What is vaginal discharge like during pregnancy?

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

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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 kind of pregnancy-related vaginal discharge is called leukorrhea. Though it can be common throughout the entire pregnancy, it can be one of the early-pregnancy symptoms and often increases more toward the end of the third trimester.

Why does it happen?

Say thanks to 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.

What does it 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.”

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.

What isn’t normal?

Any discharge that is thick, cheesy-looking, 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, such as a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis. Both can be easily treated once a diagnosis is confirmed by your doctor or midwife.

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.

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What about 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.” It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s time for labour, though.

“Some women will lose their mucus plug right before labour, some will lose it weeks before, and some will never notice a distinct mucus plug,” says Harris.“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.”

If you think you lost your mucus plug before 37 weeks but have no other signs of labour, it’s normal, she explains. But if you’re past 37 weeks, whether or not you’ve lost the mucus plug, you should contact your healthcare provider with any signs of labour.

How do I deal with it?

For most women, pregnancy discharge isn’t 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.”

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.

 

Read more: 
Why the cervix is so important during pregnancy
6 things to know about cramps during pregnancy 

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