Vaginal Discharge in Pregnancy

“Pregnancy can predispose you a little bit more to yeast infections because of the hormones (of pregnancy). But, it is also normal to have increased vaginal discharge during pregnancy that is not necessarily an infection. A lot of times, people see that increased white discharge, and because it’s more than what they’re used to, they think that they have an infection. Unless you have itching, irritation, redness, and pain, it is probably just a normal increase in vaginal discharge. If you do have any of those symptoms, then I would suggest that you see your provider so they can take a look and look at the discharge under the microscope and make sure they are treating it properly.”

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Vaginal Discharge; Is this Normal?

One of the most common questions I receive from women during exams is, “Is this discharge normal?”  We’ll break down the different types of vaginal discharge women experience and discuss when it may be necessary to schedule a visit with your provider.

What is Vaginal Discharge

Vaginal discharge is the fluid that is released by the vagina and the cervix. It is a normal part of your body’s defenses and can be a useful indicator of overall vaginal health. Vaginal discharge is normal and helps to clear out the bad bacteria and dead cells from the body and keep the vagina clean and prevent infection.  Normal vaginal discharge can vary in color and amount, ranging from clear to creamy white.  The amount of discharge changes throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle and can have a slight odor as well.  However, an odor that is foul or has a slightly fishy odor may be a sign of infection.

Changes Throughout the Month

It is normal the first few days after your period to have little to no discharge.  Then, the discharge changes to a white discharge and becomes thicker.  In the days leading up to ovulation, discharge changes to a clear sticky appearance similar to the consistency of egg whites.  Then, just before your next period, your discharge can change again to a thick white consistency.  All of these changes are normal and nothing to be concerned with and can actually help to pinpoint when you may be the most fertile.

The hormones of pregnancy greatly affect vaginal discharge.  During pregnancy, normal vaginal discharge increases in amount and can appear more watery and has a mild odor. Similarly, the hormonal changes that occur during perimenopause and menopause result in less vaginal discharge due to lower estrogen levels.

Color Changes to Look For

Thick White Discharge

Thick, white discharge can be totally normal.  However, if you are experiencing a foul odor such as a fishy odor or any irritation or itching, that may be a sign of an infection that may require treatment.  Yeast infections are the most common cause of abnormal thick, white discharge.  A yeast infection is cause by an overgrowth of fungus in the vagina.  Typical symptoms associated with the discharge are a cottage-cheese like appearance, itching, burning, and redness.  Yeast infections are no contagious and there are many over the counter and natural antifungal remedies that can be effective for most women.  If symptoms are not improving or you have any other concerns, check with your provider.

Brown Discharge

Brownish discharge is most commonly caused by old blood.  Some women may see this if they have irregular periods, but if you are consistently experiencing brownish discharge, it could also be a sign of uterine or cervical cancer and should be discussed with your provider. Additionally, if you are postmenopausal, any vaginal bleeding can be concerning and an appointment with your provider is needed.

Yellow Discharge

Discharge that is yellow is concerning and can be a sign of a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection.  If it is associated with an odor or any irritation, seek evaluation by your provider.

Green Discharge

Green discharge is never normal and is most commonly associated with a sexually transmitted disease called trichomoniasis. This can be easily treated with antibiotics, but it is recommended to abstain from intercourse and seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Briana Bloembergen, MSN, CNM