowels. The 'bearing down' action during a poo helps to push EWCM out and sometimes women are surprised when I explain to them that it's EWCM and not something that's appeared from their bottom!
If you do find that you are not producing much EWCM there's a load of anecodotal evidence out there about things that can help. The #1 most important thing is to make sure you're getting enough fluids (and no, Diet Coke doesn't count.) EWCM is 98% water and if you're dehydrated that won't help. Other than that women who have consulted me have tried green tea, unsweetened grapefruit juice and guafenesin (the active ingredient in some chesty cough syrups) with some success and in the clinic we also find that acupuncture and Chinese herbs seem to help. You can also try some of the fertility friendly lubricants such as Pre-Seed and Zestica but if you have no EWCM at all it can be tricky to know when to use them - give me a call and I'll help!