Have you ever wondered what is vaginal discharge, and why you’re experiencing it? While many women complain about it, vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence that has a beneficial role for your reproductive system: to keep the vagina clean and healthy, and keep infections at bay. Due to the changes in color, consistency, amount and sometimes odor, vaginal discharge can be concerning at times, specifically if the changes are sudden and unexpected.
Probably the most frustrating aspect about cervical mucus is that it happens every day of your menstrual cycle. The guide below shows when vaginal discharge is normal, and how to recognize its characteristics at different times of the menstrual cycle.
1. What Is Normal Vaginal Discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge (or cervical mucus) is defined as a fluid produced by glands inside the vagina and cervix, which expels dead cells and bacteria, preventing pathogens from traveling to the uterus – and thus, keeping infections at bay. Vaginal discharge is made up of a small number of bad bacteria and a much larger number of good bacteria, which help maintain the vagina’s acidic pH.While the characteristics of vaginal discharge usually differ slightly from woman to woman, they are generally the same in all cases. Cervical mucus is typically clear to white and sometimes pale yellow in color, has a relatively thin consistency that resembles uncooked egg whites, and bears no odor. The normal amount of vaginal discharge is one teaspoon or 2mg.
While the characteristics of vaginal discharge usually differ slightly from woman to woman, they are generally the same in all cases. Cervical mucus is typically clear to white and sometimes pale yellow in color, has a relatively thin consistency that resembles uncooked egg whites, and bears no odor. The normal amount of vaginal discharge is one teaspoon or 2mg.
The characteristics of vaginal discharge are largely influenced by a number of factors, which results in variations throughout your menstrual cycle. Common factors include estrogen versus progesterone levels, pregnancy, hormonal medications, stress, eating habits, immune system and personal hygiene.
How Does Vaginal Discharge Vary Throughout Your Menstrual Cycle?
In addition to helping you understand how your reproductive system works, tracking changes in your vaginal discharge can also help you identify your most fertile days in case that you’re trying to conceive. Check out the guide below to see how cervical mucus changes depending on different phases in your menstrual cycle.
1. Egg White Cervical Mucus (EWCM)
Egg white cervical mucus got its name due to the similarity in consistency with raw (uncooked) egg whites. The color is usually clear to slightly white, it can stretch an inch or two without breaking in the middle, and doesn’t bear any odor. Egg white vaginal discharge happens during the middle of your menstrual cycle when you ovulate and is the result of increased estrogen levels in the body.
Egg white cervical mucus is the most fertile type of vaginal discharge because it allows sperm cells to travel vigorously to your uterus and unite with the ovum (egg).
- When Does It Occur? During the middle of your menstrual cycle (ovulation), and lasts for a few days.
2. Watery Cervical Mucus
Watery vaginal discharge, just like its name suggests, is vaginal discharge with a very watery consistency that may drip or run off your finger. The color is usually clear, although it can get pretty whitish if there is a lot of discharge. The smell is pretty musky, although there normally is no odor. Watery cervical mucus is the second best for conception, as it allows sperm cells to travel to the uterus, but doesn’t make its job as easy as egg white vaginal discharge.
- When Does It Occur? When ovulation is imminent and lasts until it starts.
3. Creamy Cervical Mucus
Creamy cervical mucus is characterized by its extremely creamy and chunky consistency that feels very similar to lotion when rubbed between fingers, its pearly white to pale yellow consistency, and no odor. Due to its thick texture, creamy vaginal discharge greatly restricts the movement of sperm cells, which is why it’s considered the second least fertile types of cervical mucus.
- When Does It Occur? Up to seven days before ovulation, and lasts for 2-3 days.
4. Sticky Cervical Mucus
Sticky or tacky cervical mucus is clear to whitish in color, has a pasty and chunky consistency that feels kind of like glue from a glue stick, and doesn’t have any odor. Since it makes it very hard for sperm cells to travel to the uterus, sticky cervical mucus is considered the least fertile type of CM.
- When Does It Occur? Right before and after period, and usually lasts until period starts or until estrogen levels increase slightly and creamy discharge occurs.
Is Discharge Normal During Pregnancy?
If you’re wondering “Is it normal to have discharge while pregnant,” the answer is – yes. When you get pregnant, your estrogen-progesterone balance changes as estrogen levels increase dramatically, thus resulting in heavy vaginal discharge known as “leucorrhea” or “white flow.” You will be experiencing up to 30 times more discharge than normal, leading to heavy gushes coming out of your vagina. Normal discharge color ranges from clear to whitish and even pale yellow, having a thin, egg white-like consistency and no odor.
The amount of discharge increases as your pregnancy progresses. There will be more mucus towards the end of your pregnancy since the hormone levels will be insanely changing. During the third trimester, the cervical mucus plug will also come out, increasing the amount of discharge even more. The cervical mucus plug is a ball of mucus that seals your cervix throughout your pregnancy, making it impossible for pathogens to travel to the uterus. When the cervix thins, some blood is released, thus making the mucus plug appear bloody or blood-streaked. It can come out either all at once, as a ball of mucus, or flow more evenly in the form of increased vaginal discharge over several days. This is called a “show” or “bloody show,” and it indicates that your body is getting ready for birth.
When the cervix thins, some blood is released, thus making the mucus plug appear bloody or blood-streaked. It can come out either all at once, as a ball of mucus, or flow more evenly in the form of increased vaginal discharge over several days. This is called a “show” or “bloody show,” and it indicates that your body is getting ready for birth.
Is It Normal to Have Discharge After Pregnancy?
