Are you dealing with vaginal discharge during your pregnancy? Have you noticed some significant changes in how your body is working? You aren’t alone.
Pregnancy comes with a whole host of changes. Some of them are expected — but some aren’t. While growing a human is full of beautiful moments, there are some you could probably do without.
As a certified nurse-midwife, I can assure you that vaginal discharge during pregnancy can be normal and healthy. It can be unnerving when you first come across it, though. Most moms wonder what is normal and when they should be concerned.
In this article, we’ll discuss early pregnancy discharge — what it means and why it happens. We’ll explain what’s the norm, to give you some peace of mind, or let you know if you should book an appointment with your doctor.
- Vaginal discharge during pregnancy, called leukorrhea, is normal and serves important functions.
- Discharge helps keep the vagina clean, plays a role in reproduction, and forms the protective mucus plug.
- Normal discharge can vary in color, consistency, and amount, but foul odor, green or yellow color, and itching or swelling can signal a problem.
- To stay comfortable, wear cotton underwear, use panty liners, and avoid tampons, douching, and perfumed soaps.
What Is Vaginal Discharge?
The technical term for vaginal discharge is leukorrhea (1). While it is present in healthy women even when they’re not pregnant, you may notice changes during pregnancy.
Leukorrhea sounds like a complicated medical term. It’s simple. It stands for white (leuko-) discharge (-rrhea).
Editor's Note:Caitlin Goodwin, MSN, RN, CNM
Leukorrhea is usually odorless and clear or milky white. It is actually made of your own skin cells and isn’t a sign of a problem. While you may have noticed it during ovulation, you might be seeing more of it during your pregnancy.
The hormone increase — especially the increase in estrogen — and the added blood flow can make for more discharge than you’re used to seeing. There is no standard amount to expect, and both are considered normal.
You may only notice the discharge on your toilet paper after using the bathroom. It’s also possible you’ll notice discharge in your underwear. Either of these presentations can be possible with a healthy pregnancy.
What’s the Purpose of Vaginal Discharge?
It’s easy to forget that our body is well designed. While we may consider discharge to be an irritation we want to get rid of, it serves a purpose.
1. Keeping the Vagina Clean and Healthy
You may not know it, but your vagina is self-cleaning (2). You should always practice good hygiene, but the vagina regularly cleanses itself, with the help of its secretions. This discharge helps remove bacteria and keeps your vagina in working order.
It may be tempting to reach for scented soaps, perfumes, and douches. But your body can maintain itself better without those aids.
Stick to mild or unscented soaps, and avoid using anything abrasive. Shower or bathe regularly, and you’ll be in good shape.
2. Cervical Mucus and Reproduction
You may have noticed prior to pregnancy that there were certain times when your discharge was more noticeable than others. If you look at when that occurred within your monthly cycle, you’d see a correlation between prominent discharge and ovulation.
This is because cervical mucus plays a significant role in reproduction (3). When you’re ovulating, this mucus becomes thinner and more watery. There may be more of it — this is to help allow the sperm to travel to its destination easily.
When you aren’t fertile, you can expect that discharge to become thicker, and it may even be sticky. Its purpose is to help protect the vagina from infection.
3. The Mucus Plug
During the early part of your pregnancy, your body will begin to make extra secretions. This mucus will become the mucus plug. It’s a critical piece of your pregnancy and labor experience (4).
The mucus plug works to block the cervix. It also serves other purposes, including preventing bacteria from entering the uterus. It will help give you some indication of how your pregnancy is going.
When your cervix begins dilating, you will likely lose your mucus plug, which, you will likely lose your mucus plug, and this can be a sign of labor. If it happens too early, you’ll need to look for medical intervention to delay labor. If it happens when you’re full-term, it’s time to make sure your “go-bag” is packed.
What’s Considered Normal Discharge During Pregnancy?
Don’t start worrying immediately that what you’re experiencing isn’t normal. First, you should know that there’s quite a wide range of norms.
Second, not everyone is dishing all the details about their experience with discharge. So even if your friends haven’t said anything, it doesn’t mean you’re all alone.
It’s always worth mentioning any concerns you have with your care provider. However, here are some things you may see that are completely normal.
