Is this normal?

Most women experience a range of different types of discharge throughout their menstrual cycle.

You may produce around a teaspoon of thick or thin, odorless mucus each day, and the color can change from white to clear to brown. You might not realize it, but what you see isn’t totally random. The different colors and textures have to do with your hormones and what’s going on inside your body at the time.

Here’s more about why you might see white discharge before your period, what other types of discharge mean, and when you should see your doctor.

What is it?

The white discharge you may see before your period is known as leukorrhea. It’s filled with fluid and cells that are being shed from your vagina, and it may even look slightly yellow at times.

This part of your menstrual cycle is called the luteal phase. It’s when the hormone progesterone peaks in your body. When estrogen is the dominant hormone, discharge tends to be clear, stretchy, or watery. Progesterone, on the other hand, turns mucus cloudy or white.

Some women use discharge as a way to track potential fertility. This is known as a natural family planning strategy, or fertility awareness method.

Thin, stretchy mucus is considered fertile, as it happens around the time when your egg may be released. White, thick discharge is considered infertile cervical mucus. That makes sense, as you most often see this type of mucus when you’re no longer fertile — between ovulation and the start of your period.

Regardless of color or texture, discharge keeps the tissues in your vagina healthy and lubricated. So long as this discharge isn’t accompanied by symptoms like pain, itching, or redness, it’s considered normal.

What’s causing it?

Possible causes for white discharge before your period include:

  • Normal reproductive system functioning: White discharge before your period is a normal part of the menstrual cycle. Normal discharge at this stage of your cycle is sometimes called “egg white mucus,” because of its thin, stretchy, and slippery texture. This discharge is also odorless.
  • Birth control: Birth control changes your hormone levels, which can lead to increased discharge. This is a normal side effect of hormonal birth control.
  • Pregnancy: Discharge before you’re supposed to get your period can be an early sign of pregnancy. Discharge from pregnancy can be hard to tell apart from discharge that is just part of your monthly cycle, but it is usually thicker and creamier than “normal” discharge.
  • A sexually transmitted infection (STI or STD): Gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomonas are the STIs most likely to cause discharge. If you have gonorrhea or chlamydia, discharge will be more yellow and pus-like. However, these STIs are often asymptomatic. Trichomonas is more likely to lead to symptoms, including greenish or yellowish, fishy-smelling discharge and itching.
  • Yeast infection (candidiasis): Yeast infections are common and can occur with no known cause. However, antibiotic use increases your risk of getting a yeast infection, and they are most likely to happen right before you get your period. Discharge from a yeast infection is thick and white and is often described as looking like cottage cheese. Yeast infections also usually cause itching and burning in your vagina and vulva.
  • Bacterial vaginosis: Bacterial vaginosis is an infection that occurs when the natural balance of bacteria in your vagina changes. The cause is unknown, but it’s been linked to smoking, douching, and having multiple sexual partners. Discharge from bacterial vaginosis will have a fishy smell and a grayish white color.

What discharge to expect throughout your cycle

Dryness is common in the three to four days after your period ends. After that, you may experience three to five days of white, cloudy, or sticky discharge. This is called the follicular phase, when an egg is developing.

Lots of clear and stretchy, or clear and watery, discharge is common around the time of ovulation. In fact, during this time you may see up to 30 times your normal amount of daily discharge. This “egg white” discharge is thin and slippery, which is extremely helpful to sperm traveling to the waiting egg.

White discharge returns again after ovulation as progesterone takes over as the primary hormone. You may see more of it than you do earlier in your cycle. The amount slowly declines from the large amount during ovulation until it becomes thicker and sticky, almost like glue. On average, this mucus lasts for 11 to 14 days.

The mucus right before your period may also look yellow at times. You may also see brown discharge in the days right after your period. Brown-colored discharge is actually old blood exiting your body.

Spotting blood or brown discharge around the time of your expected period may be a sign of implantation in early pregnancy. If your period is late and you see spotting, it’s a good idea to take a home pregnancy test.

When is discharge cause for concern?

There are also times when your discharge may signal a problem with your health. For example, thick white discharge accompanied by itching may mean you have a yeast infection. Yellow or green discharge may also mean infection, such as bacterial vaginosis.

You should see your doctor if you’re experiencing:

  • pain, burning, or other discomfort in and around the vagina
  • rash or sores with or without discharge
  • cottage cheese or frothy textured discharge
  • strong or foul vaginal odor
  • redness
  • swelling

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) can also cause abnormal discharge. If you’re sexually active and have noticed a change in your discharge, see your doctor. If left untreated, STIs can lead to other serious health complications, including infertility.

When to see your doctor

White discharge may be completely normal before your period. That said, up to three out of four women experience issues like yeast infections at some point during their lifetimes. If you suspect a yeast infection, there are measures you can take at home that may help.

If your symptoms don’t go away after a week or so of home treatment — or if you experience any other symptoms that concern you — contact your doctor to make an appointment. If you’ve never had or been treated for a yeast infection before, you should also see a doctor. They can look over your symptoms and help you develop an appropriate treatment plan.