One of the less glamorous symptoms of pregnancy is an increase in vaginal discharge. This can happen at any time, but many women notice it more in the second and third trimesters. However, not all discharge is created equal, and knowing what is considered normal and what might signal a problem can help put your mind at ease.
Normal vaginal discharge is also known as physiologic discharge. In pregnancy, this physiologic discharge increases thanks to hormones that increase blood flow to the vaginal tissues, which then release more discharge. The cervix also releases discharge to help flush out bacteria and keep your uterus protected.
While it is normal to have some scent, physiologic discharge should not have a strong, foul odor. It is often clear, white, or light yellow in color and has the consistency of mucus. Some women have so much they wear a panty liner to protect their underwear, and that’s normal, too. This kind of discharge should not cause any itching or burning.
The following signs are usually not associated with normal physiologic discharge and should prompt you to talk with your doctor or midwife:
- Has a strong, foul odor
- Is a different color (green, dark yellow, or frothy)
- Causes you to itch or burn
- Is accompanied by blisters or a rash on your vulva
- Seems the consistency of water
- Your sexual partner is also complaining of bothersome discharge
- Has blood in it
Your healthcare provider can do a few things to see if anything is wrong. After talking with you, your provider can perform an exam to look at your vulva to see if anything appears abnormal. Your doctor can then do a speculum exam to look internally and also collect tests for infection. Some can be done right there in the office with the use of a microscope, and others are tests that need to be sent to a lab and may take a day or two for the results to return. Additionally, if your story makes your provider worry about preterm labor or your bag of water breaking prematurely (called PPROM), additional testing will be done and your cervix will be checked.
The following can be causes of abnormal vaginal discharge:
- Bacterial vaginosis
- Yeast infections
- Sexually transmitted infections (such as gonorrhea, chlamydia, and trichomonas)
- Preterm labor
- Urinary tract infection
Luckily, most of these problems can be treated easily with antibiotics and, once treated, pose no threat to your baby. Left untreated, you can be at a higher risk for uterine infection, preterm labor, and passing along a sexually transmitted infection. Therefore, if you aren’t sure if what you’re experiencing when it comes to discharge is normal or not, speak up and let your doctor know so they can help you best!
Reviewed by Dr. Jen Lincoln, April 2020
- An increase in vaginal discharge is normal in pregnancy.
- Some women have so much discharge that they need to wear a panty liner, and this is normal.
- Not all discharge is normal, so if any warning signs exist, be sure to let your doctor or midwife know.
- Untreated vaginal infections can have negative effects on your pregnancy and your baby.