Vaginal discharge during pregnancy: What does it mean, and when should you seek medical help?

    Updated 18 January 2023 |
    Published 16 November 2018
    Fact Checked
    Medically reviewed by Dr. Sameena Rahman, Obstetrician and gynecologist, clinical assistant professor, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Illinois, US
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    Are you experiencing an increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy? How about yellow, green, pink, or even brown discharge? A doctor explains everything you need to know.

    If you’re reading this, then you’re probably no stranger to vaginal discharge. It’s usually thin, clear, or whitish, and it doesn’t smell like much.

    The vagina naturally starts producing discharge around puberty. Then, as your levels of hormones increase and decrease throughout your life, the quantity and frequency of your discharge will also ebb and flow.

    Discharge during pregnancy is slightly different, though. Here’s a fun fact: You’ll probably experience an increase in the white, creamy substance, according to Dr. Charlsie Celestine, obstetrician and gynecologist, New Jersey, US. It’s just one of the many clever ways that your body changes as it prepares for having a baby, and it’s absolutely normal.

    In this article, Dr. Celestine explains why discharge is important during pregnancy, what different-colored vaginal discharge might mean, and when (or if) you should seek medical help.

    What’s considered normal discharge during pregnancy?

    Before we get started, rest assured that an increase in whitish, creamy vaginal discharge during pregnancy is completely normal.

    “Almost every pregnant woman starts to have vaginal discharge, even if they’ve never had it before,” explains Dr. Celestine. She adds that it’s actually one of the elements of pregnancy that her patients notice the most and always want to learn more about — so you’re not the only one who’s experiencing this pregnancy symptom. 

    But why does this happen? Well, the reason your vagina starts to produce more discharge during early pregnancy is that pregnancy triggers an increase in hormones like estrogen and progesterone — the chemicals your body needs to start growing a baby. Estrogen, among other things, signals to your vagina that it needs to produce extra mucus because cervical mucus (aka vaginal discharge) is good for protecting your baby during pregnancy. It prevents things such as bacteria from going up into the vagina and cervix by creating a mucus plug that seals off the uterus, where your baby is developing. The human body is smart, right?

    Is it normal to have an excessive amount of vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

    Everybody has different amounts of discharge during pregnancy, and Dr. Celestine advises that there’s no such thing as “excessive” vaginal discharge. “Everybody’s a little bit different,” she says.

    You might also notice that your vaginal discharge increases as your pregnancy goes on. This is also very common, as the estrogen hormones continue to increase.

    Can an increase in vaginal discharge be considered a sign of pregnancy?

    Yes indeed, an increased amount of vaginal discharge can be an early sign of pregnancy. However, it’s important to note that experiencing an increase in discharge on its own doesn’t necessarily mean you’re pregnant. 

    Vaginal discharge actually has many uses in your body. Even if you’re not carrying a child, that discharge still helps to clean your vagina, sweeping bacteria and dead cells out of your body (it’s clever like that). 

    So don’t stress too much about it, and if you think you are pregnant, be sure to take a pregnancy test instead of relying on your discharge. You can use Flo’s handy pregnancy test calculator to work out when the best time to do this is.

    That’s pregnancy!

    Discover medically reviewed content on topics like pregnancy symptoms, discharge, pregnancy hormones and amniotic fluid.

    Different colors and discharge types during pregnancy explained

    You get it: Everyone experiences different types and quantities of discharge throughout their lives, and cervical mucus during pregnancy can vary from person to person. Still, there are a lot of changes to take in during pregnancy, so there are a couple of things you might want to know about the characteristics of your discharge during this time.

    Thin, milky white discharge during pregnancy

    As we’ve seen, pregnancy discharge is usually thin and mucus-like, and creamy or milky white. This type of vaginal discharge is normal and nothing to be concerned about.

    Green, yellow, or smelly discharge during pregnancy

    But what if you experience discharge during pregnancy that isn’t thin and creamy or milky white? “If you have any other discharge — so if it’s green, if it’s yellow, if it has a foul odor, if you have itching of the vagina with it — then those aspects make it abnormal, and that’s when it should be checked out by your doctor,” advises Dr. Celestine. 

    The same goes for pain or burning when you pee or during sex. Any of those discharge colors or symptoms could be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) or a vaginal infection, such as bacterial vaginosis. A number of STIs don’t have any symptoms, so pregnancy can be a good time for routine testing. But try not to worry; most STIs and vaginal infections are easily treated, and your doctor will be able to offer you a diagnosis and advice.

    Brown discharge during pregnancy

    You may also experience some brown discharge during pregnancy, which is most likely to be due to bleeding. This might sound alarming, but try not to worry. Vaginal bleeding is common in early pregnancy, with up to 25 out of every 100 pregnant women experiencing bleeding in their first trimester, and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything bad is happening.

    Brown discharge on its own is generally not a cause for concern, but if you experience it alongside pain and heavy bleeding that lasts for a few days, it could be a good idea to check in with your doctor. They’ll be able to check you over and reassure you that everything is OK, or run some more tests if necessary.

    Thick, cottage cheese-like discharge 

    If your discharge is getting very dense and thick, and kind of looks like cottage cheese, you might be experiencing a yeast infection (also known as thrush). Yeast infections are usually accompanied by itching or stinging while peeing. Pregnant women are unfortunately more susceptible to them because of the hormonal changes going on in your body, especially during the third trimester

    If you think you have a yeast infection, then don’t worry — there’s no evidence to suggest it can harm your baby. Just be sure to speak to your doctor before using any creams or medications, as some might not be safe during pregnancy.

