Being pregnant can be a really exciting time for expecting parents. But it can also be pretty scary, especially with so many changes happening in the body. If you're navigating coloured discharge during pregnancy, you might be wondering why it's happening and what it means.
In most cases, regular discharge is completely normal and actually healthy — it's your body's natural way of protecting against bacteria and infection.
But, different coloured discharge can mean different things. So if you're wondering what coloured discharge is normal and what's cause for concern, we're diving into everything you need to know from early pregnancy discharge to heavy discharge and more.
Can changes in discharge be an early sign of pregnancy?
Vaginal discharge and cervical mucus change in consistency throughout the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy . Many people look for different signs, one of them being changes in vaginal discharge as a sign of early pregnancy or as a means of understanding the ideal time to conceive.
Discharge and cervical mucus are essential parts of the reproductive system. Discharge during non-fertile stages of the menstrual cycle becomes thick and sticky to prevent infection while discharge right before the ovulation stage becomes watery, thin and slippery to allow sperm to swim and survive .
Discharge during pregnancy also changes, where colourless or white vaginal discharge is common. Increased discharge is one of the early signs of pregnancy and this mild-smelling vaginal discharge is called leukorrhea. Leukorrhea increases throughout pregnancy as a result of increased blood flow and oestrogen to the vaginal area .
Many people start to notice this type of discharge in the early stages or throughout pregnancy. But, leukorrhea also appears among non-pregnant people and typically becomes more noticeable after the 8th week of pregnancy .
That's why early signs of pregnancy are often super subtle and shouldn't be used to determine pregnancy. Instead, missed periods are a better indicator of early pregnancy and taking a pregnancy test to confirm early signs should be used.
What is normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy?
All women have vaginal discharge during pregnancy. During pregnancy, the cervix and vaginal walls get softer and increased discharge helps to minimise infection from travelling from the vagina to the womb. During pregnancy, increased levels of progesterone hormones can cause the body to produce more fluids .
The level of discharge you experience during pregnancy tends to increase where there may be so much extra discharge it can be confused with urine.
During the last week of pregnancy, discharge can contain thick mucus and some blood which is called a 'show.' This happens when the mucus from your cervix throughout pregnancy comes away and it's a sign the body is preparing for birth .
This type of mucus is healthy vaginal discharge and normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy should be clear and milky white and shouldn't smell unpleasant. So, what type of vaginal discharge during pregnancy isn't considered normal discharge?
If you experience any pregnancy discharge that is characterised by any of the following, you should seek medical attention and call your healthcare provider (either your doctor or midwife) :
- Green or brown discharge
- There is blood in the discharge or you experience vaginal bleeding
- The discharge smells unpleasant or strange
- You feel itchy or sore around the vagina
- You experience painful urination
If you experience coloured discharge or the discharge smells strange and feels itchy and sore, this might be a sign of vaginal infections such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis which requires treatment but can be easily treated by your doctor.
You can help minimise the chance of thrush during pregnancy by wearing loose cotton underwear and avoiding soap and bath products that contain fragrances.
How can your vaginal discharge change during pregnancy?
Vaginal discharge changes throughout pregnancy in a variety of ways. In the first trimester of pregnancy, discharge increases to prevent infection by helping the body remove dead cells and bacteria from the uterus and vagina.
Throughout pregnancy, discharge also helps develop the mucus plug, which blocks the opening of the cervix to stop an infection from entering the uterus and affecting the baby .
As pregnancy progresses from early pregnancy to later pregnancy, more vaginal discharge is common. But if the discharge appears colourless, like a milky white and without odour, it is considered a healthy discharge .
What your vaginal discharge colour means during pregnancy
Vaginal discharge during pregnancy is a completely normal part of pregnancy. After all, the body is experiencing a lot of changes. But what kind of pregnancy discharge is considered normal and what type of pregnancy discharge should warrant a call to your doctor?
Let's run through different coloured discharges and what they mean throughout the early and late stages of pregnancy.
Green vaginal discharge is a sign of a possible infection, most notably a sexually transmitted infection (STI) like chlamydia or trichomoniasis and unlike normal discharge, it is usually thicker in texture, smells unpleasant and could be accompanied by irritation and vaginal redness.
Yellow vaginal discharge can oftentimes be misunderstood and confused with small amounts of urine leaking in panty liners or underwear.
But, the darker yellow discharge could be caused by a vaginal infection like bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection, particularly if the discharge is thick, smells bad or itches and burns. It's always best to contact your doctor if you notice yellow discharge to be on the safe side.
