From puberty onwards — and maybe even before — our bodies do a lot of unexpected, and sometimes weird stuff, that we never quite learnt about in sex ed or PDHPE.
And look, we were all most likely taught about body odour — the increase in perspiration, the need for daily showers (or more) and the introduction of deodorant. But what might not have been included in those lessons is the sweat and smells from our reproductive organs.
Over the years, you've probably noticed scents from your nether regions. And as someone with a vagina, you may have noticed that smell changes throughout your cycle, or from food or exercise. It could be anything from a faint smell to a strong smell.
But, just like fingerprints — we all have a vaginal smell, and everyone's is unique . It's completely normal and helps communicate information about your health.
If you're currently pregnant or trying to conceive, there's one thing to know: your vaginal smell will change throughout your pregnancy, too. You know, along with all those other physical changes your body is going through.
For now, we're going to focus on your lady bits, and anything and everything that might happen to them during pregnancy (including vaginal odour).
What is vaginal discharge?
You've probably noticed vaginal discharge before — on your undies, or while wiping.
It's both normal and needed; a fluid (or mucus) that keeps your vagina and vulva clean and moist . It helps protect from infection — regular vaginal discharge is slightly acidic, repelling germs.
It's mainly a combination of dead cells and vaginal bacteria. And just like cervical mucus, it can change in appearance throughout your cycle .
Is there a 'normal' vaginal discharge?
Remember, what is typical for you, might not be the same for other women in your life .
In general, typical vaginal discharge is clear or creamy in colour (there may be a slight yellow tint sometimes); is a small amount, and doesn't have a particularly strong odour . It shouldn't cause you any irritation .
Are there changes to discharge during pregnancy?
A resounding yes. Almost all women will experience changes to their vaginal discharge during pregnancy.
Why? Well firstly, the cervix and the vaginal walls get softer during pregnancy. In turn, vaginal discharge during pregnancy ends up increasing, helping prevent infections from travelling up your lady bits and into your uterus.
Hormonal changes, like increased levels of progesterone, can also make you produce more fluid. This may occur in your first trimester, and through to the second. Towards the end of your pregnancy, there's increased discharge — enough to be confused with urine .
And in your late pregnancy (the final week or 2), you may notice streaks of thick mucus and some blood. This is a sign your body is starting to prepare for birth — it's called a 'show' .
How does pregnancy change your vaginal system?
Some changes you may have been told or warned about, others you may never have heard before. Rest assured, any change you have to your vaginal area, someone else has gone through it before.
Your vagina may turn blue
You're not a smurf — a probable early sign of pregnancy (4-8 weeks) is blue or purple discolouration of your vaginal tissues, vulva or cervix. Known by a few different terms — Goodell's, Chadwick's or Jacuqmier's sign — it's due to an increase in blood flowing to the area .
Noticing vaginal bleeding when you're not expecting it can be a bit of a scary experience. But according to government health sources, during the early stages of pregnancy, it is common and doesn't necessarily indicate a problem .
Spotting could be for 2 reasons:
- Implantation bleeding. The fertilised egg implants in your uterus lining, which can cause light bleeding and cramping.
- Bleeding from the cervix. Due to increased blood flow, this is more common throughout pregnancy.
If you're concerned about heavy bleeding or blood clots, seek immediate medical attention.
You've definitely heard the anecdotes about swelling feet, ankles, fingers, legs and more. Have you heard about a swelling vulva? Yep, that's something that happens to your nether regions, and yes, it's completely normal.
First off, your body holds more water than usual when you're pregnant, you'll feel it even more into late pregnancy. Speaking of pressure, the pressure of your growing womb can block the flow of venous blood. And when that happens? The swelling of your vulva .
One of the...not necessarily common symptoms of being pregnant, but something you may experience is a weaker pelvic floor.
This is because of the strain being put on the area, which can result in an elongation or lower muscle tone of your pelvic floor. Things might get a little more open, a little looser .
And with that, more vaginal flatulence .
Between hormone changes, increased blood flow to your pelvis, and increased uterus size compressing everything around it — particularly around your femoral and pelvic vessels — the vascular pressure in your veins can increase, and contribute to the development of varicose veins.
Also called vulvar varicosities, 1 in 5 pregnant women report experiencing this . It usually returns back to its previous state postpartum .
