Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy - What's Normal and When To See a Doctor
12 mins read
Prenatal Health for Pregnancy
If you're experiencing vaginal discharge during pregnancy, you are probably freaking yourself out with anxiety. This is indeed a time when the vaginal tract is vulnerable to infection. While some discharges are due to common yeast infections, others can be a cause for concern and must be addressed on priority.
Pregnancy is a delicate period in every woman’s life, especially with the increased susceptibility to infection. Vaginal discharge in pregnancy is one such condition which can cause anxiety among moms-to-be. Although you may have experienced vaginal discharge between periods prior to pregnancy, this can now increase multi-fold and be highly uncomfortable.
Causes of Vaginal Discharge
In normal women, a little bit of vaginal discharge is produced throughout their reproductive life. Depending on which stage of ovulation they are at, this vaginal discharge changes in colour and consistency. Depending on the woman’s diet, it can also smell different.
The primary causes of vaginal discharge during pregnancy are explained below.
Heightened levels of estrogen during pregnancy stimulates excess production of vaginal discharge. It is also called leukorrhea.
In the early pregnancy weeks, vaginal discharge forms a physical barrier and helps your cervix remain shielded from the external environment; this is called the cervical mucus plug. This, in turn, helps keep infections away. However, you may not be able to ‘feel’ as much of the discharge now. Your vagina and cervix soften and become more elastic when you become pregnant, preparing for the birth of your baby. This is another reason for an increase in the vaginal discharge.
As your foetus grows bigger, it will begin to exert pressure on your cervix. This will cause the vaginal discharge to actually come out. While you may feel wetter than before, this is normal.
Close to your estimated delivery date, your body will dispel the cervical mucus plug, clearing the way for your baby to come out! Followed by this, your vaginal discharge may be streaked with some blood, making it appear brown or red. Take this as a ‘get-set’ sign and start preparing for the arrival of your baby! This is the only instance when it’s okay for some blood to appear in your vaginal discharge. If you ‘bleed’ anytime before that, or if you bleed a lot when your cervical mucus plug comes off, consult your doctor.
Not all women show an increase in vaginal discharge. However, this increase may not be sudden or overnight. A sudden increase in vaginal discharge is indicative of an infection and warrants immediate medical attention and care.
Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy – What is Normal and What is Not
Understanding the nature of vaginal discharge can help in the timely diagnosis of developing infections during pregnancy and can help you avoid complications or pre-term labour. Understanding the different types of vaginal discharge can help you ascertain whether your vaginal discharge is normal or not.
Colour of Discharge
Normal vaginal discharge of a healthy pregnant mom will be clear to slightly milky in colour. However, if the consistency is watery, and if there is persistent wetness in the panties throughout the day, you should consult your doctor.
During the first trimester, some women bleed. Known as spotting during pregnancy, this can sometimes manifest as a very small and light period, or as pink, red, or brown vaginal discharge. This is normal – about 1 in every 5 women experiences this.
If, however, your vaginal discharge in the later weeks is any other colour, this could be a cause for concern.
White Discharge During Pregnancy
While slightly milky/cloudy vaginal discharge is the most common of all discharges during pregnancy, thick white vaginal discharge indicates a yeast infection. Also known as thrush, it is caused by Candida. To differentiate between this and normal vaginal discharge, look for other accompanying signs: itchiness, tenderness, and pain during sexual intercourse.
Yellow Discharge During Pregnancy
Vaginal discharge that has been exposed to air appears tainted yellow. This is nothing to worry about. However, yellow vaginal discharge accompanied by a foul smell and frothiness indicates trichomoniasis – a sexually transmitted infection. Look for other accompanying signs like itchiness, burning sensation while urinating, or a red and tender vulva. If you experience all of these, consult your doctor right away.
Green Discharge During Pregnancy
Trichomoniasis sometimes colours the vaginal discharge green. Various other infections can also result in greenish discharge during pregnancy. Some of these infections predispose a mom to pre-term labour, leading to premature birth of the baby. Consult your doctor at the earliest.
Brown/Red Discharge During Pregnancy
Two instances when a brown or red discharge is normal have already been discussed before (in the first trimester, caused by spotting, and close to the due date, caused by falling off of the cervical mucus plug). Apart from that, if your vaginal discharge is ever streaked brown or red, it could indicate a possible miscarriage. It could also indicate an ectopic pregnancy, or an issue with the placenta.
Grey Discharge During Pregnancy
Grey vaginal discharge is a sign of bacterial vaginosis, especially if accompanied by a fishy smell, and if exhibited just after sexual intercourse.
Smell of Discharge
Normally, mucosal vaginal discharge is odourless or has a very faint sour odour. The food you consume can affect the natural odour of your vaginal discharge, just like it gives your urine and sweat a typical smell too. This is why vaginal discharge of two women will not smell the same.
By now you must be familiar with your typical ‘normal’ odour. So any particular smell that is not normal, and persists for more than a day should ring the alarm bell in your mind. Some of these smells have been discussed above – for example, fishy smell of bacterial vaginosis. Apart from that, sometimes, your vagina could just give off a strong odour; this is your natural odour, but stronger, such that you can smell it if you strip down to your panties. This indicates either poor hygiene, or a disturbed microflora. Use a vaginal wash. In rare cases, you may experience a typical cheesy smell – it indicates a yeast infection. Get medical help.
Regularity of Discharge
Vaginal discharge will be produced by your body throughout your reproductive life. In pregnancy, vaginal discharge levels usually peak from the first to the last week of pregnancy.
As estrogen levels rise, the amount of discharge produced by your cervix will slowly increase. This increase may or may not be perceptible.
