Just like other parts of your body, the vagina has built-in mechanisms to protect itself, producing lubrication, carrying away dead tissue, and removing unwanted bacteria. The fluids are made by glands located in your cervix and vagina (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 your menstrual cycle. These changes help prevent or promote pregnancy.
Your body’s hormones regulate cervical mucus. These hormones change throughout your cycle, when you’re pregnant, and as a result of menopause. The amount of cervical mucus you see varies with the stages of your menstrual cycle.
Clear sticky discharge
Thin, clear, and slightly sticky discharge occurs during the follicular phase of your menstrual cycle. Typically, cervical fluid first becomes noticeable around the middle of the follicular phase (around day 7 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 your cycle shouldn’t have a foul odor, and you shouldn’t be experiencing any other symptoms such as 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 your cervical mucus dark enough to notice on toilet paper or in your underwear.
Women often experience this kind of discharge after their period. Brown sticky discharge is also common just before your 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, as a result of hormonal changes during ovulation or before menopause, or from vaginal dryness that causes mild tissue trauma.
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 a few days or accompanies any other symptoms, contact your doctor or OB/GYN for further advice.
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Yellowish sticky discharge
A pale yellow sticky discharge is very common and quite normal, especially just before or immediately following your period. However, if this discharge gets darker, thicker/chunkier, or starts to smell, this can be a sign of infection.
Yellow sticky discharge can sometimes be the result of pelvic inflammatory disease, bacterial vaginosis, or a sexually transmitted infection such as trichomoniasis, gonorrhea, or chlamydia. If you experience yellow sticky discharge with any additional symptoms, contact your doctor.
In the days following ovulation, your vaginal discharge will 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 additional hormonal changes that alter the consistency of the cervical mucus and eventually cause your period to start.
In the very early stage of pregnancy, just after you would expect to get your period, the amount of cervical discharge can increase.
You’ll likely experience an increased amount of sticky discharge throughout your pregnancy. This discharge will probably increase even more when you reach the third trimester.
Closer to your delivery date, your mucus plug will dislodge. This discharge can be quite different from the sticky discharge that you’ve experienced up to this point. The discharge from your mucus plug is very thick, jelly-like, and may be tinged with blood. Some women describe the mucus plug as looking like thick egg whites or the mucus from a runny nose.
If you experience a sudden increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy, you should contact your OB/GYN. This could be a sign that you are leaking amniotic fluid, and you should be evaluated as soon as possible. You should also let your doctor know if the color, consistency, or smell of your discharges changes. This could be a sign of infection.