Irregular cycles? You’re not alone — continuous sticky yellow cervical mucus, heavy periods, and irregular length cycles all make NFP charting very tricky AND there are root causes in your health that should be addressed. From estrogen dominance to heavy metals, let’s dig into how to regulate your cycle naturally and figure out how to chart through continuous infertile cervical mucus. Did I scare the men away yet? 😉
I’ve had cycles ranging from 27 to 54 days long and probably about the same range for total number of days I could mark “dry” on my Natural Family Planning chart in my entire life.
To be clear, a woman practicing Natural Family Planning and observing cervical mucus signs for fertility should have clear, stretchy (over one inch), slippery discharge for about a week and be “dry” about half the days of any given cycle, with very few instances of infertile cervical mucus. #notnormal #punintended
Any mucus stretch one an inch or more is a “10” on the Billings charting system, and believe me, I’m a “perfect 10” nearly the whole cycle. It’s a disaster for a young woman trying to learn how to chart because it looks like she’s always fertile, even though most of the month she’s definitely seeing infertile cervical mucus.
I also have incredibly heavy and long periods, low basal body temps, and have even been lucky enough to have breakthrough bleeding mid-cycle a handful of times, which really throws off charting and identifying fertile and infertile days.
I’m Not the Only One with Irregular Menstrual Cycles
That’s pretty much the definition of irregular cycles, and I know I’m not alone:
43% of women have irregular cycles that vary 7 or more days in length; only about 25% of women have calendar-standard fertile phases (from The Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic and Neonatal Nursing, 2006).
And that’s just length!
NFPers tend to talk about fascinating things like mucus in normal conversation, and plenty of women have shared with me that they have the same symptoms. Plus, the Billings method includes those yellow stickers for a reason.
Basically it is surprising that I was able to get pregnant so easily, and that I didn’t have PCOS — that’s straight from the mouths of multiple NFP-trained OB-GYNs!
Natural Family Planning Works – But Continuous Yellow Mucus is a Challenge!
Continuous cervical mucus, often called all the time yellow mucus, makes Natural Family Planning challenging…but not impossible.
For all my fellow NFP ladies out there who struggle with long questionable periods of sticky cervical mucus after their period or sticky yellow discharge post-ovulation, today’s post will help begin to dig into both root causes and some Band-Aids to make day-to-day charting easier — without once considering the birth control pill as a solution!
Is Natural Family Planning Really Effective?
Before we dig too deeply into the issue of irregular cycles, let’s start by discussing a bit why NFP is a great natural option to avoid the awful side effects of the birth control pill.
Natural Family Planning (NOT the “rhythm” or “calendar” method) is 85.8-98.4% effective as a form of contraception based on quality studies of actual NFP methods. This comparative study in the journal Contraception in 2002 showed that identifying peak day by observing cervical mucus is an accurate way to determine ovulation, and we know that couples who use NFP are farrrrrr less likely to divorce than the average American couple, for whom over half of all marriages end prematurely.
NFP is fully reversible and has no physical side effects, zero impact on the environment in the form of waste or synthetic hormones polluting our water, and costs virtually nothing after taking some classes.
A handful of different methods are effective for family planning, also called fertility awareness.
When using the Sympto-thermal Method of Natural Family Planning, cervical mucus signs are cross-referenced with basal body temperature to identify peak day, which is on or near the day of ovulation. Couples can choose to engage in the marital embrace on those fertile days to achieve pregnancy or take a break during the fertile period if they have discerned not to expand their family at that time.
Post ovulation, technically the rules say a woman needs three or four dry days with no mucus. So that sticky discharge that still stretches to an inch that can be ever-present for some women really muddies the waters.
After our fourth child, my husband and I were also trained in the Creighton Method of Natural Family Planning, which is a mucus only method related to the Billings Ovulation Method but with more medical research (better for those irregular cycles).
