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Understanding your fertility cycle is the key to controlling your reproduction in a natural way.  Your fertility cycle occurs in such a way that certain signals point to the days that you are most fertile, and every woman will have the same basic set of signals in a normal fertility cycle.  Let's take a look at a normal cycle.


Menstruation (Days 1 to 5)  The first day of your period begins a brand new cycle, which is why that day is referred to as "day 1."  Your period will last approximately 5 days, although it can be shorter or longer and still be normal.  The length of your flow should be about the same from cycle to cycle.  You can read more about menstruation here


Pre-ovulation (Days 6 to 12) Once your period ends, you enter into the pre-ovulatory phase.  This is sometimes known as the "follicular phase," since this is when your follicles are growing.  It could also be called the fertile phase, since it is the phase that leads up to your most fertile days.  The easiest sign to monitor during this time is your cervical fluid.  Your cervix reacts to estrogen by secreting this fluid, and it creates a pathway for sperm to move into the uterus as well as a nourishing environment for them to await the arrival of an egg for fertilization.  You can check your cervical fluid by wiping your clean finger or a piece of toilet paper over the entrance to your vagina and observing the quality of the fluid.  Check for color, quantity, and whether or not it stretches easily.


Early in this phase, you may have little to no cervical fluid.  It might appear dry, sticky, or damp on your fingers.  It will be clear, and it will not stretch.  This cervical fluid is not fertile, meaning that having sex with this type of fluid present will most likely not lead to pregnancy.


After a few days of this unfertile cervical fluid, you'll start to notice that your fluid begins to increase and change in consistency and color.   It might appear creamy, milky, or like lotion on your finger. It will not stretch more than a few millimeters, and instead, it will form little peaks when you attempt to stretch it.  This cervical fluid signals the beginning of fertility, and you need to begin protecting yourself with barrier methods of birth control or abstaining from sex in order to avoid pregnancy.  Creamy cervical fluid will allow sperm to live for an extended period of time.  Therefore, when ovulation occurs in a few days, there may still be sperm alive and enjoying this more-fertile cervical fluid. 


Ovulation  (Days 13-15) After you've noticed the creamy cervical fluid for a few days, be on the lookout for a large increase in cervical fluid.  This cervical fluid will usually look like raw egg whites, and it will stretch just like raw egg whites do, sometimes up to several inches.  It will be clear, slippery, and it may have white streaks in it. This cervical fluid is extremely fertile.  You need to use 1 or 2 barrier methods of birth control or (preferably) abstain from sex in order to avoid pregnancy during this time.  This part of your cycle only lasts for 1 to 2 days, and it is the day before the egg-white fluid appears as well as the days that you have the egg-white fluid that are most likely to result in pregnancy, which is why using a barrier method during all fertile days is preferred along with abstaining on the days that you have the egg-white fluid. 


Post-ovulation  (Days 16-28) A day or two after ovulation, you'll notice that the abundant cervical fluid will almost completely dry up.  Your cervical fluid will appear dry, sticky, or damp once again. The post-ovulatory phase lasts for approximately 12 days, and as the phase draws to an end, you may notice some milky cervical fluid once again.  This fluid is not fertile at this point in your cycle, since you only ovulate once per cycle. You may want to use a barrier method at the very beginning of this phase for approximately 3 days, but chances of pregnancy once your fluid has dried up is very low. Your cycle will start over with the start of your period.


Additional Notes:  Please remember that you need to keep careful track of your fertility cycle in order to count on this method to control your fertility.  Having unprotected sex any time around ovulation can result in pregnancy, and it can be hard to tell when ovulation is going to occur if you don't know your cycle well. Therefore, it's a good idea to track a few cycles while always using barrier methods until you get the hang of what your particular fertile cervical fluid looks like and how long your cycle typically lasts. 

The Fertility Cycle