Discharge is not the most appetizing thing to discuss, but it’s an important subject for parents-to-be to consider.
A lot is going on throughout the entire body during pregnancy—and vaginal discharge has many pregnant individuals feeling a little bit worried.
Most of the time, vaginal discharge is completely normal.
However, sometimes it can be a sign that something is wrong. Here’s what’s normal and what’s not, as well as when to see a doctor.
What Causes Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy?
It’s normal to have vaginal discharge during pregnancy, which can happen for several reasons.
During pregnancy, the cervix and the vaginal walls become softer. Discharge increases to help prevent infections from traveling from the vagina into the womb.
Additionally, increased progesterone (which prepares the uterus for pregnancy) can produce more fluid.
The medical term for this is leukorrhea, and it’s the general term for all forms of vaginal discharge—not just discharge that occurs during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, you may see more discharge than when you’re not pregnant, but this is entirely normal. Discharge is a common early sign of pregnancy.
What Does Normal Discharge Look Like?
Normal discharge during pregnancy is clear or milky white. It’s also a little sticky and should not have a noticeable odor.
But what if it looks a little yellow? More often than not, it’s more than okay if you have slightly yellow vaginal discharge in your liners or underwear during pregnancy.
With hormone levels rising, you can expect pregnancy discharge to ramp up once you hit the second trimester.
Remember, increased discharge is just your body’s way of preventing bacterial infection. It’s more typical to experience increased discharge than it is to experience none at all.
What Does Abnormal Discharge Look Like?
Pregnant people are prone to vaginal infections (like bacterial vaginosis or candidiasis) because of changes in estrogen and progesterone levels.
These change the balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina, which leaves you more vulnerable to yeast infections.
For that reason, you should call a doctor or OB-GYN if you have vaginal discharge that:
- Smells unpleasant or strange
- Is green or dark yellow
- Causes pain when urinating
- Causes itching or soreness around the vagina
All of these can be a sign of infection, so it’s important to notify a medical professional for proper care sooner rather than later.
Discharge vs. Implantation Bleeding
In early pregnancy (first trimester), you might notice some fluid or spotting in your underwear and liners that take on a reddish hue.
This spotting is probably something called implantation bleeding.
Implantation bleeding happens when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. This movement can break down some blood vessels in the uterine wall, leading to minor vaginal bleeding.
Implantation blood is usually pink, but it can also take on a color similar to menstrual blood. It should also just be minimal amounts that occur infrequently.
If you ever notice significant bleeding, contact a medical professional immediately.
Thrush in Pregnancy
There is no evidence that thrush can harm an unborn baby, but it can pose risks for a child during the delivery process.
One of the main signs of thrush is white discharge. The difference between vaginal thrush and normal discharge is that the discharge from thrush tends to take on the consistency of cottage cheese and can smell like yeast or freshly baked bread.
Thrush also presents itself as itching, irritation, or soreness around the vagina—especially during sex or urination. It might also cause some redness around the vulva.
Thrush can be effectively managed by a medical professional. They’ll likely insert something called a pessary (a cream or tablet) into the vagina to help balance out the fungi and bacteria levels in the vagina and restore its health.
Other Types of Vaginal Discharge To Know
Major changes happen in your body during pregnancy, and discharge can take many forms. Here’s a look at some other common forms of discharge to recognize.
A mucus plug is pretty much exactly what it sounds like.
This thick accumulation of mucus fills the cervix and blocks entry to the uterus. Its purpose is to protect the growing baby from infection.
When the cervix dilates before or during labor, the plug comes loose and expresses out of the vagina.
This plug can look clear or slightly pink and is thicker than normal pregnancy discharge.
The amniotic sac, which holds a growing baby and amniotic fluid, breaks just a few hours before labor, causing a watery discharge of fluid to expel from the vagina.
This is known as the “water breaking.”
A broken amniotic sac doesn’t usually look as dramatic as in movies. Instead, most individuals just feel a small trickle (if anything!).
Cervical mucus helps sperm move through the cervix to fertilize the egg and prevents other substances from entering the cervix.
The appearance and feel of cervical discharge change over time and depend on the stage of the menstrual cycle.
The amount of discharge will increase just before ovulation, when you’re most fertile, as this helps move the sperm along effectively. After you ovulate, the amount of mucus decreases, but it becomes thicker.
These are important to monitor when you are working on getting pregnant, as these changes can show you a sign of whether or not you’re in the prime fertility window for the best chance of getting pregnant.
After the baby is born, you will likely notice a new type of discharge called lochia. Lochia consists of mucus and blood that sheds within the days after giving birth. It starts red and thick but will gradually fade to pink, yellow, then white.
Cesarean deliveries, or c-sections, do not usually cause as much lochia. However, it is still possible.
This type of discharge will likely last for about four to six months after conception.
How Can I Prevent Infection During Pregnancy?
There are many ways to prevent vaginal infections during pregnancy. Let’s look at a few prevention methods you can use right away.
It’s always essential to be mindful of personal hygiene, but it is especially crucial during pregnancy. Avoid douching, as this is unnecessary and can disrupt your body’s natural pH.
Avoid tampons and stick to panty liners to collect your discharge. Always use clean panty liners (and try to find organic cotton without toxic ingredients). Use gentle soaps for sensitive areas. If possible, use only warm water.
If you are unpartnered, continue using safe sex practices. While it can seem counterintuitive to use contraception, avoiding sexually transmitted infections (STIs and STDs) is still vital.
It is still possible to contract gonorrhea, chlamydia, or trichomoniasis during pregnancy. These infections can harm you and your baby’s development if left untreated.
Discharge during pregnancy is an icky subject, but it can be super eye-opening in letting you know what’s happening inside your body.
Typically, normal vaginal discharge is clear or a light yellow color.
However, if you notice that it takes on a foul odor or a dark hue, you might need to call a healthcare provider.
Vaginal discharge may also signify a yeast infection like thrush; you might mistake it for implantation bleeding.
Other types of discharge like cervical mucus, lochia, or mucus plugs are also commonly experienced by pregnant individuals throughout the journey of motherhood.
As a rule of thumb, it never hurts to call a medical professional if you are concerned about your pregnancy symptoms. Practice careful hygiene practices and practice safe sex if you are unpartnered.
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Bridget Reed is a Tampa-based content development manager, writer, and editor at GR0; specializing in content related to varying fields including medicine, health, and small businesses. Bridget went to St. Petersburg College and majored in Management and Organizational Leadership.
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