This method has an allowance for continuous yellow mucus, using special stamps and a number of months of observing the woman’s cycle to basically identify what is normal for her and adjusting accordingly. However, even with the yellow stamps, irregular cycles still make charting challenging and of course, are also a sign that something is out of balance in the woman’s health.
This 2018 article in the Linacre Quarterly admits it is difficult to identify ovulation based solely on external factors; in a fascinating prediction, the authors suggest that perhaps tracking hormones directly with new medical advancements will be NFP of the future.
Root Cause: Why Would Cervical Mucus be Sticky and Yellow?
The more I learn about functional medicine, the more I appreciate its focus on looking at the whole person and digging into root causes of symptoms, rather than just trying to change the symptom.
When it comes to continuous yellow mucus, it’s no wonder charting is so confusing! Even in this age of over-information on the Internet, no one seems to be talking about sticky, yellow cervical mucus as something a woman can experience nearly every infertile day of her cycle.
Most say an increase in yellow vaginal discharge a sign of infection (yeast, bacterial, or STD, but usually it has a terrible odor), a sign of pregnancy (nope, not every day for 20 years!), or something that’s “normal” just before menstruation (only). (sources: 1, 2, 3, 4)
This 1990 chapter from Clinical Methods: The History, Physical, and Laboratory Examinations is the closest I can find to a medical reference, and it also gives women with continuous yellow mucus very little hope. Basically if the discharge is new/temporary, you’re looking at a yeast/candida infection, UTI, gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomonas. Yellow discharge before is likely yeast, sticky cervical mucus after menstruation more likely to be trichomonas, a parasitic STD.
And the one proposed cause for yellow mucus that seems to be chronic? It must be bacterial vaginosis.
But I worked with an NFP-trained OB-GYN who tested for the presence of infection, and there was none. With all my symptoms of irregular cycles together, including the continuous yellow mucus, we did some blood tests and determined I had estrogen dominance.
Estrogen Dominance has its Own Root Cause
In a normal woman’s menstrual cycle, there is a fluctuation of hormones, most notably estrogen and progesterone.
After menses, estrogen continues to build up to support a potential pregnancy until the woman ovulates. Then levels of estrogen should drop as progesterone increases, lasting until the menstrual blood sheds again and the cycle starts over with day one. There are a few more hormones and some nuances in there, but basically estrogen should be higher in the first half of the cycle and progesterone higher in the second half. They balance each other out.
Estrogen dominance can be caused by an excess of estrogen, too much estrogen in the wrong part of the cycle, or a deficiency in progesterone after ovulation.
For me, blood tests taken on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, and 9th day after ovulation showed that I had low progesterone.
There can be other deeper root causes of estrogen dominance as well, including heavy metals (which I now know is an issue for me but didn’t know then).
Dr. Amy Myers, an expert in autoimmune and thyroid disease, shares that estrogen dominance is at an all-time high. She pins the cause on exposure to xenoestrogens in our environment, gut dysbiosis, or heavy metals. Interference from excess body fat, hormone replacement therapy or birth control, and chronic stress round out the possible causes.
And on the other side, health risks of estrogen dominance include candida overgrowth, autoimmune disease, thyroid dysfunction, and hormonal cancers. Dr. Jockers also points out that some less chronic health issues caused by estrogen dominance include PMS, irregular cycles, heavy periods, endometriosis, and even infertility. He explains that proper liver function can be part of a root cause of estrogen dominance because the liver may not be processing excess estrogens as efficiently as possible.
Two medical journals, The International Journal of Molecular Sciences, 2019, and Science Translational Medicine, 2015, also correlate estrogen dominance to endometriosis, and Mindbodygreen connects it to hair loss (but I wonder if that might be heavy metals at the root cause since I’m currently experiencing dramatically thinning hair).
The negative effects of estrogen dominance are many and range from the mundane (PMS) to the serious (cancer), and the root causes are also varied. Most of those root causes also make other systems in the body go haywire, so solving the hormone imbalance can quite simply improve your whole life, not just your NFP charts.
