Vaginal discharge is a healthy part of vaginal health. The type of vaginal discharge you may experience changes during your menstrual cycle, but in almost all cases, it’s a sign that everything is working well. More to the point, the discharge can mean your vagina is healthy.
However, from time to time, white discharge may be a sign of an underlying problem. Read on to learn when the fluids mean you need to seek a doctor’s guidance.
A thick, white discharge can occur throughout your menstrual cycle. This discharge is known as leukorrhea, and it’s completely normal.
The discharge may start out thinner in the days leading up to ovulation, or when an egg is released. During ovulation, the discharge or mucus may become very thick, and mucus-like.
This is a sign that you’re ovulating, and some women use this as a natural indication of fertility. If you were trying to get pregnant, seeing this thick white discharge may indicate to you that it’s time to have sexual intercourse.
Vaginal discharge is used to help keep your vaginal tissues moist and lubricated. It’s influenced by your reproductive hormones, which is why it changes throughout the menstrual cycle and in pregnancy.
Likewise, vaginal discharge is also your body’s way of maintaining the pH balance of your vagina. The fluids act as a natural lubrication to move bacteria, dirt, and germs out of your vaginal cavity.
As long as the discharge has no bad odor and you’re not experiencing any other symptoms, this type of discharge is normal and healthy. In fact, most women produce about a teaspoon of discharge every day.
After ovulation, that amount can increase up to 30 times. This extra fluid might require you to wear a panty liner, but it shouldn’t require you to visit a doctor.
In the first days of your menstrual cycle, you may experience thin, milky white vaginal discharge. Some people describe this discharge as an “egg white” consistency.
This thinner discharge is a sign that you’re preparing for ovulation. It’s completely normal. As you get closer to your period, the discharge may become thicker and more opaque.
This milky white discharge may also be a sign that you’re pregnant. In the early stages of pregnancy, some people produce a thin, milky white discharge. This discharge results from hormonal changes, which are preparing the body for the nine months of pregnancy.
The discharge can help clear away bacteria, germs, and dirt. It also helps form a mucus plug in the cervix. This keeps the cervix healthy and prevents the spread of bacteria into the uterus during the pregnancy.
As long as the milky white discharge does not have an odor, it’s most likely a sign of typical vaginal health. However, if the color of the discharge develops a white-gray shade and a strong fishy odor, the discharge may be a sign of an infection.
Common symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include milky white and gray discharge with a strong, bad odor.
If you’re experiencing a thick, white discharge that can be described as clumpy or clotted, you may be experiencing discharge from a yeast infection.
Your vagina does a wonderful job of maintaining the pH balance of an entire spectrum of bacteria and fungi that live in it. From time to time, this balance is upset, and certain bad bacteria or fungi are allowed to thrive.
That’s the case with a yeast infection. A fungus called Candida albicans can quickly blossom and develop into an infection.
People with yeast infections may experience:
- thick discharge with a cottage cheese consistency
- white discharge that may turn yellow or green
- a foul odor coming from the vagina
- itching on the vulva or vagina
- swelling or redness around the vulva
- a burning sensation or pain during urination
- pain during intercourse
If you believe you have a yeast infection, over-the-counter treatment options are available to you. Prescription medications are used in more moderate or severe cases.
You should abstain from intercourse while you’re being treated for the infection. Partner treatment is not required for vaginal yeast infections, since it’s not considered an STD. However, in some women with recurrent infections, their male partner may be treated.
If you’ve experienced more than two yeast infections in a one-year window, make an appointment to see your doctor. There may be underlying issues leading to your frequent vaginal infections.
When you’re not ovulating, your body will produce vaginal fluid that is thick and sticky. This vaginal discharge will act as a barrier to prevent sperm from getting through your cervix and into your uterus.
While it’s not foolproof, the body’s natural defenses can also help prevent germs and bacteria from making their way into your cervix.
This can help you avoid infections in the days just after your period, when your vagina produces less fluid than it does in other points of your cycle. The increased fluid helps wash out any bacteria or germs that could pose a risk to your vagina’s overall health and balance.
In almost every case, thick, white vaginal discharge is a sign of health and wellness for your reproductive organs. However, from time to time, the discharge could be an indication of an underlying health issue.
It’s important to see a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms along with unusual vaginal discharge:
- skipped period
- rashes or sores along with vaginal discomfort
- a burning sensation when you urinate or have intercourse
- a strong and persistent odor coming from the vagina
As long as the discharge you’re experiencing does not also meet those criteria, the excess fluid coming out of your vagina is a sign of overall health. In other words, it’s a good thing.
Avoid upsetting the pH balance in your vagina by skipping soaps, scented washes, douches, or any other products that strip the vagina of its natural moisture and built-in defenses. This includes vaginal discharge.
The vagina is designed to care for itself and prevent future infections. Normal, healthy vaginal discharge plays an important role in this.