1. Pink or Brown-Tinged Mucus
Bloody-looking discharge can be pretty alarming when you’re pregnant. The good news is that it’s relatively common to have pink or brown-tinged mucus during a healthy pregnancy. That doesn’t mean it’s less frightening when you first encounter it.
This frequently happens during early pregnancy. Your pregnancy is still so new that you may feel insecure about what’s happening to your body — especially if it’s your first time going through the process.
Even if it’s not your first time, one healthy pregnancy can look and feel quite different from the next healthy pregnancy. You may experience things this time around that you didn’t during your last pregnancy.
Why would blood be in your mucus if everything is fine with your pregnancy? There are a few reasons you may find discharge that contains blood even when everything is going great.
This will happen at the start of your pregnancy when your embryo attaches to your uterine lining. You may notice some unusual spotting or brownish discharge on your toilet paper.
Implantation bleeding usually lasts only a few days. If you experience it, it will be six to 12 days out from conception. You may even mistake it — and other early pregnancy symptoms — as your impending menstrual cycle.
During pregnancy, your body makes 30% to 50% more blood than usual to sustain your growing baby. The cervix can be quite vascular, and even minor irritation during pregnancy may result in some bleeding. This is especially true after sexual intercourse, internal ultrasounds, or internal exams.
2. A Lot of Discharge or Very Little
There’s no set amount of discharge you should experience. As long as your discharge indicates you and the pregnancy are healthy, whatever amount you’re experiencing is likely normal.
If you feel your discharge indicates a health problem, touch base with your care provider. It will be in your best interests (and your baby’s) to be medically assessed, instead of self-diagnosing and treating without professional confirmation.
3. Spectrum of Colors
A wide variety of colors are accepted as normal for your vaginal discharge.
It may be pretty clean and thin. You may also find your discharge is sometimes opaque and white (5).
Your discharge may change throughout your pregnancy or even day to day. Pregnancy is full of hormonal changes, which will continue to impact the type and quantity of discharge you experience.
4. Consistency and Texture
A healthy discharge may be thin and stretchy. It can also have a thicker, more sticky consistency. These are both in the realm of normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern if there are no other indicators.
When to Be Concerned — and Why
While most discharge is perfectly healthy, there are times you’ll want to see your doctor or care provider. We’ve listed a few below:
- When your vaginal discharge has a strong or foul odor: The hormonal changes you experience during pregnancy can, unfortunately at times, set you up for infections. For example, a yeasty odor typically accompanies a yeast infection and can be readily treated by your care provider.
- Green or yellow-colored mucus: Colored mucus can indicate vaginitis. It’s best to rule out anything serious by being seen by your care provider.
- Discomfort, itching, or swelling: These are not normal conditions and warrant a trip to the doctor. There are many things that can cause these symptoms, including STDs and types of vaginitis (6).
- Heavy bleeding: If you are experiencing consistent bleeding, especially if it’s bright red, call your care provider to be assessed. It’s important to determine the source of bleeding — and to stop it.
Staying Comfortable During Pregnancy — Despite Discharge
Knowing that discharge is a regular part of pregnancy doesn’t make it more comfortable to experience. If you’re looking for some tips on dealing with it during pregnancy, try the following:
- Stick to cotton underwear and breathable fabrics: You may not be able to avoid the extra moisture that comes along with discharge. You can, however, help prevent infection and skin irritation by opting for loose-fitting clothing and underwear.
- Use panty liners: If you’re experiencing a lot of discharge, using panty liners can be a great way to keep dry and comfortable. If your skin is becoming irritated from disposables, you may want to try reusable cloth liners or absorbent cotton underwear.
- Carry spare underwear: Only experience discharge on occasion? You may opt for a spare pair of underwear instead of a liner, when you’re out.
Whatever you choose to use to help lessen the discomfort that can come along with discharge, avoid the following:
- Tampons: Tampons are not considered safe during pregnancy and should not be used for discharge or bleeding.
- Douching: Douching can further disrupt your vagina’s pH balance and make what you’re experiencing worse. It can also encourage infections to set up shop. Not only should you not douche during pregnancy, but many doctors also recommend avoiding the practice altogether (7).
- Perfumes and scented soaps: Though there are many soaps like these on the market, they can frequently dry out and further irritate your skin.