Once you’ve cleaned up your diet, reduced toxins in your environment, balanced your gut, mastered your stress and detoxified — or as you’re in the process — there are some other strategies to use specifically for managing estrogen dominance and regulating those irregular cycles.
Note: This is exactly what we at Kitchen Stewardship do all the time as we try to improve our nutrition and environment while balancing our budget and time! If you’d like a little help with the basics of foundational health, I’ll send my top “Monday Missions” your way, one at a time (baby steps!) — learn more here.
Solving Estrogen Dominance, Continuous Mucus, Charting Challenges and Naturally Regulate Cycles
What a mess!
For the past five years or so, my husband and I have been very motivated to finally figure out once and for all the cause of my continuous yellow cervical mucus and how to naturally regulate my cycles so that Natural Family Planning charting was a much clearer process.
Three nutritional recommendations to regulate cycles in the face of estrogen dominance
My OB-GYN had a couple initial recommendations to avoid xenoestrogens in the environment and improve progesterone levels:
- Avoid soy – Soy is very high in phytoestrogens, and although this is a hotly debated topic whether they actually present like estrogen in the human body, I make my choice based on traditional foods. Only in Asia did traditional people eat soy, and then it was nearly always fermented and as a condiment, not as a main course. I choose to stay away from soy (i.e. processed soybean oil mostly) as much as possible. Soybean oil is also highly inflammatory, so xenoestrogens and hormone imbalance aside, it’s a win for me to avoid.
- Vitamin C 1000mg/day – This was on a list from my gynecologist to improve progesterone levels, and I have to admit that I didn’t do it. The list was so long! Later though when I was working with a functional coach, I started regular Vitamin C to improve my iron levels. After 18 months, they still need work, so this is definitely a nutrient I personally need, and what a great deal that it’s a two-fer!
- Broccoli extract – There’s a ton of research about sulforaphane, a compound in broccoli and other cruciferous foods, that it restores estrogen receptor expression (sources: 1, 2) and indole-3-carbinol which is a negative regulator of estrogen, also in broccoli (sources: 1, 2). It’s a little embarrassing to admit that I just tried to eat more cruciferous veggies for a few weeks and then forgot about it, but again while working with another practitioner, here comes the broccoli extract. I took a few rounds of Thorne Crucera-SGS after seeing it recommended by my friend Genevieve at Mama Natural, but my coach recommended this one as the best to open up my detox pathways. I gotta tell you — it’s gross. I should have made more smoothies, but mixing it into water was pure purgatory! I couldn’t do it (and it bloated me as well, too much FOS starch I guess).
- Here are some more food and supplement solutions for estrogen dominance from Dr. Jill Carnahan.
Natural medical interventions to solve continuous sticky yellow mucus
After we determined that I didn’t have any yeast or bacterial infections, my doctor suggested that we could cauterize inside the vagina, to prevent the cervix from being so overreactive and releasing all that sticky yellow mucus.
This was assuming that I had a physiological defect, and it must have been before we understood my estrogen dominance and general hormonal imbalances. We did attempt two cauterizations with silver nitrate (basically the stuff men use to stop nicks from shaving). These were not painful procedures at all and had no recovery time, no different than getting a pap smear, and it just affected mucus discharge for about a week afterward. (Yep, more weird charts!)
With all of these efforts together, I did go from incredibly heavy, eight day periods with three or four heavy flow days, to a bit shorter and lighter periods with only two to three days of manageable heavy flow.
Improvement, yes, but still more work to be done.
Taking progesterone to treat estrogen dominance and regulate cycles
I’m generally against prescription medications, but the next step was to trust the doctor when she said I could take an oral form of progesterone on certain days of the cycle post ovulation to try to kick my body into gear creating its own.
This was miraculous.
My menstrual cycle suddenly became more manageable, and I didn’t feel like I had to hide for two or three days in bed.
