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Must-Knows About Milky White Vaginal Discharge: Potential Causes & What to Do About

Written by Elizabeth Buescher, Gynecologist

One of the most common complaints for which women consult gynecologists is the increase in the amount of vaginal discharge that they experience. While sometimes the discharge appears to be milky white and bears no odor, many women report the appearance of an unpleasant smell, thicker consistency and genital discomfort. White milky discharge is normal and does not necessarily indicate the presence of an infection unless it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as itching, fishy odor and burning at urination.

Sometimes, the only cause triggering your discharge to turn whitish is a possible pregnancy. So, is milky white discharge normal, and what does it mean when you have it?

What Causes Milky White Discharge?

Vaginal discharge varies from woman to woman, but it’s generally clear or whitish in color, and its thickness can be anywhere from watery to pasty, cottage cheese-like. Normal vaginal discharge does not have a smell – it’s usually odorless, although you may notice its odor to be quite musky at times. This also depends on how diligent you have been about your personal hygiene. As long as you do not experience other symptoms such as itching, foul smell or swelling, your discharge is normal.

However, if you also experience these symptoms, then you may want to go your GP or health care provider and have a sample of the discharge taken for analysis. If it’s not pregnancy or an upcoming period, there is a very good chance that you have an infection .Check out the list below to see the most common causes of abnormal, milky white discharge.

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What Did I Learn from My Experience with White Clear, Itchy, Thin Discharge?

1. Yeast Infection

Every woman deals with yeast infection at one point or another in her life. Yeast infection is a type of vaginal infection (or vaginitis) caused by the overgrowth of Candida albicans, a specific strand of yeast that occurs naturally in the vaginal flora. Its growth is kept in check by good bacteria such as lactobacillus, which maintain an acidic pH of 4.5 or lower to prevent potential infections.

However, the balance between good and bacteria in your vaginal flora is extremely precarious and always at risk of being upset by a hormonal change that may occur in your body. When the change does happen, the balance is upset, and Candida albicans grows excessively. There are many potential risk factors that can result in vaginal yeast infection. Although not considered a sexually transmitted disease, engaging in unprotected sex can oftentimes trigger yeast infections. Common causes include antibiotic use, douching, weak immune system, poor eating habits, contact with infected bodily fluids, and more.

Many times, yeast infections are asymptomatic, even though the vast majority of women report symptoms. Yeast infection is the primary cause of white milky smelly discharge – and if it’s also accompanied by itching, swelling, or burning at urination, then you can be sure that you have it. To avoid putting a wrong diagnosis, you should consult a professional and take appropriate tests to see whether you’re dealing with an overgrowth of Candida bodies. Additional investigations may reveal the type of treatment that will help stave off the infection.

2. Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a condition in which the balance of bacteria inside the vagina becomes disrupted. Unlike yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis is usually milder, and does not cause any itching or soreness. However, BV may still cause abnormal discharge, which happens to be white, milky, and smelly in most of the time. The change in the amount, hue and smell of your discharge may be more noticeable during intercourse.

Interestingly, bacterial vaginosis does not follow a specific pattern, and you may as well have clear, watery mucus instead of white, creamy discharge. Common causes of BV include douching, unprotected sex (and sex with multiple partners), and incorrect wiping. As a rule of thumb, any changes that affect your vagina’s pH – and implicitly, the vaginal flora – can quickly lead to bacterial vaginosis.

Luckily, the symptoms will probably go away on their own after a couple of days – sometimes, many women may not even notice them. If you are currently pregnant, you should get immediate treatment to avoid serious complications that might arise if BV is left untreated.

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Milky White Vaginal Discharge, the First Sign of Pregnancy

When it comes to pregnancy, most women pay close attention only to morning sickness, tender breasts, fatigue, and increased urination, but fail to notice one of the first pregnancy symptoms they should expect to see: white milky discharge no odor. If you are pregnant, then you will likely notice that the amount of milky white discharge from vagina has increased – a normal happening that’s usually referred to as the “white flow” or leucorrhea.

Most of the time, the discharge is completely odorless, although it may bear a very mild smell in some cases, depending on how diligent you have been about your personal hygiene. The culprit behind this pesky pregnancy symptom is your body’s production of estrogen, which increases blood flow to the pelvic area and stimulates the body’s mucous membranes. The role of milky white discharge is to protect the birth canal from infection and maintain a healthy balance of bacteria in the vagina. The discharge may turn brown or pink during pregnancy, and unless you are heavily bleeding, this shouldn’t be a concern.

This vaginal spotting is normal especially during sex and doesn’t require immediate attention. However, if you notice that your discharge is yellow, greenish and has a thick, curd-like consistency as well as a foul odor, you should call your practitioner as soon as possible, as you may have a vaginal infection (see above).

White Milky Discharge: What Teens Should Know

If you have recently hit puberty, then you have certainly noticed a lot of changes in your body. Your breasts are getting bigger, and hair has started growing in new places. And – oh, wait a moment, what’s that white/yellow crust on your underwear? As a teenager, you have certainly noticed that your underwear bears a yellowish substance that’s crusty and may have a slight odor. About 6 months to 1 year before a girl gets her period, her body may start to produce vaginal discharge as a result of the hormonal changes that she’s going through.

