What to Know About Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy

What to Know About Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy

During pregnancy, women are naturally more concerned when they notice any changes in their vaginal discharge. Even before pregnancy, vaginal discharge can vary from day-to-day, or week-to-week. This is because of hormonal changes that take place during the menstrual cycle.

When you’re pregnant, those hormonal changes are even more significant. This can lead to some normal variations in vaginal discharge. However, there are certain types of vaginal discharge that should never be ignored, especially during pregnancy. Here, Virtua obstetrician and gynecologist Eric Grossman, MD, describes vaginal discharge color changes so pregnant women know if they need to be worried and seek treatment.

White or off-white

White or off-white, thin, mostly odorless discharge during pregnancy is called leukorrhea. Leukorrhea happens for several reasons, says Dr. Grossman, including:

  • The high estrogen levels women experience during pregnancy
  • The cervix creating more mucus to protect the pregnancy
  • An increased blood flow to the vaginal walls

“Nearly every pregnant woman is going to experience this,” he says. “It can be annoying, but it’s not dangerous or bad.” A panty liner or pad can help if it’s bothersome.

Clumpy and White or Off-White

Leukorrhea is not thick and clumpy; if you experience discharge that looks like this, it’s probably because of the presence of yeast. “About 1 in 4 women will have vaginal yeast overgrowth during pregnancy,” says Dr. Grossman. “This doesn’t necessarily mean you have a yeast infection, or that it needs medical treatment.” Yeast or a yeast infection will not hurt the baby, so there’s no need to hit the panic button. You’ll want to talk to the doctor, however, if you experience burning or itching and need relief. Most prescription and over-the-counter remedies are safe during pregnancy, but it’s best to ask your obstetrician about what’s best for you.

Yellow or Green

Call your doctor if you experience darker yellow or green discharge that has a strong, unpleasant odor, and that’s accompanied by burning or itching. These are signs of two common vaginal infections: bacterial vaginosis (the overgrowth of common bacteria that causes vaginal inflammation) or trichomoniasis (a sexually transmitted infection caused by the parasite trichomonas vaginalis). “Both can be easily treated with oral prescription medications that are safe to take during pregnancy,” says Dr. Grossman. Getting prompt medical treatment if you experience these symptoms while pregnant is especially important, as some studies have linked vaginosis and trichomoniasis to preterm labor and low birth weight.

Brown or Red

Red blood, or brown discharge (which is old blood), is always a reason to call your doctor.  “Generally speaking, bloody discharge is not considered ‘normal’ during pregnancy,” says Dr. Grossman. “It should always be reported to your doctor.” At the same time, there are many possible causes for bloody discharge that have nothing to do with a pregnancy complication. Before you panic, talk to your doctor and describe the situation. He or she will help you determine the appropriate next steps.

Watery and Clear or Light Yellow

If you experience a gush or continuous trickle of watery and clear or light yellow fluid during pregnancy, it may be either urine or amniotic fluid. It’s common for women to experience incontinence (the involuntary loss of urine) during pregnancy, especially in later stages when the growing uterus is pressing on the bladder. However, it can be challenging to tell the difference between urine and amniotic fluid on your underwear. When in doubt, call the doctor. “If one of my pregnant patients is unsure about a symptom, I always encourage her to call me rather than wait and worry that something is seriously wrong,” says Dr. Grossman.

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Updated April 10, 2017

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