Vaginal discharge—what a fun, not at all uncomfortable phrase! It’s something most of us are familiar with and will continue to deal with for years to come. Vaginal discharge, in all its various colors and consistencies, can be a normal part of everyday life, or an indicator of infection or disease. That’s why it’s important to be familiar with your own discharge, especially during pregnancy.
What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is fluid that comes from the vagina. You might see this on the toilet paper when you wipe, or in your underwear. Your uterus, cervix and vagina produce vaginal discharge, which is mainly made up of cells and bacteria. It helps clean and lubricate your vagina, and helps fight off bad bacteria and infection. Women or people assigned female at birth (AFAB) have varying amounts of vaginal discharge. Some people produce more discharge than others, while others notice very little.
What is a normal discharge?
Discharge from your vagina is a natural and normal process, but changes to your discharge can be a sign of infection or disease. Normal vaginal discharge has several purposes: cleaning and moistening the vagina, and helping to prevent and fight infections. It's normal for the color, texture, and amount of vaginal discharge to change at different times of the month during a menstrual cycle.
Normal vaginal discharge should be clear or white. It shouldn’t smell bad, and its thickness may change throughout your menstrual cycle. Other characteristics of vaginal discharge include:
- Texture: It’s normal to have vaginal discharge that ranges from watery and sticky to gooey, thick and pasty. Your body’s hormones cause this change to happen, but factors like infection can also change the consistency of your vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge that is chunky, foamy or accompanied by itching and changes in color may mean you have an infection.
- Color: Vaginal discharge is healthy if it’s clear, milky white or off-white. Dark yellow, brown, green or gray discharge may indicate an infection or other issue.
- Smell: Vaginal discharge may have an odor, but it shouldn’t be strong and shouldn’t be unpleasant. If you notice a fishy or foul smell to your discharge and it’s accompanied by changes in texture or color, you may have a vaginal infection.
- Amount: Some people produce lots of vaginal discharge, while others produce less. Certain factors like pregnancy, using birth control pills or ovulation can affect how much vaginal discharge you have. Sudden changes in the amount of vaginal discharge you produce could mean something is wrong.
Is it normal to have vaginal discharge while pregnant?
Yes. In fact, you should see an increase in vaginal discharge as soon as you become pregnant. The influx of hormones released when you get pregnant tells your body to do a lot of things, including produce more discharge. So, in most cases, there’s no reason to be alarmed about a sudden increase showing up in your underwear.
Why does vaginal discharge occur in pregnancy?
During pregnancy the cervix (neck of the womb) and vaginal walls get softer and discharge increases to help prevent any infections traveling up from the vagina to the womb. Increased levels of the hormone progesterone can also make you produce more fluid.
Does vaginal discharge change when pregnant?
Typical vaginal discharge ebbs and flows with your menstrual cycle, but during pregnancy it remains relatively constant. It may be a bit thicker than your regular discharge, or just more prevalent.
How does vaginal discharge change during pregnancy?
Throughout your first and second trimesters, you may not see a lot of changes in your discharge pattern. However, in the third trimester, and as you get closer to labor, vaginal discharge may increase significantly. As your body prepares for childbirth, you may notice a thick, mucus-y discharge that may contain pink or red streaks. This could be the “bloody show,” or a release of your cervical mucus, and usually occurs just days (or hours!) before your baby arrives.
What causes vaginal discharge changes during pregnancy?
Hormones are the number one contributing factor to changes in vaginal discharge during pregnancy. Your body experiences a dramatic increase in progesterone and estrogen—which famously affects mood during pregnancy—and also sends signals to your vagina to increase discharge.
The main function of this increase in discharge is to protect the womb from infection.
What color is vaginal discharge when pregnant?
Normal, healthy discharge should be clear, milky white, or a very pale yellow. A few days before labor, there may be some pink or red streaks in your discharge, indicating that your cervix is preparing for delivery.
What is considered abnormal vaginal discharge in pregnancy?
Like we mentioned earlier, vaginal discharge can alert you to infections and disease. During pregnancy, yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are common and can show up with itching, swelling, and foul-smelling discharge. If you notice discharge that is an unusual color—brown, green, bright yellow, etc—or any other abnormal changes, talk to your doctor right away.
Blood in your discharge can also be a sign of infection, or a more serious problem like placenta previa.
What does pregnancy discharge look like?
Increased discharge can be a sign that you are pregnant — though many things can influence vaginal discharge so you can’t be sure this is the reason. The amount of discharge may increase throughout the pregnancy. Towards the end, there may be so much you confuse it with urine. In the last week or so of pregnancy, your discharge may contain streaks of thick mucus and some blood. This is called a 'show' and happens when the mucus that has been present in your cervix during pregnancy comes away. It's a sign that the body is starting to prepare for birth, and you may have a few small 'shows' in the days before you go into labor.