As the foetus grows bigger, it will exert pressure on your cervix and uterus, causing the vaginal discharge to actually be... discharged! If not earlier, you will now be able to actually feel it in your panties. Depending on your body tendency and size of your baby, you may have to manually remove the discharge anywhere between once to several times a day.
Closer to your due date, the cervical mucus plug will fall-off and you will see slightly pink, or reddish-brown vaginal discharge. This will happen just once, after which your body will produce normal vaginal discharge again. For women still producing normal coloured discharge, there will be a perceptible increase in the amount of discharge.
Vaginal Discharge That Indicates Possibility of Miscarriage
There will be other signs of miscarriage that you might perceive before you check your vaginal discharge, such as cramping, pain, or lack of movement (if your pregnancy has advanced to that point). However, early miscarriage can manifest as abnormal vaginal discharge.
Normal spotting during pregnancy will only streak your vaginal discharge red or brown. However, a miscarriage will significantly change its colour. Early miscarriages sometimes manifest as a ‘period’ too, in which case, it won’t be possible to tell the blood and vaginal discharge apart from each other.
In the event of a miscarriage in the second or third trimester (the chances of which are rare), there will be profuse bleeding, since the foetus will be much bigger than in the first trimester. However, it may start with a colouration of the vaginal discharge. Reddish or brown discharge in the second and third trimester is a significant sign of miscarriage, however, it could also be a sign of placental aberration, cervical aberration, or even cervical polyps. Do not lose hope, and do not jump to conclusions. Seek medical asisstance immediately.
Other Discharges During Pregnancy
Apart from vaginal discharge, other parts of your body may discharge fluids during pregnancy. Here is a comprehensive list:
Amniotic Fluid Discharge – along with mucus, your vagina can sometimes leak a bit of the amniotic fluid. Typically it will be clear to slightly milky, but it maybe pink (on account of small amount of blood) or greenish-brown (on account of meconium). It feels warm, is odourless, and will soil your panties immediately.
Cervical Mucus Plug Discharge – at times this manifests only as an increase in amount and viscosity of the normal vaginal discharge. Some women may feel a pale yellow coloured lump in the normal vaginal discharge. This will occur close to your due date.
Nipple Discharge – pregnant women often experience nipple discharge that’s anywhere between white and cream or yellow coloured. Typically, this discharge is sen as a result of breast stimulation, however in some women it can be spontaneous too. This is nothing to worry about.
Bloody Nipple Discharge – pregnant women often experience nipple discharge that’s anywhere between white and cream or yellow coloured. However, bloody nipple discharge is NOT normal during any week of pregnancy. There is evidence that it could indicate breast cancer. However, not every instance of bloody nipple discharge indicates cancer; non-cancerous causes include development of fibrocysts (that may not be cancerous), mastitis (inflammation of breast, sometimes accompanied with abscess), etc.
WATCH: Home Remedies for Vaginal Discharge
Key Takeaway: Not all vaginal discharge is dangerous; however, it is important to know how to handle each of them. Dr. Meenakshi Chauhan explain common home remedies for vaginal discharge.
Bananas: Consume pulp of over-ripe bananas (where the skin has blackened) twice a day.
Lady Finger: Cut and boil 4-5 'bhindis' in one glass of water; filter and drink it.
Roasted Black Gram: Consume one small bowl everyday, along with a glass of milk.
Curd: Rinse your vagina with curd twice a day to maintain pH of the vagina and get rid of vaginal discharge.
Alum Powder: Mix 1 tablespoon alum powder in 1 litre water, and rinse the vagina with this solution.
Preganancy Discharge FAQs
What can I do to prevent infections?
Abnormal vaginal discharge during pregnancy is in most cases a sign of some form of infection. Here are a few things you can do to prevent infections, that lead to increase and/or change in your vaginal discharge:
Do not douche (wash out your vagina with water or a mixture of water and vinegar).
Use a vaginal wash to keep yourself clean.
Do not let moisture catch in the folds of your skin.
Use cotton panties. Stay away from synthetic fibre as much as possible. Wear loose fitting bottom-wear, at least when you are home.
Do not hesitate to change your panties frequently through the day. Never wear a wet panty.
Practice safe sex. Use a condom or any other kind of female contraception.
Try not to use public toilets. Pee before you leave the house. If you have to use one, make sure you find a clean toilet. Eash yourself well immediately after you get home.
Do not hold your pee in for too long.
Should I be more concerned about vaginal discharge in 2nd and 3rd trimister?
While you will continue to get vaginal discharge throughout your pregnancy, you should watch out for abnormal kind of discharge throughout your pregnancy. As explained earlier, the first trimester, and the last week of pregnancy, are two instances when a reddish brown discharge may be normal. But apart from that, anything that is not routine warrants attention, irrespective of which trimester you are in.
Does stress affect vaginal discharge?
Yes. Stress is known to affect vaginal discharge, and this holds true for pregnant as well as non-pregnant women. Try your best to not be too anxious or worried about your baby. Do whatever it takes to keep a calm mind. Developing healthy habits like meditation, yoga, walking, listening to music, cultivating a hobby can significantly reduce stress levels and allow you to have a worry-free pregnancy!
What should I do to feel less uncomfortable when I am out?
If you are one of those women who is experiencing a significant increase in her vaginal discharge, it can make things really uncomfortable, especially when you step out of the house. Here are a few things you can do to ease the discomfort:
Change into a fresh pair of panties before stepping out of the house.
Always carry a clean pair of panties with you (in case you get too wet and feel like changing).
Wear a panty-liner. It is a thin cotton pad that is smaller than a sanitary napkin. It helps keep discharge and moisture under control. It is also a good way to keep your panties clean.
Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash as often as required.
Knowing the nature of vaginal discharge can help you diagnose and protect yourself and your baby from many infections. Ensure to keep a check on your body at this time – you owe it to the little one in your womb!