White Vaginal Discharge: Causes and Treatments

White vaginal discharge may seem alarming to some. However, most of the time there is nothing to worry about. In fact, most people with vaginas will have some discharge. White vaginal discharge is usually a sign of a normal menstrual cycle. It can give you a clue as to what stage of the cycle you're in. It can also be an early sign of pregnancy.

However, there are times when white discharge may signal an infection, such as a yeast infection, which occurs when yeast grows out of control, or bacterial vaginosis (BV), bacterial overgrowth in the vagina. These infections are often accompanied by other symptoms, including itching, burning, and a foul odor.

This article will discuss when white discharge is normal and when it may be a sign of infection.

Two women in bathing suits sit with their feet in the water (How to Prevent Yeast Infections)

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Thick White Discharge

Throughout someone's menstrual cycle, vaginal discharge may change in consistency and color. When it appears as a thick white discharge, this can be a sign that your body is releasing an egg from your ovaries, which is called ovulation.

What Does Normal Vaginal Discharge Look Like?

Your normal discharge may range from milky to white. It will vary from person to person.

Tracking your menstrual cycle and taking note of your discharge can be helpful in identifying when white vaginal discharge is normal and when it might be abnormal.

Milky White Discharge

Milky white discharge can be a sign that your body is preparing for ovulation. It could also be an early sign of pregnancy.

When preparing to ovulate, your body will produce a watery discharge. This will be thinner in consistency. It may look like egg whites. It will also be odorless and cause no discomfort.

When you become pregnant, you may also have a clear or milky discharge. This is also odorless and mild. It's called leukorrhea, and it's a normal part of pregnancy.

Clumpy White Discharge

If you're seeing clumpy white discharge, this may be a sign of a yeast infection. This infection causes vaginal discharge with a cottage cheese consistency. You may also experience burning and itchiness.

How Common Are Vaginal Yeast Infections?

Vaginal yeast infections are common and are very treatable in most cases. In fact, 75% of women are likely to experience at least one yeast infection in their lifetime.

Causes of a vaginal yeast infection vary. It can be from wearing a wet bathing suit for too long, douching, or antibiotic use. Vaginal yeast infections are usually quite treatable with over-the-counter medications. In cases of persistent infections, see your healthcare provider to address potential underlying causes such as diabetes.

Your practitioner may prescribe antifungal medications such as oral fluconazole, or Vivjoa (for cases of chronic yeast infection in nonreproductive women). While the vagina is self-cleaning and a certain level of yeast is normal, too much yeast can alter the pH of the vagina and cause an infection.

Follow these tips to keep vaginal yeast infections at bay:

  • Always change out of wet clothing or bathing suits as soon as possible: Yeast grows best in wet and warm environments, making bathing suits and wet clothing the perfect setting.
  • Avoid douching: This can actually kill the bacteria that control yeast overgrowth in the vagina.
  • Skip using scented tampons or pads: Fragrance can be irritating to the vagina.
  • Keep your blood sugar levels as normal as possible if you have diabetes: Diabetes makes you more susceptible to yeast infections, and controlling your condition can help prevent these infections.

Thick White Sticky Discharge

Thick white sticky discharge is a sign of a healthy vagina and menstrual cycle. It acts as a barrier to protect the cervix from infection.

As you get closer to ovulation, your discharge will thin out into a clear or milky discharge. This is a sign of fertility since sperm can swim more easily through this type of discharge as opposed to a thicker one.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

If you have any discharge that signals an infection, such as a thick, white, and chunky discharge, or discharge that is abnormal for you, see your healthcare provider or gynecologist.

At your appointment, you will be asked for information about the odor, consistency, and color. You will also be asked if you have symptoms such as itching or burning. Additionally, you'll be asked if it appears in conjunction with certain phases of your menstrual cycle or during sex.

Your practitioner will assess the cause of your discharge and tell you what you need to do next. If the infection does not resolve after the first round of treatment, ask your healthcare provider for more tests to find out if something else is causing your abnormal discharge.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes thick white discharge?

    Thick white discharge can indicate that a person is ovulating. This is when their ovaries release a mature egg. However, the color and consistency of discharge can vary from one person to another. A change in the typical appearance of your discharge may be a sign of an infection.

  • What does abnormal discharge look like?

    Abnormal discharge can be identified by changes in color, consistency, or amount. If there is itching, burning, pain during urination, bleeding outside of a period, or a foul odor paired with yellowish, greenish, or grayish-white discharge, it may be indicative of an infection or other health condition. In these cases, it is a good idea to contact a healthcare provider for an official diagnosis.

  • What causes milky white discharge?

    Milky white discharge is sometimes an early sign of pregnancy, or it can mean the body is preparing for ovulation. People who are pregnant may have clear or milky and odorless discharge.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Molly Burford
Molly Burford is a mental health advocate and wellness book author with almost 10 years of experience in digital media.