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What is pink discharge? And why does it happen?

Noticed pink discharge in your underwear? A gynecologist explains what pink discharge is, what’s causing it, and whether you should be worried about it.

pink discharge in underwear

Normal vaginal discharge can range in color from clear to milky white. So, finding pink discharge in your underwear can be unsettling, especially if you aren’t on your period. But rest assured; it’s very common.

Flo board member, obstetrician, and gynecologist Dr. Jenna Flanagan explains that pink discharge isn’t something you should immediately be worried about. “Most likely, it’s vaginal discharge that is mixed with a small amount of blood, making the discharge appear pink in color,” she says. 

Here, Dr. Flanagan outlines everything you need to know about pink discharge — from where the color comes from to when you should reach out to your health care provider for a checkup.

What is pink discharge?

Firstly, it’s important to note that vaginal discharge is very normal. It’s the umbrella term used to describe any nonperiod fluid or mucus that’s produced by the glands inside your vagina and cervix throughout your cycle, and it keeps your vulva clean, moist, and protected from infection. 

Chances are you’ll know what’s typical for you, and if you’re reading this, you’re probably wondering why you have pink discharge. The vast majority of the time, this happens when fresh blood combines with discharge. You can tell if it’s fresh blood as blood gets darker the longer it’s out of the blood vessels and in contact with the air. This is called oxidation. It’s why you might experience brown discharge at the end of your period. 

“The blood can be from any number of sources, including the vulva, vagina, cervix, or uterus,” explains Dr. Flanagan.

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What does “normal” discharge look like?

What’s considered “normal” discharge will, of course, vary from person to person. But, knowing what your health care provider may classify as normal may help you spot when something isn’t quite right. “Normal vaginal discharge can be clear, [slightly] yellow, or white, or any combination,” explains Dr. Flanagan. “During menstrual cycles, the discharge is mixed with blood and can range from bright red to rust or brown, to dark red or pink.”

Discharge can be watery, milky, creamy, sticky, or slimy, and you’ll likely notice that its consistency changes throughout your cycle. This is due to fluctuations in your hormones. 

You know your body better than anyone, so if you’re noticing changes in your discharge, including if it appears pink in color, it could be worth investigating with the help of your health care provider. Logging your discharge can help here. You’ll not only have all the information you need to share with your health care provider in one place but can also spot patterns month to month so you’re more likely to know if your pink discharge is cycle related.

Is it normal to have pink discharge after a period?

Pink discharge may occur at any point throughout your cycle. But if you notice it just before or after your period, then there may be an easy explanation. As we’ve mentioned above, there’s a good chance what you’ve noticed is just a little bit of blood mixed in with your normal discharge.

“Typically, as a menstrual cycle is just starting or on the tail end, there can be pink discharge,” says Dr. Flanagan. Your menstrual cycle is “blood cells leaving the uterus. When there are small amounts mixed with clear or white normal vaginal discharge, the color appears pink.”

pink color cards

Your period isn’t the only possible cause of pink discharge. Just before ovulation, when your ovaries release an egg, your estrogen levels rise. This causes the lining of your uterus to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. After ovulation, if you don’t conceive, your estrogen levels drop again. This can cause light spotting (bleeding that happens outside of your regular period). Your discharge can mix with this spotting blood as it leaves your uterus and make it appear pink. 

If you’ve recently changed your method of contraception and are now taking a hormonal contraceptive like the pill or have had an intrauterine device (IUD or the coil) or implant inserted, then you might experience some light bleeding outside of your period. Up to 50% of women get lighter bleeding during their first months of using hormonal birth control, so this is normal. Similarly, depending on the type of IUD you have inserted, it’s estimated that around 20% of women experience some light bleeding. 

Occasionally, bleeding in between periods can also be a symptom of other health conditions. For example, unusual discharge and spotting are linked to polycystic ovary syndrome, a common condition that affects how your ovaries work. It’s also linked to thyroid issues, fibroids (noncancerous growths), polyps, and some sexually transmitted infections (STIs). 

