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White Vaginal Discharge: When Is It Normal and When Not?

Written by Elizabeth Buescher, Gynecologist

Vaginal discharge constitutes an important part of the female reproductive system, serving as a housekeeping function that maintains your vagina clean and healthy.Most of the time, white vaginal discharge is normal and does not indicate an infection unless it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as itching and foul odor. Vaginal discharge constitutes an important part of the female reproductive system, serving as a housekeeping function that maintains your vagina clean and healthy.

Most of the time, white vaginal discharge is normal and does not indicate an infection unless it’s accompanied by other symptoms such as itching and foul odor. But before we jump to conclusions as to whether you have an infection or not, it’s best that we explain vaginal discharge in more detail, so you can identify warning signs.

Understanding White Discharge

Vaginal discharge is the fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix, which flushes out dead cells and bacteria, thus maintaining a normal pH balance to ensure that your vagina is healthy. The amount, hue and odor of vaginal discharge vary depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. However, normal discharge should be clear to whitish, and have a stretchy or watery consistency. At the beginning of the menstrual cycle, the discharge is thick and white, but it becomes clear and watery towards the middle of the cycle.

The discharge will get white and thick again a few days before your period starts, then turn brownish towards the end of the period, returning back to whitish and thick once it stops.

It’s not uncommon for women to wear panty liners to prevent wetting their clothes during the middle of the menstrual cycle when the discharge tends to be 30 times more than after ovulation.

Check out the guide below to see how normal vaginal discharge should look like throughout your menstrual cycle:

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1. Stretchy, Egg-White Discharge

Due to its close resemblance to uncooked egg whites, clear, stretchy vaginal discharge is oftentimes referred to as egg-white discharge. This is the most fertile type of discharge due to allowing sperm to swim easily into the cervix. One distinctive characteristic of egg-white discharge is that it can stretch a one or two inches without breaking in the middle.

2. Clean, Watery Discharge

Watery vaginal discharge is also an indicator of fertility, but not as good as egg-white discharge since it doesn’t make the sperm’s job as easy. When you have clean, watery discharge, you may feel as if you have leaked urine in your underwear. It’s usually clear in color and runny, and it may drip off your fingers.

3. Creamy, Thick Discharge

When your discharge is creamy and thick, the movement of the sperm is greatly restricted, meaning that it’s non-fertile. This type of vaginal discharge is very thick and creamy, similar to soft cheese, and its color ranges from white to pale yellow. If rubbed between your fingers, creamy discharge may feel like lotion.

4. White, Sticky Discharge

Sticky or pasty vaginal discharge is the least fertile, specifically because it’s clumpy and feels kind of like glue from a glue stick, which makes it difficult for sperm to swim through. Sticky discharge tends to be whitish, but may get yellowish.

If you experience any of the above types of vaginal mucus, then you shouldn’t worry – it’s probably normal. But if the discharge comes with some other symptoms such as itching, fishy smell, or even with blood, you may want to go to your GP or a sexual health clinic to investigate the cause and rule out the possibility of an infection.

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What Does White Discharge Mean?

What does it mean when you have white discharge? There are a few common causes of abnormal white discharge, which may result from unprotected intercourse or intercourse with multiple partners, antibiotic or steroid use, or a change in the vagina’s balance of normal bacteria. If the balance is upset, abnormal discharge will probably occur.
Outlined below are the most popular causes of white vaginal discharge.

1. Yeast Infection

The Candida genus of yeast is a naturally occurring microorganism in the vaginal area, whose growth is regulated by the lactobacillus bacteria. If there is an imbalance in your system, an overgrowth of yeast may occur, resulting to symptoms of yeast infection. Most yeast infections are caused by Candida albicans, which is a specific strand of yeast.
There are several risk factors that may cause vaginal yeast infections. The most common causes include:

  •  antibiotic use (which lowers the amount of lactobacillus bacteria in your system);
  •  weak immune system;
  • diabetes;
  • pregnancy;
  • douching (which messes with your vagina’s pH);
  • poor eating habits (specifically, eating a lot of sugar);
  • stress (which causes hormone imbalances);
  • lack of sleep.

Among the most common symptoms of yeast infections is white vaginal discharge, which is oftentimes accompanied by itching, redness, burning at urination, and a thick, cottage cheese-like consistency. Pain during intercourse is also present, and may be experienced in the vagina as well as in the lower abdomen.

Yeast infections are very easy to diagnose. In most cases, your doctor will take a sample of your discharge and send it to a laboratory to have it analyzed. Based on the analysis, he will prescribe appropriate medication that may come in cream, ointment, antibiotic/pill or even injection form. Sometimes, the yeast causing the infection may develop resistance to specific medications, and you may need to change them to stave it off.

2. Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis is a mild infection of the vagina caused by a change in the balance of good and bad bacteria. The good bacteria control the growth of bad bacteria, but if there are too many bad bacteria and insufficient good bacteria, this balance is upset. In many cases, bacterial vaginosis may go away on its own in a few days. However, BV can lead to more serious problem, which is why you should consider going to your GP and getting it treated.
There are three main causes of bacterial vaginosis:multiple sex partners or a new sex partner;

  • multiple sex partners or a new sex partner;
  • douching;
  • smoking.

Bacterial vaginosis is common is sexually active women. White, cloudy vaginal discharge with a distinctive fishy smell is a sign of BV, especially if you also notice the consistency to be thicker. The smell usually worsens after sex. The treatment procedure is largely similar to a yeast infection: the doctor will do a pelvic exam and then collect a sample of your discharge to identify how serious the infection is to identify how serious the infection is.

