What You Need to Know About Discharge During Pregnancy

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Everyone with a vagina experiences vaginal discharge—pregnant or not. This is because vaginal discharge comes from the fluctuation of hormones throughout the month. This fluid-like substance is typically thick, odorless, and varies from clear to opaque white.

Your body creates extra mucus when there is a boost in estrogen to help reduce the opportunity for a vaginal infection—much like the mucus in our nose helps prevent us from getting sick. 

During pregnancy, vaginal discharge can differ slightly from what you normally experience, but it’s typically not a cause for concern.

pregnant woman sitting on toilet

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Causes

In the first trimester, you will likely experience more discharge than usual. In fact, there is often a change in discharge within one to two weeks of conception. This is an effort by your body to remove dead cells and bacteria from the uterus and vagina to help prevent infections.

As your pregnancy progresses, the discharge will likely become more noticeable, with the heaviest discharge coming at the end of your pregnancy.

Forming the Mucus Plug

Over time, vaginal discharge during pregnancy also helps form the mucus plug. This plug blocks the opening of your cervix to prevent an infection from entering the uterus and harming the baby.

Types

Vaginal discharge during pregnancy is most often odorless and colorless, but there are different variations that can occur.

Clear or Milky White

Clear or milky white vaginal discharge during pregnancy is called leukorrhea. However, any changes in its quantity or consistency may suggest an issue. A person who is pregnant but not yet at full term should see a doctor if they experience an increase in clear discharge that leaks continuously or becomes thick and jelly-like. These changes may suggest preterm labor.

White and Lumpy

With all the changes in hormones during pregnancy, the pH level in your vagina will fluctuate. When this fluctuation happens, you’re more susceptible to yeast infections. The majority of yeast infections during pregnancy tend to come during the second trimester.

The most common symptoms of a yeast infection include:

  • A thick, white discharge resembling cottage cheese
  • A strong yeast-like smell resembling beer or bread
  • Pain or burning in and around the vagina
  • Itchiness around the vagina

Gray

Gray vaginal discharge—particularly if it has a fishy smell—may indicate bacterial vaginosis (BV), which is a common but frustrating condition in which the normal balance of the vaginal flora is disrupted, leading to an overgrowth of anaerobic bacteria.

BV can cause issues during pregnancy—like increasing your risk for preterm labor—so it is important to speak to your doctor if you suspect you have BV.

Pink or Brown

In some instances, you may experience brown or pink discharge. This can occur for many reasons, including:

  • Implantation bleeding: This occurs very early in pregnancy—likely before you even know you’re pregnant. It occurs when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining (endometrium).
  • Intercourse or a vaginal exam: This can cause brown or pink discharge because the cervix and vagina are easily irritated during pregnancy, thanks to increased blood flow in the area.
  • Bloody show: This occurs when the mucus plug slowly breaks down. It may come out in small bits, large clumps, or mucousy streaks and can make vaginal discharge appear brownish or pinkish. This is a sign that labor and delivery are approaching; it could happen hours, days, or even weeks before true labor begins.

Signs of Abnormal Discharge

Speak with your doctor if you experience signs of abnormal discharge, including:

  • Yellow, green, red, or grey in color
  • Strong, foul odor
  • Redness, itching, or swelling of the vaginal area

While it might be nothing to worry about, it could signify something more is happening, especially since yeast infections are more common during pregnancy. Some critical notes to include when discussing discharge changes with your doctor include when the change occurred and symptoms you’re experiencing.

Heavy Discharge

If your discharge is bright red and exceeds an ounce (about the weight of six grapes), call your doctor immediately. 

Treatment

Before getting into the different ways to help manage pregnancy discharge, you should know that attempting to treat yourself can be harmful to you and your baby’s health—especially when you don’t know what you’re truly treating.

In some cases, discharge from bacterial infections can increase your risk of delivering the baby early. For your health and safety, run any treatment ideas for your situation by your healthcare provider. 

General Hygiene

Sometimes, discharge can leave us feeling unclean. And when you think something isn’t clean, you want to clean it and clean it well. However, when it comes to the vagina, it’s best to be conservative—which feels counterintuitive.

The discharge your vagina creates has the critical job of protecting your body from infection. The body needs to work under ideal conditions to do this. If you are using harsh soaps or douching, you will create a pH imbalance in the vagina. When the vagina has a pH imbalance, you’re much more likely to get an infection. 

If you feel you need to do something, and a warm, wet washcloth doesn’t feel sufficient, a pH-balanced moist wipe—free of chemicals, scents, essential oils, or alcohol—is the next best thing.

Keep It Dry

After stepping out of the shower, getting out of the pool, or even exercising, it’s wise to pat yourself dry. Reducing the moisture in the vaginal area removes the ideal environment for bacteria.

100% Cotton Underwear

Consider switching to underwear made of 100% cotton. Cotton underwear often receives praise for its ability to let the nether regions breathe. This breathability helps prevent the moisture that bacteria love to live and feed on.

Panty Liners

Many people will wear unscented panty liners during pregnancy to help absorb any discharge they produce. It also helps them feel dry, clean, and more comfortable throughout the day. And while some gynecologists recommend wearing panty liners during pregnancy, they also emphasize that pregnant people should avoid wearing tampons.

A Word From Verywell

If you have questions or concerns about the nature of your vaginal discharge at any point in your pregnancy, reach out to your healthcare provider. While this conversation may feel embarrassing or uncomfortable to bring this up, it’s always better to play it safe and get a professional opinion, especially when it comes to you and your baby’s health and safety.

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