Why does my vagina smell during pregnancy?
And now we get to the wonderful world of vagina smells. Everything from yeast infections, smelly discharge, spicy foods, scented soaps and more, we're going to cover for you.
In women, this is a type of vaginal discharge — a white discharge that's secreted "excessively" . There are 2 types, pathological and physiological, and the latter is more likely during pregnancy.
It's caused by congestion of the vaginal mucosal membranes, due to hormone stimulation . In this case, it's usually a mild smell.
An umbrella term for infection and inflammation of the vagina, caused by a bacterial imbalance. With it, you can experience abnormal or unusual vaginal discharge during pregnancy, as well as an unpleasant vaginal smell.
In fact, it's actually a common cause of smelly vaginal odour during pregnancy . Causes for it include bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection, and trichomoniasis.
Bacterial infections, like bacterial vaginosis (BV), often occur during pregnancy. It's caused by a bacterial imbalance in your vagina . Although 50% of those diagnosed are symptom-less, other women experience an unpleasant smell ("fishy"), and unusual vaginal discharge .
It's important to treat as BV in a pregnant woman has been associated with adverse outcomes and pregnancy complications including:
- Preterm labour
- Early miscarriage
- Postpartum endometritis
- Low birth weight .
Vaginal yeast infections
A yeast infection — in this instance, thrush — is common in pregnant women. You're actually more at risk of getting it when you're pregnant, thanks to those pesky hormones .
They cause itching and irritation and you may have smelly vaginal discharge (yeast or bread-like), that's white in appearance and resembles cottage cheese .
There's a handful of sexually transmitted infections we can all name off the top of our heads, but trichomoniasis (trike) might not be one of them. Caused by a parasite, it's passed on through unprotected vaginal sex with someone who already has the infection, and can also be spread by sharing towels .
Men usually have no symptoms (but may be carriers); some women also don't have any. For those who do, it includes frothy or smelly vaginal discharge, that's yellow or green in colour.
Although it can be prevented with safe sex, trike in pregnant women may lead to low birth weight and premature birth .
Generally, your vaginal odour is dependent on the pH level, or acidity, of your vagina.
And when your pH is healthy, it prevents infections that cause an unpleasant-smelling vagina. If your vaginal flora — the various types of bacteria that live in your vagina, existing in a delicate balance — are at all imbalanced, you could notice a new vaginal smell. One that's fishy, musty or "generally unpleasant".
If you've noticed a new vagina smell pregnancy made happen — or at least, you swear it did — you're not wrong.
This can be due to hormonal changes; your pH levels can be affected by estrogen, progesterone and prolactin. And these can cause brand-new vagina smells.
Turns out, your vaginal odour can be swayed by certain foods you eat. Garlic and fish, with their own strong smells, can actually cause a change in your own vaginal odour — temporarily.
The pregnancy cravings you have might lead you to eating different foods than you usually do, in turn affecting your regular vaginal odour .
If you've ever been convinced that your vaginal odour has a strong ammonia smell, it could be a sign you're actually dehydrated. The waste material in your urine can become especially concentrated without enough water, and lead to an unpleasant scent .
Is it normal?
If you've ended up here by Googling "vaginal odour normal", hopefully, you've found your answer. A lot of things that at first seem strange end up being pretty normal.
Some easy starting steps include practising good hygiene, like wearing loose cotton underwear and clothing; avoiding using douches, soaps (particularly scented soaps) and vaginal cleaning products, and wearing panty liners as needed .
Our Vaginal Probiotic contains Cranberry and a probiotic blend to support a healthy female urinary tract health and vaginal flora for balanced care down there.
When should I see the doctor?
If you've noticed any abnormal vaginal odour, strangely coloured vaginal discharge during pregnancy, itchiness or soreness, or painful urination —talk to your doctor, pharmacist or midwife. Don't try and treat it yourself .
We know pregnancy can be a little overwhelming — but it doesn’t have to be. Kin's Pregnancy Checklist consists of bite-sized checklist items personalised to your pregnancy journey. Approved by fertility specialists and OBYGN approved, you'll feel prepared to tackle each day as it comes and enjoy the process, rather than get lost in it.
Photo credit: Getty Images