What happens when we notice watery discharge while we are trying to conceive, or early on in pregnancy? Is it a good sign or a bad one? Do we need to do anything?
At the start of pregnancy, every little sign can be nerve-wracking, especially if you are a first-time parent. And as not every pregnancy is the same, there will be things your friends didn’t have to deal with, which might make you nervous.
So before you waste any more energy worrying about your watery discharge, let’s look at what it means to begin with.
Is Watery Discharge An Early Pregnancy Symptom?
The short answer is: It can be.
Vaginal discharge is a perfectly normal part of having a vagina, and it will start a few years before puberty begins and will only end after menopause is complete. During this time we will all experience many changes in how our discharge looks.
During pregnancy, the cervix and vaginal walls soften and discharge increases. This might not make a lot of sense on the surface, but this discharge has an essential job. It is our vagina’s self-cleaning mechanism, and the amount of discharge increases when we are pregnant to keep bacteria and viruses out.
This increase happens because at first the cervix is not fully plugged with a mucus plug, so there is a risk of an infection traveling up into the womb, affecting the womb, placenta, or even the baby.
For example, think of the times you ovulated and the increase in discharge you experienced then. This is due to an increase in hormone levels and blood flow. The same process happens even more frequently during pregnancy.
What Will It Look Like
For example, if you already have a minor infection, or you are eating better during your pregnancy, you might find you have a more watery discharge than last time, or than your friends have warned you about.
As your pregnancy progresses, the discharge will change too, and near the end it might become so abundant and watery that you confuse it for urine. This is all perfectly normal.
On the other hand, watery discharge doesn’t automatically mean a pregnancy. There are many more things which could lead to an increase in discharge, or make it clearer and more watery.
Check It Out
What Other Signs Do I Need To Look For?
There are many other signs of pregnancy to look out for. If you just have watery discharge it may not mean anything, but if you have any other symptoms, then you could be onto something.
- A missed period: The earliest sign of pregnancy for most of us is a missed period. However, if your cycles are not usually regular, or are quite long, you might experience other symptoms before you even notice you’re late.
- Slight spotting: A few drops of blood is typical in the first 4 to 12 weeks of pregnancy, as the fetus implants itself in your womb and the mucus plug finishes sealing up the cervix. Watch out for heavy or continuous bleeding, as this may either be a period or a problem.
- Nausea: For some women, the very first sign of pregnancy is nausea. Just waking up feeling sick, feeling a bit sick all day, or getting car sick for the first time in years could mean you are pregnant.
- Breast tenderness: Some women get it, some don’t, but for many there is slight breast tenderness early in pregnancy. However, some of us get tenderness during our periods too, so it’s not a sure sign.
- Exhaustion and fatigue: Feeling suddenly drained for no apparent reason? Growing a baby takes a lot of energy, even when the baby is smaller than a grain of rice. So you might feel tired even after a great night’s sleep, or a weekend resting.
- Peeing frequently: This is another one of the earliest signs, and for some women it may be the first. If you feel the need to go to the toilet more often than usual, or wake in the night to pee, then you might be pregnant.
- Food aversions: Pregnancy cravings don’t tend to start until the second trimester, but their wicked stepsister, aversions, can happen from the first few days after conception. If certain smells or tastes have you heaving, you could be pregnant.
- A positive pregnancy test: If you have two or more of the above symptoms, then you might want to take a pregnancy test. If it comes back positive, you are almost certainly pregnant. If it comes back negative, then you’re slightly more likely to have an error, so test again in a week or two (2).
Could It Be Anything Else?
So if you have watery discharge but you’re not showing any other signs of pregnancy, what else could it be?
There are actually a few things. If your discharge is still healthy, that is to say clear or white, not lumpy, and not smelling bad, then it could be:
- The pill: The pill increases the amount of estrogen in your body, and the more estrogen you have, the more natural discharge you will produce.
- A natural hormonal change: If you are still going through puberty, are under 25, are pre-menopausal, or over 45, then you could be going through one of the many natural hormonal changes women experience throughout our lives.
- A dietary change: Some foods, such as soy, can increase the estrogen in our bodies, so a big dietary change could increase vaginal discharge.
- Ovulation: When we ovulate, our discharge will tend to be clearer and stringier, like egg whites. If you are used to thicker discharge this might be a big change for you, but it is natural.
- Arousal: When we are very aroused, we will produce more discharge. It may be stringy like when we ovulate, or watery, and it will smell stronger than usual discharge, but as long as it is clear or white and doesn’t have lumps, it’s fine.
- Menstrual cycle: An increase in discharge can also occur right before and right after your menstrual cycle.
If your discharge is showing any troubling signs, such as pain, itching, a strong odor, lumps like cottage cheese, or a yellow, gray, brown, or green color, then you probably have an infection:
- Bacterial vaginosis: A bacterial infection in the vaginal walls, this involves a yellow, gray, or greenish discharge which smells fishy. This usually tends to be more common in pregnant women.
