Pregnancy can be as confusing as it is elating, and it’s not always easy to tell which changes are normal and which are cause for concern. One change is vaginal discharge, which can vary in consistency or thickness, frequency, and amount during pregnancy.
What to expect
One of the earliest signs of pregnancy is an increase in vaginal discharge, and this continues throughout pregnancy. When a woman becomes pregnant, her vagina largely takes on a personality of its own, says Dr. Sheryl Ross, an OB-GYN and women’s health expert at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California.
Normal vaginal discharge, known as leukorrhea, is thin, clear, or milky white, and mild smelling. Changes in vaginal discharge can begin as early as one to two weeks after conception, even before you’ve missed your period. As your pregnancy progresses, this discharge usually becomes more noticeable, and it’s heaviest at the end of your pregnancy. You may want to wear an unscented panty liner. Avoid tampons in pregnancy.
In the last weeks of pregnancy, you may also notice that your discharge contains streaks of thick mucus with streaks of blood, called “show.” This is an early sign of labor and should not be cause for alarm.
What causes changes to vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge ebbs and flows throughout a woman’s menstrual cycle due to a fluctuation in hormone levels. Once you become pregnant, hormones continue to play a role in the changes to your vaginal discharge.
Changes to the cervix during pregnancy also affect vaginal discharge. As the cervix and vaginal wall soften, the body produces excess discharge to help prevent infections. Your baby’s head may also press against the cervix as you near the end of your pregnancy, which often leads to increased vaginal discharge.
When to call your doctor
It’s important to let your healthcare provider know about any abnormal discharge, as it could be a sign of an infection or a problem with your pregnancy. Here are some signs of abnormal discharge:
- yellow, green, or gray color
- strong and foul odor
- accompanied by redness or itching, or vulvar swelling
Abnormal discharge may be a sign of infection. Yeast infections are common during pregnancy. If you develop a yeast infection during pregnancy, your doctor may recommend a vaginal cream or suppository. To avoid a yeast infection:
- wear loose, breathable clothing
- wear cotton underwear
- dry your genitals after showering, swimming, or exercising
- add yogurt and other fermented foods to your diet to promote healthy bacteria
Abnormal discharge can also be caused by a sexually transmitted disease (STD). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend screening all pregnant women for STDs. Your healthcare provider may screen you for STDs at your first prenatal appointment. If you believe you have an STD, it’s important to let your doctor know as soon as possible to help reduce the risk of passing the STD to your baby.
Abnormal discharge may also signal a complication in your pregnancy. Call your healthcare provider immediately if you have bright red discharge that exceeds an ounce. This could be a sign of placenta previa or placental abruption.
When in doubt, it’s always better to play it safe and call your doctor. Note when the changes to your vaginal discharge began and any defining characteristics. This will help your doctor determine if your discharge is cause for concern.