Brown discharge during pregnancy can mean a few different things. Light spotting or bleeding in early pregnancy is common and isn't necessarily an indicator of miscarriage. In fact, 25 out of 100 pregnant women experience bleeding in their first trimester .
Brown discharge can look like coffee grounds and is often old blood that's slowly making its way from the uterus. But, sometimes, brown discharge isn't normal during pregnancy, especially if it's a dark brown colour and happens in late pregnancy stages, so it's best to call your doctor to get to the bottom of what's happening .
White-coloured discharge is considered normal pregnancy discharge as long as it's thin, milky white and doesn't smell bad. But, if the vaginal discharge appears like cottage cheese, becoming thicker, you might have a yeast infection (a.k.a thrush). Other symptoms of yeast infections include itching and burning or painful urination.
Pregnant women are more likely to experience yeast infections as a result of all the hormone changes happening in the body, particularly in the third trimester .
Pink discharge during pregnancy is often times harmless and completely normal, particularly during early pregnancy and in the final weeks of pregnancy. Pink discharge or light spotting that's pink generally occurs because of a mix of vaginal fluid and blood which is really common in the first trimester or can also appear after sexual intercourse .
But, pink discharge in the second trimester is far less common and can be a sign of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy and a vaginal infection which might be a cause for concern, so it's best to get medical care to understand the cause behind it .
Red discharge during pregnancy is caused by bleeding. This is super common in the early stages of pregnancy, with about 1 in 4 women experiencing bleeding or light spotting. Causes of bleeding are generally divided into 2 categories — bleeding before 20 weeks and bleeding after 20 weeks .
Causes of bleeding before 20-week gestation can be caused by :
- Implantation bleeding: Very early pregnancy (4-5 weeks) bleeding is caused by the pregnancy implanting itself in the uterus lining
- Miscarriage: Bleeding could be a sign of miscarriage, where roughly 1 in 15 women who experience bleeding in early pregnancy have a miscarriage
- Ectopic pregnancy: This is a rare cause of bleeding when a fertilised egg grows outside of the uterus which can burst and cause heavy bleeding
Causes of bleeding after 20-week gestation can be caused by :
- Placenta previa: This occurs when the placenta implants close to the cervix, and if the cervix opens or the uterus contracts, it can cause bleeding
- Placenta abruption: This happens when the placenta starts to separate from the uterus during pregnancy but before birth — this causes bleeding and sudden and severe abdominal pain
It's super important to seek immediate attention and call your doctor or midwife if you notice red discharge and bleeding to ensure that it's a normal pregnancy discharge and not something more serious.
How to maintain vaginal health during pregnancy
Since pregnant women are more likely to experience vaginal infections, there are a few things women can do to maintain vaginal health during pregnancy.
Wear cotton underwear
Cotton underwear is far more breathable and absorbs sweat which helps prevent bacteria, while synthetic underwear can cause vaginal infection and a build-up of bacteria.
Avoid tight pants
You'll want to wear breathable and loose-fitting clothing to minimise the chance of bacteria forming and irritation.
Use a panty liner
In the final stages of pregnancy, the uterus enlarges as a result of the baby's growth which can cause urine leaks. If urine leaks do happen, wear a panty liner and regularly change it to avoid feeling uncomfortable.
Vaginal microbiome is the bacteria present in the vagina that help protect against infections. An imbalance can have a major impact on vaginal health, causing bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections and urinary tract infections.
Avoid feminine hygiene products
Maintaining good vaginal health is essential during pregnancy and it's important to avoid feminine hygiene products like sprays and wipes that contain chemicals that can irritate and disrupt the normal balance of the vagina.
Instead, use warm water and fragrance-free soap to clean the intimate areas.
How can I tell if this is vaginal discharge or my mucus plug?
A mucus plug is a collection of mucus that forms in the cervical canal during the earlier stages of pregnancy, preventing infection and bacteria from entering the uterus and harming the baby. The mucus plug stays in place for most of the pregnancy but is lost in late pregnancy .
The cervix dilates closer to the delivery date, and the mucus plug might come out of the vagina. While pregnancy discharge is typically thin and milky white, mucus-like discharge is thicker, and jelly-like and you will notice more discharge.
Ultimately, discharge is super normal during pregnancy and is the body's natural way of dealing with all the changes happening throughout pregnancy.
But, it's also super important to be aware of what different coloured discharge means throughout pregnancy, from early pregnancy discharge to what to expect in the later stages of pregnancy.
Photo credit: Getty Images