Lochia is vaginal discharge that occurs during the postpartum period. It’s made up of blood, tissue shed from the vaginal lining, and bacteria. During the first few days after birth, the discharge contains a fair amount of blood, which can make it look very similar to a heavy period. It may come out in small gushes or flow more evenly. Lochia should lighten in color over the course of the next one week and a half. By two to four days after delivery, it should be pinkish and watery. By ten days after birth, there should be no blood streak or stain. Instead, you should have a small amount of white or yellow-white discharge.
Lochia should lighten in color over the course of the next one week and a half. By two to four days after delivery, it should be pinkish and watery. By ten days after birth, there should be no blood streak or stain. Instead, you should have a small amount of white or yellow-white discharge.
Lochia will eventually stop in another two to four weeks after delivery. You may experience light spotting during this time, but as long as the bleeding is not serious, you should be fine.
Is Discharge Normal After Period?
Many women experience brownish discharge during the last day of their period, and one or two days after it. This is a normal occurrence, and it happens due to your vagina expelling normal cervical mucus along with blood remnants and excess endometrial tissue. Since there is no more bleeding, the blood is brownish instead of bright red. The consistency is usually very similar to uncooked egg white, and there is a slight odor that’s similar to how your period smells.
The color of the mucus should become gradually lighter over the next one or two days until it’s clear or whitish again. The consistency also changes from egg white to dense and clumpy.
Is Vaginal Discharge Normal During and After Sex?
If you experience excessive vaginal discharge during sex, we have good news for you – this is absolutely normal. Sexual arousal causes Bartholin’s and Skene’s glands, which are located above and respectively under the vaginal opening, to produce a clear-whitish, slippery liquid that lubricates the vagina and facilitates intercourse. The amount depends solely on how aroused you are.
The glands will continue to produce discharge even after the intercourse has been concluded. Your vagina will also produce more discharge in order to prevent pathogens from traveling to the uterus, thus keeping infections at bay.
Is It Normal to Have White Discharge with Bad Smell?
A foul odor coming from the vagina is a sign of infection, especially if you experience thick, cottage cheese discharge that’s also accompanied by vaginal or vulval itching, swelling and/or redness, burning when urinating, painful intercourse and lower abdominal (pelvic) pain. If the discharge is whitish, chances are that you have yeast infection.
A few questions your ob/gyn will ask to see if it’s yeast infection are:
- Have you recently taken antibiotics or steroid medications?
- Have you made any changes to your usual lifestyle habits?
- Have you been eating sugary foods lately?
- Have you engaged in unprotected sexual intercourse recently?
Another possibility would be bacterial vaginosis. It causes symptoms similar to yeast infection, such as white thick discharge with a strong odor, but it’s accompanied by any itching, swelling or vaginal discomfort. Since bacterial vaginosis is typically milder, the symptoms go away on their own in a few days only. However, a visit to your ob/gyn is recommended for appropriate treatment.
How to Address Excessive Discharge?
In order to address excessive discharge, there are a couple of things to consider. First of all, if the discharge occurs as a normal part of your menstrual cycle or pregnancy and isn’t caused by an infection, there isn’t much you can do about it. Keeping yourself fresh without being overly diligent about your hygiene habits is essential to staying comfortable.
1. Don’t Attempt to Clean Too Frequently or Use Hygiene Products
When vaginal discharge is an issue, cleaning your genitals frequently can be very tempting. Unfortunately, most hygiene products including scented soaps, deodorants and perfumes mess with the vagina’s pH and remove good bacteria, thus leading to bacterial vaginosis. At the same time, they contain chemicals that are harsh on the skin, resulting in irritations, rashes and even blisters.
If excess cervical mucus is bothering you, use specifically plain tap water to keep your intimate area fresh and prevent odors. A mild, unscented soap is acceptable as long as you use it in very small amounts and only occasionally.
2. Stay Away from Tampons and Panty Liners
Due to the huge amounts of mucus coming out of their vaginas, many women prefer using either tampons or panty liners to soak it up. Most of the time, this solution seems very efficient since it prevents wetting their clothes and bad odors. What they don’t know is that both panty liners and tampons interfere with the vaginal environment and alter the pH, creating a breeding ground for bacteria.
Instead of tampons and panty liners, you should consider relying on sanitary pads instead. They have been specifically created to ensure that they don’t cause any changes to the vaginal environment, and they do not have any scent.
3. Change Underwear Frequently
If you’re experiencing lots of vaginal discharge, a better solution to sanitary pads would be changing your underpants frequently. Have one or two backup pairs in your purse for those moments when your vagina becomes really messy. Also, make sure to include a pack of wet wipes in your handbag so you can refresh your genitals before changing undies.
Don’t forget that loose clothing, and loose underpants in particular, are the best choice to controlling the amount of discharge coming out of the vagina. Tight clothing messes up the vagina’s pH, not to mention that it doesn’t allow your skin to breathe probably. You are more likely to sweat excessively down there if you wear tight underpants, which can create discomfort. Ditch thongs in favor of loose knickers – they are comfortable, breathable and make you feel as you wouldn’t be wearing any undies.
If possible, sleep without any panties on to allow the skin to ventilate better.
4. Be Smart About Using Public Restrooms
It’s not uncommon use to use the toilet of the mall, restaurant or pool – but most of the time, these are loaded with bacteria and pathogens that can cause vaginal infections and lead to abnormal discharge. Do your best to keep hydrated all the time, but avoid unnecessary drinks such as soda or alcohol, which can worsen your need to use the restroom.
Don’t forget that coffee and any beverage that contains caffeine is a diuretic, meaning you will need to use the loo more frequently.
If you use a restroom, have a small bottle of hand disinfectant with you and a pack of wet wipes for wiping. Use the disinfectant both before and after using the restroom, and use the wet wipes for wiping instead of the available toilet paper.