    Jelly-like discharge

    Toward the end of your pregnancy, you might notice that your discharge becomes thick and jelly-like and is streaked with red, pink, or brown blood. This is usually called a “show,” and it’s basically the shedding of the protective mucus plug that formed in your cervix during your pregnancy, separating your uterus (and your baby) from the outside world. 

    This might sound, and look, alarming, but rest assured that it’s a completely normal part of pregnancy. As your body prepares for labor, your cervix will start to soften, releasing the mucus plug. You may then go into labor within a few hours or days, but you could also have a few more weeks to go until you give birth. The plug might come out of your vagina all at once or in sections over time, and you may not even notice it happening. Most of the time, this happens after 37 weeks, and you might not even lose your mucus plug until you’re actually in labor.

    What should you do about vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

    The majority of the time? Absolutely nothing! If you’re experiencing the thin, whitish, creamy discharge that we’ve been learning about so far, it’s normal for your body, and you don’t really need to be doing anything about it. So go ahead and continue to wash with water, like you normally would.

    “There’s no need to do any douching, and there’s no need to excessively wash,” assures Dr. Celestine. “In pregnancy specifically, you don’t really want to be inserting anything into the vagina.” 

    However, if your discharge looks off-color or different in texture from “normal” pregnancy discharge, as we mention above, always go and get this checked with your doctor.

    When should you be worried about discharge during pregnancy?

    There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, says Dr. Celestine. “It’s all dependent, as every person is different,” she explains. “But if anything seems out of the norm, have your doctor look at it, and they’ll let you know if it is something abnormal.” 

    As we’ve seen, this could include a change in the color or texture of your discharge, as well as a foul smell. Plus, if you’re experiencing any other symptoms, such as itching, stinging, or feeling sore, it’s always a good idea to check in with your doctor. Don’t be embarrassed to talk to them about any concerns you have; they’ll likely have seen and heard it all before.

    But what can you expect from the appointment? Most likely, your doctor will ask you whether you’ve had any other symptoms and how long you’ve been experiencing this type of discharge. Then, they might swab the discharge to send it to a lab for testing or simply swab it to put it under a microscope to see whether anything’s abnormal there.

    Does the discharge go away after pregnancy?

    After your pregnancy, the discharge will either stop suddenly or progressively over time, says Dr. Celestine. “There really is no exact timing to it,” she explains. After delivery, you could experience vaginal bleeding for up to six weeks, meaning you might not notice the discharge at all.

    Vaginal discharge during pregnancy: The takeaway

    All in all, having thin, whitish, and creamy discharge during pregnancy is completely normal and nothing to worry about. You might start noticing an increase in this type of discharge as soon as a couple of weeks after fertilization, and it will likely get more abundant as your pregnancy progresses. 

    If you are experiencing any other symptoms — such as itching, stinging, a foul odor, or discharge that is yellow, green, or has a texture like cottage cheese — then be sure to check in with your doctor. They can help you figure out if there is anything amiss and the treatment options available. Whatever you do, try not to self-medicate or follow any advice on social media without first speaking to your doctor.

    We know it can be unsettling to experience so many changes in your body during pregnancy, but try not to fret about it. Remember that the discharge is actually a sign of your body working its magic to protect your baby, so it could even be reassuring to experience it. All you need to do is keep on keeping on with your regular vaginal hygiene routine.

    References

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    “Bleeding during Pregnancy.” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/bleeding-during-pregnancy. Accessed 23 Dec. 2022.

    “Hormones during Pregnancy.” Johns Hopkins Medicine, 19 Nov. 2019, www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/staying-healthy-during-pregnancy/hormones-during-pregnancy.

    “Is It Normal to Have Vaginal Discharge?” The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists,  www.acog.org/womens-health/experts-and-stories/ask-acog/is-it-normal-to-have-vaginal-discharge. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

    Lacroix, Guillaume, et al. “The Cervicovaginal Mucus Barrier.” International Journal of Molecular Sciences, vol. 21, no. 21, Nov. 2020, doi.org/10.3390/ijms21218266.

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    Mitchell, Helen. “Vaginal Discharge: Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment.” BMJ, vol. 328, no. 7451, May 2004, pp. 1306–08.

    “Mucus Plug.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/21606-mucus-plug. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

    Mylonas, Ioannis, and Florian Bergauer. “Diagnosis of Vaginal Discharge by Wet Mount Microscopy: A Simple and Underrated Method.” Obstetrical & Gynecological Survey, vol. 66, no. 6, June 2011, pp. 359–68.

    “Problems in Early Pregnancy.” NHS North Bristol, www.nbt.nhs.uk/our-services/a-z-services/gynaecology/gynaecology-patient-information-leaflets/problems-early-pregnancy. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

    Spence, Des, and Catriona Melville. “Vaginal Discharge.” BMJ, vol. 335, no. 7630, Dec. 2007, pp. 1147–51.

    “Thrush in Men and Women.” NHS, www.nhs.uk/conditions/thrush-in-men-and-women. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

    “Vaginal Discharge.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/symptoms/4719-vaginal-discharge. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

    “Vaginal Yeast Infection.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/5019-vaginal-yeast-infection. Accessed 17 Jan. 2023.

    “Vulvar Care.” Cleveland Clinic, my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/4976-vulvar-care. Accessed 14 Dec. 2022.

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    History of updates

    Current version (18 January 2023)

    Medically reviewed by Dr. Sameena Rahman, Obstetrician and gynecologist, clinical assistant professor, Northwestern Feinberg School of Medicine, Illinois, US

    Published (16 November 2018)

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