Just like other parts of the body, the vagina has built-in mechanisms to protect itself. They produce lubrication that carries away dead tissue and removes unwanted bacteria. Vaginal fluids are secreted by the vaginal walls and glands located in the vaginal opening (the Bartholin’s glands).
The Bartholin’s glands are located on either side of the vaginal opening. They are normally about the size of a small pea and send fluid to the vagina through small tubes. This fluid lubricates the vulva and the vagina.
The cervix produces a fluid (cervical mucus) that changes in consistency throughout each menstrual cycle. These changes help prevent or promote pregnancy.
The body’s hormones regulate cervical mucus. These hormones change throughout the menstrual cycle, during pregnancy, and as a result of menopause. The amount of cervical mucus varies with the stages of the menstrual cycle.
Clear sticky discharge
Thin, clear, and slightly sticky discharge occurs during the follicular phase of the menstrual cycle. Typically, cervical fluid first becomes noticeable around the middle of the follicular phase (around day seven in a 28-day cycle). As long as it doesn’t have a bad smell, discharge like this is completely normal.
White sticky discharge
After ovulation, cervical fluid that is discharged through the vagina begins to change in color and consistency. It changes from a clear, sticky discharge to one that is creamy and white (milky) or slightly yellow.
Normal discharge at this phase of the cycle shouldn’t have a foul odor or cause symptoms like itching or burning.
Brown sticky discharge
Brown sticky discharge is basically cervical mucus with old blood mixed in with it. When blood is exposed to air (particularly over time), it will turn darker. Even a very small amount can make cervical mucus dark enough to notice on toilet paper or underwear.
This kind of discharge often comes after a period. Brown sticky discharge is also common just before a period — a sign that regular bleeding is about to start — or early in pregnancy when the embryo implants.
Spotting and brown discharge can also occur after sex. Spotting after sex may be a sign of one of the following health conditions:
- Vaginal dryness, also called atrophic vaginitis, can be caused by reduced vaginal secretions after menopause.
- Vaginal damage can occur after childbirth, from vaginal dryness, or because of friction during sex.
- Cervical or endometrial polyps are benign or non-cancerous growths in the uterus or the lining of the cervix.
- Cervical ectropion, also known as cervical erosion, is an inflamed area on the surface of the cervix.
- Infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia can cause spotting after sex.
- In very rare cases, bleeding after sex can be a sign of cervical or vaginal cancer.
If you experience brown sticky discharge, it’s a good idea to make a note of when and how long it occurred. If it continues for more than one or two days or comes with any other symptoms, contact your health care provider or OB-GYN for further advice.
Yellowish sticky discharge
A pale yellow sticky discharge is very common and quite normal, especially just before or immediately following a period. However, if this discharge gets darker, thicker/chunkier, or starts to smell, it can be a sign of infection.
Yellow sticky discharge can sometimes be the result of PID, bacterial vaginosis, or an STI such as trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. If you experience yellow sticky discharge with any additional symptoms, contact a health care provider.
In the days following ovulation, vaginal discharge will typically change from a thin, clear, and slippery consistency (like an egg white) to a thicker, sticky discharge. There might be less of it, too. This is due to hormonal changes that alter the consistency of the cervical mucus and eventually cause a period to start.
In the very early stage of pregnancy, just after a period would normally start, the amount of vaginal discharge can increase.
An increased amount of sticky discharge throughout pregnancy is very common. This discharge will probably increase even more in the third trimester.
Closer to the delivery date, the mucus plug will dislodge. This discharge can be quite different from the sticky discharge that was common up to this point. The discharge from the mucus plug is very thick, jelly-like, and may be tinged with blood. Some people describe the mucus plug as looking like thick egg whites or mucus from a runny nose.
If you experience a sudden increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy, contact your OB-GYN. Let your health care provider know if the color, consistency, or smell of your discharge changes. This could be a sign of infection. A sudden increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy may also be a sign that amniotic fluid is leaking, and it’s important to be evaluated as soon as possible.