You will be prescribed an antibiotic to treat the BV, which may come either as pills, cream or capsules (usually referred to as ovules) that you insert in your vagina. If you are pregnant and have bacterial vaginosis, you will need to take the pills. You may want to take a probiotic supplement and eat more yoghurt to prevent antibiotic-related yeast infection.

3. Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is a common infectious sexually transmitted disease occurring in sexually active women. Each year, there are as many as 700,000 new cases of gonorrhea, with less than a half reported to a GP due to the condition being oftentimes asymptomatic. Symptoms usually occur within 10 days after exposure, but may sometimes take as much as 30 days to show up. They include white, thick vaginal discharge, pelvic pain, burning at urination, spotting after intercourse, bleeding between periods, red, itchy eyes (conjunctivitis) and swelling of the vulva.

Your doctor will diagnose gonorrhea by taking a sample of your discharge, or by lab-testing a urine sample. Medication usually includes either oral or injectable antibiotic. To successfully stave off the infection, you must take the medication for as long as your doctor advises you to. If left untreated, gonorrhea can cause permanent problems in women, including pelvic inflammatory disease (which can damage fallopian tubes and lead to infertility) and ectopic pregnancy, a condition in which the fertilized egg develops outside the uterus.

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4. Use of Feminine Hygiene Products

While some women are not diligent enough about their personal hygiene, others are much too diligent, using all sorts of scented soaps and products to keep their genital area clean and healthy. However, many of these products mess up with their vagina’s pH, upsetting the balance of good and bad bacteria – which we learned that may cause BV or yeast infection. As such, whitish or cloudy vaginal discharge may occur.

To avoid this, you should use only mild soap when washing down there, along with water. Also, you should avoid douching, which may also cause an imbalance in your vaginal flora. The use of panty liners and tampons when not on your period should be avoided, as they may fester and result in abnormal vaginal mucus.

Is It Normal to Have White Vaginal Discharge: Questions to Ask

If you have been having white discharge for a long time but haven’t experienced itching, soreness, swelling, redness or a foul, fishy odor, then you have nothing to worry about. If you experience one or more of these symptoms, there are a few questions you should ask to see what may be causing your discharge to be thick, heavy and gooey.

1. Have you recently taken antibiotics?
2. Have you had intercourse with multiple partners or a new partner?
3. Have you had unprotected sex?
4. Have you recently made any changes to your diet?
5. Have you experienced stress or lack of sleep lately?
6. Does this occur specifically before or after period?
7. Have you recently used scented soaps or other feminine hygiene products?
8. Are you wiping correctly, from front to back?

If you have answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, there is a good chance that you may be dealing with a vaginal infection. You should seek immediate medical assistance and check with your GP to see what’s causing your discharge to be different than usual. As a rule of thumb, you should follow the exact treatment that you’ve been prescribed by your doctor, and take it for as long as instructed to completely stave off the infection.
Even if you notice an improvement or apparent vanishing of the symptoms, you should continue to take your medication for as long as your doctor has advised you to.

What Can You Do to Prevent Abnormal White Discharge?

Luckily, there are a couple of preventive measures that you can take to prevent abnormal discharge once you’ve treated the root cause. Check them out below.

1. Be Diligent About Your Hygiene

Proper hygiene is smart self-care. It’s best to avoid scented soaps, perfumes and other such feminine hygiene products, or else you risk messing with your vagina’s pH. Use mostly lukewarm water, but if you’re going to use any soap, choose the mildest one you can find, so it doesn’t impact your vagina’s pH. Also, do not wash too frequently – keep in mind that vaginal discharge is your vagina’s way of cleansing itself, so using just a bit of water to keep your genital area fresh will be enough. Once you’re done washing, use a soft towel and gently dry off.

2. Wear Cotton Underwear

Cotton underwear is best because it allows your skin to breathe, so you can dry off excessive moisture and make the vaginal environment less prone to bacterial infections. Moreover, cotton underwear is more comfortable, and doesn’t put any pressure on your intimate parts. You may want to change your underwear a few times per day during the middle of your menstrual cycle, which is healthier for your vagina than using panty liners.

If possible, having your “no-underwear” or “naked” time every now and then is advisable since you will allow your vagina to breathe and prevent bacteria from festering. If you engage in any physical activity and sweat a lot, make sure to change you underwear to prevent altering your vagina’s pH. The same goes when you go swimming: make sure to remove your swimming suit and replace it with clean, dry cotton lingerie.

3. Avoid the Use of Vaginal Lubricators

If you’re dealing with vaginal dryness but have been experiencing white, milky discharge lately, vaginal lubricators may be a common cause. These products create a breeding ground for bacteria to grow, which can result in bacterial vaginosis, as well as unpleasant odor, and white to pale yellow hue. Avoid the use of oils as well, which may cause itching and swelling of the vulva, creating discomfort.

Final Word

Before you put a self-diagnosis, it’s recommended that you go to your GP and tell him about your issue. Even if you’re not suffering from any condition, it’s best to rule out the possibility of an infection rather than leave it untreated. Keep in mind that every woman’s body is different, meaning that you may experience abnormal discharge after making apparently insignificant changes to your day-to-day routine – for example, wearing silk lingerie instead of your typical cotton knickers.

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