Thick, white discharge is typical during the menstrual cycle and usually indicate ovulation. However, occasionally it could indicate an uncerlying health issue.

Vaginal discharge is a healthy part of vaginal health. The type of vaginal discharge you experience changes during your menstrual cycle, but in almost all cases, it’s a sign that everything is working well. In fact, the discharge can mean your vagina is healthy.

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.

Vaginal discharge is also your body’s way of maintaining the pH balance of your vagina. The fluids act as natural lubrication to move bacteria, dirt, and germs out of your vaginal cavity.

However, from time to time, white discharge may be a sign of an underlying problem. Read on to learn when white discharge means you need to seek a doctor’s guidance.

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 people who ovulate use this as a natural indication of fertility. If you were trying to get pregnant, seeing this thick white discharge may indicate it’s time to have sexual intercourse.

As long as the discharge does not have a bad odor and you’re not experiencing any other symptoms, this type of discharge is healthy.

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 typical. 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 the beginning stages 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 pregnancy.

As long as the milky white discharge does not have an odor and there are no other symptoms, 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, unpleasant odor.

When you’re not ovulating, your body will produce vaginal fluid that’s 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 the cervix.

This can help you avoid an infection in the days just after your period, when your vagina produces less fluid than it does during the 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.

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.

The 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
  • an unpleasant 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. Prescription medications are used in more moderate or severe cases.

It’s a good idea to 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 STI. However, in some people with recurrent infections, their partner may be treated.

If you’ve experienced more than 4 yeast infections in a 1-year window, make an appointment to see your doctor.

There may be underlying issues leading to your frequent vaginal infections, including the possibility of recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis (RVVC), a common condition in vagina owners with immune system conditions or who are living with diabetes.

If you experience excessive vaginal discharge, it could be a sign of an underlying condition, and you might need to seek medical care to stop it.

Excessive vaginal discharge can be a symptom of:

  • an STI
  • a bacterial infection
  • a yeast infection

In almost every case, thick, white vaginal discharge is a sign of the health of 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:

  • pain
  • itching
  • discomfort
  • bleeding
  • 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.

The vagina is designed to care for itself and prevent future infections. Healthy vaginal discharge plays an important role in this.

Vaginal discharge is completely common — and it’s healthy for it to change color and texture as you go through different parts of the ovulation cycle.

However, if you’re dealing with pH imbalance, a yeast infection, STI, or another issue, your vaginal discharge could be one of the main signs something is up.

If your discharge has an odor, is white-gray, or is clumpier than usual, it could be time to consult your doctor.