Emotional symptoms of PMS got a little better, according to my husband, who will actually mark “cranky” on my chart to keep track of “those days.” Oh dear…
And then, by God’s grace, I came across a conversation in a Natural Family Planning forum about taking progesterone.
Consensus was that if taking oral progesterone, any pregnancy may result in a miscarriage. I was horrified when a quick Google search seemed to say the same thing, especially if the progesterone was synthetic.
As I started more research, I wrote a note on the package that’s still in my file folder: “Is this synthetic? If so, what if I get pregnant? I can’t stay on it…”
I see now that the package insert says: “Do not take if you are pregnant.”
I immediately took myself off this prescription, which you should not do, by the way. Always work with your practitioner to determine if you need to wean off a medication. Of course, I was rewarded for my ignorance with two cycles of breakthrough bleeding and extra confusing charting! #facepalm
Ironically, I started to look into the issue only because my second refill of the prescription was bright red, and I was so frustrated that pharmaceutical companies felt the need to put artificial colors in my medicine!
Now I’m glad they did since it was an important step in digging deeper into the root cause. For some, 4-5 progesterone capsules per cycle may be a great solution to estrogen dominance and irregular cycles, and it may have been a boost to my own recovery, but I won’t do it again.
Finally: Surprising Progress in Naturally Regulating my Awful Cycles!
Because of some additional issues and a terrible skin infection, which you’ll hear about soon, I started down a path of discovering root causes: serious mitochondrial dysfunction, thyroid imbalance, near adrenal fatigue, and finally, heavy metal toxicity.
I’ve been on the journey to rehabilitate all of those root causes for about 2 years now, and in the process, my cycles have evened out!
You can read all about my accidental discovery in this post about solutions for heavy periods, because it’s all connected.
The bottom line is that I will not stop taking berberine, because anytime I do taper back and miss too many days of my supplements, my cycle becomes more irregular and I’ve even had some breakthrough bleeding a few months ago again.
I still have continuous yellow mucus, but it’s so markedly different from the fertile, clear, lucrative cervical mucus that surrounds ovulation that I can chart easily and identify my fertile and infertile phases.
It also helps to finally have some regularity in the length of my cycles, because although the calendar or rhythm method is not accurate, it’s awfully nice to have some expectation of when ovulation will occur. Then my mucus observations, and even my obvious physical sensation of ovulation (I feel cramping for about half a day on just one side of my abdomen when those ovaries are releasing an egg), are almost just confirmation of what the calendar is expecting.
Two More Possibilities to Naturally Regulate Long Menstrual Cycles
I’ve come across a few more options for evening out irregular cycles that I’m willing to try that aren’t pharmaceutical in nature: maca and seed cycling.
Maca May Reverse Estrogen Dominance and Regulate Cycles Naturally
In my research for this post, see sources above, I came across maca as a recommendation for estrogen dominance and regulating cycles.
Maca is easy enough to integrate into one’s routine, as it’s just the powder that can go into smoothies or become a hot drink. Ironically, I had ordered some maca as part of an Ultimate Bundle bonus, and I took it with us on our six-week trip last summer.
Because we had so little along with us, I was fairly regular at using it at least four to five times a week. I had no idea it had any impact on hormone balance, but now that I have done this research I have an anecdote that may apply.
In August, when we were back from our trip and all of our travel routines, like regular consumption of maca, were falling apart, I had a very irregular cycle with breakthrough bleeding and everything.
Yikes! I thought maybe it was because I had fallen off the wagon on my daily berberine supplement, but perhaps it was the withdrawal of regular maca instead!
The human body is so complex, which is why we need to continue to educate ourselves, read multiple sources, dig deeply into our own root causes, and try not to use Band-Aids as much as possible.
Even as I write that, I know that for my irregular cycles, berberine itself may very well be a Band-Aid, but at least I know that I’m not preventing any natural bodily functions from occurring (like birth control does), and hopefully, this is all part of detoxing those heavy metals and getting all the way back to natural regularity.
The other technique that I’m interested to dig into deeper is called seed cycling.