However, remember that this is not always the case, and that these conditions usually have other symptoms alongside spotting. Again, if you’re at all concerned, then reach out to a medical professional. They will be able to check out any symptoms for you. 

Is cramping and pink discharge normal?

Yes, cramping and pink discharge are very normal during your period. Over to Dr. Flanagan again: “If the discharge is at the beginning of the menstrual cycle or during the menstrual cycle, pink discharge can be associated with cramping,” she says. In fact, it’s estimated that more than half of us experience pain for one or two days around our period.

“Additionally, if you are trying to get pregnant or may be pregnant, some women experience mild cramping and pink discharge that is considered implantation bleeding,” Dr. Flanagan explains. “This is when the fertilized egg implants into the uterine lining, which causes some women to have cramping and possibly some pink discharge as a small amount of blood is expelled from the uterus during the implantation process.” 

Implantation bleeding usually happens around 10 to 14 days after you’ve conceived and can last for a few days. Typically, it can appear pink as the blood mixes with your discharge, and there aren’t usually blood clots in implantation spotting. 

Typically, pink discharge is short term and often can be explained when recent activities and factors are considered.

What could be causing my pink discharge?

While it’s often blood that causes pink discharge, it might not necessarily be due to your period. “Pink discharge can be from any number of sources,” explains Dr. Flanagan. For example: 

  • Your vulva: If you have a lesion or sore on the vulva (external skin of the vaginal area), this can lead to pinkish discharge when mixed with vaginal discharge. If you shave or wax the hair on your vulva, then this can cause small lesions. Vigorous exercise can lead to chafing and skin irritation, which may also make your discharge appear pink.
  • Your vagina and cervix: Minor cuts or tears in your vagina after sex aren’t uncommon. The tissue of your vagina is quite delicate, and inserting things into it can cause irritation or trauma. This can cause the discharge to be pink. A tag or polyp (a small, benign growth) in the vagina or cervix can cause spotting that is often light and described as pink. Some STIs, such as gonorrhea and chlamydia, can cause irritation and lead to pink discharge. And vaginal conditions, like bacterial vaginosis, urinary tract infections, and yeast infections, can also cause inflammation of the cervix or vagina and cause discharge to appear pink.
  • Your uterus: Bleeding outside of your period could be a sign of unharmful growths in the uterus called polyps. These growths are noncancerous and are also associated with pain in your lower back and abdomen.

Lastly, “constipation or hemorrhoids, which are engorged blood vessels at the opening of the anus, can spot or bleed, causing pink discharge when wiping,” says Dr. Flanagan. It’s totally normal to be worried if you notice pink discharge or spotting from either your vagina or anus. If you’re concerned, book an appointment with your health care provider to investigate further.

What to do if you notice that your discharge is pink

Tracking your cycle using an app like Flo may give you a better understanding of what’s normal for your body and what changes may cause your discharge to turn pink. 

“Keep track of where you are in your cycle when this happens because that is very beneficial,” Dr. Flanagan says. Being able to pinpoint triggers such as sex, constipation, vigorous exercise, or trying to conceive could all help a medical professional work out why you might be experiencing pink discharge.  

“If the discharge continues or if any other symptoms occur, such as pain, burning, itching, or you think you are pregnant, then the discharge should be discussed with a health care professional,” explains Dr. Flanagan. “Typically, pink discharge is short term and often can be explained when recent activities and factors are considered.”

Pink discharge: The takeaway

The good news is that the majority of the time, the source of pink discharge is quite easily explainable and therefore easy to treat. If you only notice pink discharge just before or after your period, it’s generally not something to worry about. But if it happens between your periods — and especially if you also have symptoms like pain when you pee or during sex, discharge with an unpleasant smell, or stomach cramps — then it’s best to get it checked out by your health care provider to rule out any health issues.

Logging your discharge and symptoms is a great way to keep track of what’s going on in your body — and you can bring the information to your doctor so they can make an informed diagnosis.

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