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