What is Normal Vaginal Discharge: Appearance & Causes

Vaginal discharge is the term for fluid or mucus that comes from the vagina; it’s common among women and is made of the vaginal skin cells, bacteria, mucus and fluids produced from the vagina and cervix.1 Estrogen influences the amount of vaginal discharge; for example, women who are postmenopausal have less estrogen and consequently less vaginal discharge.1 The amount of discharge may vary due to ovulation, the use of birth control, the timing of a menstrual period, and during pregnancy.1 Vaginal discharge helps to protect the vaginal and urinary tract against infection and helps to provide lubrication.1

Normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy is thin, milky white in appearance with a mild smell.2 It’s called leukorrhea. Pregnant women may notice that they have more discharge than they did before they were expecting a baby. Toward the end of your pregnancy, you may notice that the amount of discharge increases. In the last days before you go into labour, the discharge might contain a sticky, pink mucus with a jelly-like consistency; this is called the bloody show.3

Managing Discharge during Pregnancy

Keep your vagina healthy by following these practices:1,2,4

  • When washing your genital area, use warm water that’s not too hot. Soaps should not be used internally to wash the vagina. The good bacteria in our vagina is known as lactobacilli which keeps the vagina healthy. Washing with soaps internally can hurt the good bacteria and increase your risk of infections such as bacterial vaginosis.

  • Avoid feminine hygiene products like douches, sprays, powders, and rinses.

  • Wear cotton underwear and avoid synthetic fabrics that aren’t as breathable. Avoid underwear that is overly tight.

  • Skip scented bath products like bubble baths and bath bombs.

  • Avoid scented toilet paper or scented pantiliners.

Keeping your vaginal area free of irritants and avoiding harsh soaps is the best way to manage your discharge during pregnancy. A healthy vagina has a balance among many different types of bacteria—some types are considered “good” and help to keep the “bad” bacteria in check and keep it from causing problems.4

When to Call a Doctor about Pregnancy Discharge

Pregnancy discharge may indicate that things are out of balance in your vagina. Healthy discharge should be slippery and whitish with little odour. Unhealthy discharge during pregnancy may be an odd colour—yellow, green, and gray—and may be accompanied by a strong, unpleasant odour.4

Reach out to your healthcare provider if any of the following signs are present in your vaginal discharge during pregnancy:1,2,4

  • Bad odour

  • Foamy or greenish yellow discharge

  • Itching sensation of the vulva, labia, or vaginal opening

  • Discharge that is tinged with blood

  • Abdominal or pelvic pain

  • Redness, burning, soreness, or swelling in the vaginal area

  • Pain when you pee or during sexual intercourse

You should notify your healthcare provider any time you notice an abnormality in your discharge and should never try to diagnose and treat yourself.2 There are a few different causes of abnormal discharge:4

  • Yeast Infections are more common during pregnancy than during any other time of a woman’s life due to the changing hormone levels during pregnancy.5 Yeast infections occur when there is an overabundant growth of yeast cells in the vagina.5 This imbalance can be caused by hormones, antibiotics, using douches, or intercourse.5 You may notice that your discharge has a distinctly yeasty smell and may have a consistency similar to cottage cheese, as well as a burning sensation around your vagina.5

  • Bacterial Vaginosis may not have any symptoms at all, but many women may experience itching and irritation, unusual discharge, and a strong, fishy odour.6 If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis may increase a pregnant women’s risk of giving birth early or to a child with low birth weight.6

While it can be tempting to self-diagnose and treat abnormal discharge with over-the-counter products, only a healthcare professional can properly diagnose your symptoms and provide a treatment.1,4

If your discharge during pregnancy is streaked with blood, or if you are spotting or bleeding, you should notify your doctor immediately.1

Understanding what’s happening with your discharge during pregnancy can give you a good idea of how healthy your vagina is. If anything happens that’s out of the ordinary, talk to a healthcare provider to find out how to treat it.