- Candida albicans: A yeast infection in the vaginal walls, your discharge will be lumpy and smell sour. It may be yellow, too. The texture will resemble cottage cheese.
- Chlamydia: Yellow or green discharge could signal an infection of chlamydia.
- Gonorrhea: Creamy, watery, or green discharge can be a sign of gonorrhea.
- Another sexually transmitted infection (STI): We all react differently to different STIs, so if your discharge isn’t normal for you, get tested.
- Interrupted period: If there is clumping and cramping with brown discharge, this could be a period that was interrupted. This happens sometimes and the brown, smelly discharge is our body getting rid of the old blood. Normal bleeding should begin soon after (3).
Avoid douching and using alcohol or perfume containing wipes to clean your vaginal area. This can kill the healthy bacteria that protect you from an infection.
What Is Normal In Early Pregnancy Discharge?
If you are sure you are pregnant, then you probably want to know whether or not your discharge is normal. So, to start — watery discharge, especially with a few specks of blood, is perfectly normal for the first 4 to 12 weeks of pregnancy.
In fact, you might experience watery discharge your whole pregnancy, with a spot of blood a couple of times a week. It is very normal. It is also normal for it to literally gush out suddenly, even if it feels gross.
It can be anywhere from clear to white, and from almost liquid to egg white consistency. For those first few weeks, it may be a tiny bit brown or pink from spotting.
It Can Evolve
It also might not even be at its worst yet, I’m sorry to say. Some women find that it reduces during their second trimester and comes back during the third.
Other women find it just gets heavier and heavier as time goes by. There is no magical formula for how it ought to be (4).
When Should I Get A Doctor Involved?
Naturally, there are many situations when your discharge might not be normal, or you might feel genuinely uncomfortable. So when do we need to see a medical professional about our discharge?
Better Safe Than Sorry
- Strongly-colored discharge: Normal vaginal discharge is clear or white. A little bit off-white is completely normal too. But if you find it is a bolder tone of yellow, green, brown, grey, pink, or red, then you might have a serious problem that needs checking.
- Strong-smelling discharge: Vaginal discharge naturally has a slight sea-salt or sour smell to it. This is normal because it needs to be a bit acidic to help fight infections. But if the smell is strong and fishy, or smells like sulfur and rotten, you need to be checked in case of an infection. Douching is not recommended for odors no matter what your condition, but when you are pregnant it can be especially dangerous. Talk to your doctor if the odor is too unpleasant for you.
- Itching, soreness: Itching and soreness are a sure sign of a fungal or bacterial infection. Because some infections can affect your baby and not all remedies work for all infections, or are safe in pregnancy, you need to see a doctor if you think you have an infection.
- A popping sensation and/or a gush of water: When your water breaks, you will feel a popping sensation and the water rushing out. If this happens at or after 37 weeks, you need to contact your medical team as you are entering labor. If it happens before 37 weeks, you need to go to the hospital as this is not normal.
- Heavy bleeding: Heavy bleeding, especially suddenly, when you suspect or know you are pregnant, can be a sign of a miscarriage or another serious problem. A few spots of blood at first are no problem, but if you have a heavy bleed like a period, but believe you are pregnant, then you need to get to an emergency room as soon as possible.
- Persistent bleeding: If you have minor bleeding that looks like spotting, but doesn’t go away, then you might be having problems with your placenta, or a miscarriage. If you are having cramping and pain, and your bleeding goes on for a day or more along with brown or red stringy clots, you may be having a miscarriage. If you suspect a miscarriage at all, you need to get to the emergency room as soon as possible.
Minor and persistent bleeding, accompanied by persistent and severe pain, usually on one side, as well as the symptoms of pregnancy, could mean an ectopic pregnancy — a pregnancy outside the womb — which can be a life-threatening condition if not seen immediately (5).
Do not wait if you have any of these worrying signs as infection can easily spread to other organs and your baby. If the infection stays untreated it can even spread to the blood and cause sepsis a dangerous life-threatening condition that requires immediate treatment.
Editor's Note:Dr. Njoud Jweihan, MD
My Discharge Is Unpleasant, What Can I Do?
However reassuring it is to know you are a normal, natural, healthy woman, you might still feel a bit gross when your panties feel cold and damp. Besides that, the dampness can also invite bacteria and yeasts to breed, causing real problems for you.
So what do we do when we have watery discharge?
- Use breathable pads to absorb the excess. This will keep underwear dry.
- Change your underwear often. Carry a spare pair or two for bad days. Wear breathable 100% cotton underwear.
- Wash externally often, with fragrance and alcohol free wipes and showers, to reduce bacteria.
- Boost your immune system to protect against infections. Your pregnancy vitamins should have you mostly covered there.
- When using the restroom always wipe from front to back. Doing otherwise can spread bacteria in the rectal area and increase the chance of infection.
Whether you are pregnant or not, a clear or whitish watery discharge is very rarely a sign of any major health concern. If you are not sure whether you are pregnant, it might be your first pregnancy sign.
But if you see anything particularly weird, make sure to talk to your doctor, to rule out the risk of an infection or a serious medical condition.