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Pregnancy health

What is Vaginal Discharge Like During Pregnancy?

Here’s the lowdown on pregnancy discharge: Why it happens, what it looks like, how to deal with it and when to get it checked by a doctor.

What is Vaginal Discharge Like During Pregnancy?

Photo: iStock

Pregnancy can be a “juicy” time—and we’re not talking about “is she or isn’t she?” gossip. Some women might notice extra saliva, a runny nose and, yes, more vaginal discharge. “It’s just a normal thing that happens during pregnancy,” says Kerry Harris, a midwife based in Vancouver.

This milky-white pregnancy discharge is called leukorrhea and it is usually nothing to worry about. In fact, an increase in discharge is sometimes a clue that you're pregnant! From there, it tends to increase more toward the end of the third trimester.

What is leukorrhea and what causes it?

Leukorrhea is the medical term for vaginal discharge. During pregnancy, many women find leukorrhea, or discharge, increases. You can thank your hormones: Your body’s increased levels of estrogen during pregnancy boosts blood flow to your pelvic area and stimulates your mucous membranes. The discharge does have a purpose, though.

Harris says that it makes the vagina a “self-cleaning system,” helping to prevent infections by flushing away bacteria, keeping the vagina at a normal pH level and getting rid of dead cells.

woman holding grown with feminine hygiene products in the foreground iStock

Is discharge a sign of pregnancy?

After implantation, your body immediately begins to produce pregnancy discharge. However, because discharge fluctuates throughout the course of your cycle, you may not notice these subtle changes. On the other hand, if you're monitoring your cycle closely and you notice an increase in discharge, it very well may be a sign that you're pregnant!

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What does normal pregnancy discharge look like?

Normal vaginal discharge in pregnancy is thin, milky white and mild-smelling or odourless. “Everyone’s got their normal, and that can increase in pregnancy,” says Harris. “If it changes from normal, that’s a good thing to talk about with your healthcare provider.”

Woman checking pregnancy test iStock

When should I worry about discharge during pregnancy?

Yellow or green discharge

Any discharge that greenish or yellowish, causes vaginal itchiness or pain, smells bad or has a strong odour should be checked by your healthcare provider because it could signal an infection. This can be easily treated once a diagnosis is confirmed by your doctor or midwife.

yellow discharge iStock

Thick white clumpy discharge

Thick, cheesy-looking discharge is also a sign of infection. Make sure you get checked out by your healthcare provider.

White clumpy discharge iStock

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Pink or brown discharge

Pinkish or brownish discharge is probably the result of mild bleeding from your cervix being bumped during sex or a vaginal exam. As long as it’s not heavy bleeding, all is probably well, but you can ask your healthcare provider if you have any concerns.

brown discharge iStock

Watery discharge

If you have a very watery discharge, contact your healthcare provider because it could mean that you are leaking amniotic fluid and need to be monitored.

pregnant woman sitting on the toilet looking at her underwear iStock

How do you tell if it's discharge or the mucus plug?

When you’re pregnant, a thick plug of mucus blocks the cervix to stop bacteria from getting into the uterus. Toward the end of the third trimester, this plug may (or may not) move down into your vagina, resulting in more discharge that could be clear or tinged pink or brown if there’s blood in it—sometimes called a “bloody show.”

"All it means is that the cervix is starting to ripen and change and that the mucus that previously filled the cervix now has enough space to fall out,” says Harris.

The mucus plug is thicker or more jelly-like than normal pregnancy discharge, which is thin and milky-white.

Mucus shown as a snail iStock

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How do I deal with discharge during pregnancy?

For most women, pregnancy discharge isn’t a cause for concern and is just one of those oh-so-fun side effects of pregnancy. “I used panty liners through pretty much my whole pregnancy,” says Destinee Heikkenen, a mom of a four-month-old baby from Thunder Bay, Ontario.

“I was a little surprised because I hadn’t noticed the discharge much with my other three kids, but my midwife assured me that everything was fine.”

Going back to your favorite sustainable period products and panty liners is best.

Don’t use tampons, douches or vaginal washes or wipes because you don’t want to interfere with the natural balance of bacteria and pH levels in your vagina. If you want to go commando at home to help stay clean and dry, well, that’s a pregnant lady’s prerogative.

Woman having migraines while pregnant iStock

What are the best practices for maintaining vaginal health and managing discharge during pregnancy?

If you’re pregnant, Dr. Tamara Aviles, MD, an OB/GYN at Holy Name Medical Center in Teaneck, NJ, recommends these helpful tips and tricks for maintaining good vaginal health and managing discharge:

Maintain Proper Hygiene

According to Dr. Aviles, it’s crucial to prioritize proper hygiene for a healthy and balanced intimate area. She suggests daily vulvar cleaning using water and a mild soap and advises against douching as it can alter the natural vaginal pH, increasing the chances of infections.

Woman maintaining good hygiene while pregnant iStock

Choose The Right Underwear

To handle discharge during pregnancy, Dr. Aviles recommends paying attention to your choice of underwear. She advises against tight, synthetic fabrics and encourages wearing comfortable cotton undergarments instead.

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Don’t Use Over-The-Counter Products

Dr. Avilves advises against using over-the-counter products to manage discharge without consulting your doctor first. She specifically cautions against self-medicating with vaginal creams or oral medication, as it may pose potential risks and complications.

woman enquiring about an over the counter medication iStock

Should you use panty liners over tampons or pads during pregnancy to manage vaginal discharge?

Even though tampons offer comfort and flexibility, Dr. Aviles cautions against their use during pregnancy to manage discharge. “Tampons during pregnancy are not advisable as it could raise the risk of infections by introducing germs into the vagina and interfering with the body’s normal process of eliminating bacteria through vaginal discharge,” says Dr. Aviles.

Instead, she advises opting for unscented panty liners and changing them regularly to prevent skin irritation and excessive moisture.

woman sliding pads into her purse iStock

Can vaginal discharge change in consistency during different stages of pregnancy?

Dr. Aviles notes that hormonal changes in women’s hormones can affect the amount and appearance of vaginal discharge, leading to variations during different stages of pregnancy. “It starts off thinner and becomes more abundant and thicker by the third trimester,” explains Dr. Aviles.

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Can vaginal discharge be an indicator of preterm labour?

If you’re experiencing excessive, liquid, or bloody vaginal discharge during pregnancy, it’s important to be aware of the possibility of preterm labour. Dr. Aviles explains that preterm labour (which is defined as the onset of regular, painful contractions prior to 37 weeks of pregnancy) can lead to premature rupture of membranes or cervical changes, so it’s important to contact your healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms.

Woman calling the doctor for a preterm pregnancy iStock

Experts

This article was originally published on May 03, 2022

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