Seed Cycling for Hormone Balance
I’m fascinated by how simple seed cycling is: Eat flax and pumpkin seeds in the first half of your cycle, and incorporate sunflower and sesame seeds in the second half.
I’ve seen some IRL friends on Facebook sing praises of seed cycling, including for all-the-time yellow mucus and NFP charting, as well as those long, heavy cycles. Impressive!
Since I haven’t tried it yet (although why, I don’t know!), I can’t speak to seed cycling much more, but you can learn from some experts here:
- Natural Fit Foodie describes why seed cycling works for both estrogen dominance and low progesterone (yay!) as well as who shouldn’t use the technique (if you’re pregnant).
- Jolene Brighten, N.D., author of Beyond the Pill, shares a nice overview of seed cycling on Mind Body Green and explains how seed cycling works for menopausal women too on her own site.
- Grab a free protocol for seed cycling from Nicole Jardim, The Period Girl.
Why Not Just Regulate Cycles with Birth Control?
Birth control is prescribed for everything lately it seems, even to adolescent girls whose bodies are just figuring out what to do with menstrual cycles.
I predict that over the next few decades, the evidence against birth control will stack up more and more (infertility, cancer, hormone disruption) and eventually we’ll look back in wonder that its use was so rampant.
True prediction? That all that evidence will stack up but instead of ceasing usage, Big Pharma will create more Band-Aids to put on the problems this Band-Aid caused.
I won’t touch the stuff.
Risks of Birth Control:
- May harm gut balance
- May feed candida overgrowth
- Causes nutrient depletion and other side effects
- Puts estrogen in the water we drink, impacting hormones in our children
- Interrupts God’s design and plan for marriage and family
- Increases cancer risk
The risk of breast cancer is so severe that the Women’s Health Initiative ceased a research study five years early because the women taking a combined estrogen/progestin pill had a 24% higher chance of developing breast cancer than the placebo group. The combined pill is on the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s “Carcinogenic to humans” list.
Similar to birth control for heavy periods, it’s just masking the symptoms anyway, and we’d all do better for ourselves if we could treat our root causes. For those who wish to have children at some point, I don’t recommend shutting down those systems and then expecting them to work when you want them to.
If I hadn’t charted and kept track of my own symptoms, I don’t think I would have even remembered HOW BAD my cycles were. Four very heavy days?? Oy. I was actually surprised when I looked through my own medical file and found the charts my husband printed out after crunching some numbers.
No wonder I have this “feeling” that things are better. I like having empirical evidence that my irregular cycles and heavy periods are SO much better, even if I haven’t solved everything yet!
If I had just been taking birth control, I would have been masking so many root causes that are affecting other areas of my health, so I’m grateful NFP and charting motivated me to dig into my health issues (even if it meant uncovering all sorts of diagnoses I wish I didn’t have; they’re there, and now I can attack them).
The supplement berberine ended up bringing my heavy flow days down to just one, practically a miracle when I think back to four heavy days in a row, and I believe it also helped my luteal phase (the days after ovulation and before menstruation) regulate and make my mucus signs easier to read.
I’ve worked hard on naturally regulating my cycles for four years, and I’m soooo grateful that I only have one day of heavy flow nowadays and that my NFP charts are much easier to read!
I’m still a work in progress, but I truly believe that as I get my overall health under control, the cycles will further regulate, and ideally, I can stop taking berberine once a day. I haven’t had any 50+ day charts in a long time (that was right after my wedding #stress), and I know I’ll look at my health soon and say I really am a daily “perfect 10.”
- Test, don’t guess! I got my hormone panels done via ZRT labs, and Direct Labs is another company I’ve used in the past. Sometimes you can even do a blood spot test at home, which is so much nicer for busy moms than making a blood draw appointment!
- Sarah Gottfried’s The Hormone Cure was highly recommended by my OB-GYN.
- Symptoms of low progesterone and how to boost it naturally including Lunaception, fascinating.