How early in pregnancy does discharge start?
An increase in vaginal discharge is often one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Typical vaginal discharge, known as leukorrhea, will begin to change as early as one to two weeks after conception, even before you've missed your period. As your pregnancy progresses, this discharge usually becomes more noticeable, and it's heaviest at the end of your pregnancy.
What color is vaginal discharge when pregnant?
Pregnancy causes changes in vaginal discharge, which can vary in color, texture, and volume. Healthy vaginal discharge is usually thin, clear or milky white, and should not smell unpleasant. The color of your vaginal discharge can mean there’s a problem, and it’s one of the most noticeable changes that can occur. Discharge can be:
- Yellow, grey or green: Yellow, grey or green discharge may suggest a bacterial or sexually transmitted infection (STI).
- Brown: Discharge is usually brown due to old blood leaving the body, which can be an early symptom of pregnancy. Brown discharge during pregnancy is not generally a cause for concern. However, pregnant women who experience dark brown discharge should contact their doctor to be safe.
- Red: Red vaginal discharge during pregnancy requires the immediate attention of a doctor, especially if the bleeding is heavy, contains clots, or occurs alongside cramping and abdominal pain. These symptoms may suggest miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Other causes of red discharge may be less serious, especially during the first trimester, when it may result from implantation or infection––which is very common. Bleeding later in pregnancy can indicate potentially serious issues or preterm labor, which will require immediate medical attention.
- Gray: Gray vaginal discharge may indicate a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV), particularly if it also has a fishy smell that becomes stronger following intercourse. BV is the result of a bacterial imbalance in the vagina.
- Clear or white: Normal vaginal discharge is clear, white or off-white. If your discharge is white, but seems thicker than usual or causes itching, it may be a yeast infection. Changes in its quantity or consistency may suggest an issue. A woman who is pregnant but not yet at full term should see a doctor if she experiences an increase in clear discharge that leaks continuously or becomes thick and jelly-like, as it may suggest preterm labor.
- Pink: Pink discharge during pregnancy may or may not be normal. Discharge with a pink hue often occurs during early pregnancy or in the final weeks as the body prepares for labor. It can also occur before a miscarriage or during an ectopic pregnancy. Other causes of light spotting during pregnancy include sexual intercourse and vaginal infections.
Tips for managing vaginal discharge during pregnancy
Vaginal discharge during pregnancy can be pretty annoying—especially when it feels like your underwear is always wet. As long as your discharge is normal and healthy, there are some things you can do to manage it.
A lot of women deal with discharge by buying panty liners in bulk. This option can help with the feeling of wetness, but can also be a bit of a hassle to keep up with. Reusable panty liners are a more sustainable option, but can still be uncomfortable or challenging to get used to.
Our number one tip for dealing with pregnancy discharge is to wear absorbent underwear instead! Proof undies not only absorb discharge, but they also keep you feeling fresh and dry with moisture-wicking technology. Plus, our underwear is made from super soft material that feels like butter on your skin—perfect for pregnancy!
We recommend the Leak Resistant Everyday Undie as a great option for daily use during pregnancy. They double as protection against bladder leaks, and the multi-way stretch fabric makes these undies comfortable to wear below your belly as your baby grows.
Buy a few pairs to get you through your pregnancy, and simply throw them in the wash on a gentle cycle and hang or lay flat to dry.
An increase in moisture down there can increase your chances of getting a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. Be sure to rinse your vagina regularly with warm water, and dry off before getting dressed. Always avoid scented soaps and douching, as they can create serious irritation and disrupt your pH levels.
You might also consider adding probiotics to your diet to fight off yeast infections, but be sure to talk to your doctor before taking any new supplements.
Another way to decrease your risk of infection when dealing with pregnancy discharge is to wear loose-fitting bottoms and breathable fabrics. Certain materials, like polyester, and tight-fitting pants can trap moisture and invite bad bacteria to the party.
When should you call your doctor about vaginal discharge?
You should tell your midwife or doctor if your vaginal discharge increases a lot in later pregnancy. If you have any vaginal bleeding in pregnancy, you should contact your midwife or doctor urgently, as it can sometimes be a sign of a more serious problem such as a miscarriage or a problem with the placenta. Contact your healthcare provider if your vaginal discharge changes color or texture or is accompanied by other symptoms like foul odor, itching or burning. It’s best to get an exam to check for infection.
Vaginal discharge is a fact of life, and something that is totally normal during pregnancy. It protects your vaginal canal from carrying infection up to the womb, and prepares your body for delivery. And although an increase in discharge can be an annoyance during pregnancy, Proof absorbent underwear can help. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns, or if you notice abnormal changes like increased thickness, discoloration, and strong odors in your discharge.