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You probably never saw yourself using the words cervical mucus, much less pulling down your pants and checking to see if you’ve got any. But here you are. You’re trying to conceive, and your best friend told you that you’ve absolutely got to start checking it out if you want to figure out the best time for baby-making sex.

It might sound like an old wives tale that refuses to die, but it turns out tracking cervical mucus really can help some women get a better handle on their cycle. Here’s why you might want to start paying attention.

What's cervical mucus, anyway?

If it sounds like the stuff that comes out of your nose when you’ve got a bad cold, you’re halfway right…only this isn’t snot, and needless to say it’s not coming out of your nose.

Your cervix is located at the lower part of your uterus, says David Diaz, MD, reproductive endocrinologist and fertility expert at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

Dr. Diaz describes the cervix as a sort of bridge between the vagina and the uterus, and as an entry portal for sperm when a heterosexual couple has sex during the female partner’s most fertile time of the month—when she’s ovulating.  

Now comes the mucus part.

The cervical canal, which Dr. Diaz describes as, “a tunnel passing through the cervix,” is lined with glands that excrete a clear, slippery mucus during ovulation. The mucus actually helps sperm make its journey toward the egg for fertilization. Aren’t our bodies amazing?

Because the mucus is only set up for aiding sperm during ovulation, its consistency changes throughout your cycle. So just like the arrival (and blessed departure) of your period can tell you that you’re absolutely not ovulating, the arrival of the right kind of mucus can tell you when you are. Which leads us to…

Checking your mucus

Some folks ovulate like clockwork, and they don’t need no stinking mucus to tell them they’re fertile. But if you’re not one of those lucky ladies, you may not need to run to the doctor to find out if you’re ovulating. You can try to do a check on your own to see if your glands are pumping out that slippery liquid.

Dr. Diaz suggests inserting two fingers into the vagina and feeling for something wet and slippery. Pull them out, and take a look at your fingertips:

  • Totally dry to just slightly damp: This is typical of the days right after your period ends, when fertility is at its lowest for most women.
  • Mucus that’s slightly thick and sticky and either yellowish or whitish: Although you’re still not ovulating, this indicates your body is either preparing for ovulation or has just finished.
  • Mucus that’s almost totally clear and stretchy: If the mucus has the consistency of egg whites and can stretch a few inches between your fingers, your ovulation window has arrived! It’s time for frequent sex, Dr. Diaz says.

Do you really have to?

So all this is well and good, but do you really need to stick your fingers into your vagina and feel around for mucus to help you get pregnant?

Well, that’s up to you, but consider this: When scientists at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and the University of Utah in Salt Lake City monitored more than 300 women on their fertility journey for a 2014 study, the women who opted to check their cervical mucus regularly were found to have a statistically significant increased chance of conceiving over women who didn’t bother to check. And theirs was far from the first study to find a solid link between tracking cervical mucus and conception! The science on cervical mucus is pretty well-regarded by the experts.

So, if you’re having trouble nailing that ovulation window but don’t yet want to take the plunge into ovulation test kits, this could be just the thing you need.