Normal vaginal discharge can have a texture that ranges from thin to creamy, and has a hue that varies from milky white to pale yellow. Most of the time, the discharge does not have an odor, although it might sometimes emanate a slight musky smell. Moreover, vaginal discharge in teens should not cause genital discomfort such as itching or swelling. Sometimes, normal discharge may cause mild irritation of the vulva, especially if your first period is approaching. This is due to excessive moisture against your skin. The vaginal mucus feels rather dry before period, resembling thick cream when rubbed between your fingers.

Even if you’re sexually inactive, you may still develop yeast infections, which may also cause itching and burning. The best way to tell whether your discharge is normal is, well, smelling it. If it doesn’t bear any odor despite the itching, you may be healthy. On the other hand, if you notice a strong fishy odor coming from your vagina, then you should see a doctor for diagnosis and treatment.

Stress May Affect the Amount of Discharge

If you are not pregnant and not expecting your period for the next couple of days, milky white discharge with odor may be a result of stress and anxiety. A recent study has found that stress can oftentimes cause the amount of discharge to increase, and even the color to go from clear or transparent to white or even yellow. The study included 2,494 women, 15 percent of which have reported abnormal vaginal discharge.

Of these, as much as 60 percent of them have reported other gynecologic symptoms – itching (experienced by 40 percent of them), nonmenstrua. l pain in lower abdomen (experienced by 30 percent of them), pain or burning at urination (experienced by 20 percent of them), and genital blisters (experienced by 13 percent of them).If you have been going through a very stressful time, then the cause of the milky white discharge may be stress-related and not necessarily caused by an infection. It’s better to call your doctor to rule out the possibility of an infection, and see whether there is anything else that you can do to relieve stress.

Douching, Scented Soaps and Hygiene Products Do Impact Vaginal Discharge

A huge number of women fail to understand what being diligent about their personal hygiene really means. Due to the increasing amounts of vaginal discharge that they are dealing with, many of them choose to make use of a variety of products to keep their genital area clean and fresh. These include scented soaps, perfumes, and douches, sometimes even scented creams or ointments.

Most such products have a relatively high pH value of 6.0 or above, which implicitly affects the pH of their vagina, which ultimately becomes a breeding ground for bacteria and other organisms that may cause infections. When the pH value of their vagina suffers, one of the most common consequences is white vaginal discharge, which is usually odorless and doesn’t come with itching or other similar symptoms. To avoid this, you should be using only water and mild, unscented soap to maintain your vulva clean. Don’t forget that the vagina has its own way of flushing out dead cells and bacteria, which is called, well, vaginal discharge!

You may occasionally wash using just a bit of water to keep your genitals relatively fresh and avoid bad odor. If you experience an increase in the amount of discharge that your vagina produces, consider changing your underpants as frequently as needed. Also, wear only cotton underwear, as it is much more breathable than silk or other fabrics, keeping your vagina dry and preventing potential infections. When there is no moisture, the bacteria have a hard time traveling to your cervix, so infections are improbable.

Never Forget Tampons Inside of Your Vagina

It’s not uncommon for women to forget a tampon inside of their vagina during the last day of their period. Due to the absence of the bleeding, the dimensions of the tampon remain relatively the same, so you will probably experience no discomfort. The tampon starts festering after one week or so, potentially causing bacterial vaginosis – and, as a result, a lot of milky white vaginal discharge, with or without odor.

The discharge tends to be creamy and thick, and has a very unpleasant odor. Remove the tampon as soon as possible to prevent the multiplication of the bacteria inside of your vagina. If you cannot do this by yourself, then you should go to a sexual health clinic and have it removed. Your doctor will then prescribe specific medications to stave off the existing infection or prevent one, depending on how fast you have removed the tampon. Quick Tip: To avoid forgetting a tampon inside of your vagina, use regular tampon pads during the last day of your period.

What To Do If You Have Milky White Discharge?

If you notice a change in the color, consistency and smell of your vaginal discharge, there are a few things you should do to prevent potential complications that may arise. Instead of self-diagnosing the underlying issue and taking over-the-counter medications, you should consult your doctor first. He or she will take a sample of the discharge and send it to a laboratory, where it will be tested to identify whether you have an infection or not, and what type of bacteria (or yeast if it’s a yeast infection) is causing it.

If you have recently had unprotected sex, make sure to notify your partner about the potential infection, so he can also investigate and see whether he should take any treatment or not. It’s imperative that you change your hygiene habits, especially if you haven’t been very diligent about your hygiene lately. Wash every few days, and never use more than water and mild soap. Avoid unprotected sex and do your best to avoid sugary foods, which can mess with your vagina’s pH can lead to bacterial vaginosis or yeast infection. You may consider taking probiotics supplements, especially if you are currently on antibiotics, as they can prevent yeast infections and keep the growth of Candida bodies in check.

Read also:
Everything You Need to Know About White Discharge During Early Pregnancy
White Vaginal Discharge: When Is It Normal and When Not?
White Discharge Before Period: Should You Be Concerned