Everything There is to Know About Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy

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Vaginal discharge is a normal and expected part of feminine health, especially during pregnancy. You may be familiar with how your personal vaginal discharge changes from week to week each month (especially if you've been trying to conceive!), and those changes will continue through pregnancy. 

What is leukorrhea, and what purpose does it serve?

During the second half of your menstrual cycle, you may notice white or clear discharge, known as leukorrhea. During pregnancy, this discharge increases, and, along with a missed period, it may be one of your first early signs of pregnancy. Increased estrogen levels and blood flow to the pelvic area cause it. 

The function of leukorrhea is to remove dead cells from the vagina and provide protection for the birth canal from potential infection by maintaining a healthy balance of "good" bacteria. 

When should I be concerned about vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

Early in pregnancy, you may notice a very small amount of pink or brown-tinged discharge that could indicate implantation bleeding when the fertilized egg attaches to the uterine wall. It is also possible to experience some light spotting after sex or a pelvic exam; however, you should discuss any presence of blood with your medical care provider, as it could be a concern. 

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If you experience significant bleeding, especially if it is accompanied by pain or cramping, this can be a sign of miscarriage, and you must contact your doctor immediately. 

Other reasons to contact your doctor:

  • If your vaginal discharge is lumpier or thicker than usual
  • Your discharge is an unfamiliar color, such as dark yellow or green
  • You have excessive amounts of watery discharge (possibly amniotic fluid)
  • Your discharge has a foul or fishy odor
  • There is any itching or burning inside your vagina and/or vulva
  • You experience burning during urination
  • You have pain during sex

These symptoms may be signs of an infection, which must get treated to avoid further discomfort and potential danger for you or your unborn baby. When in doubt, always contact your medical care provider for next steps.

How do I deal with increased vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

Increased vaginal discharge is completely normal but can be uncomfortable. There is nothing you need to do specifically in response to increased vaginal discharge. Still, the following tips can help you feel more comfortable while maintaining appropriate vaginal health.

Do not:

  • Use tampons during pregnancy
  • Perform any kind of douche or vaginal "cleanse."
  • Utilize scented items such as toilet paper or soap in or near the vagina
  • Wear jeans, leggings, or pantyhose that are too tight and may increase the risk of infection
  • Eat a diet with significant amounts of sugar, which can encourage yeast infections

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Do:

  • Wear a panty liner to absorb excess moisture
  • Wipe your genital area from front to back
  • Pat your genitals dry after bathing or swimming
  • Wear underwear made of breathable, fast-drying material such as cotton
  • Include pregnancy-safe probiotic foods and supplements with a well-balanced diet

What is a mucus plug, and how is it related to vaginal discharge?

During pregnancy, a thick piece of mucus will block the opening of the cervix to keep amniotic fluid in and keep bacteria or infections out. This barrier remains in place throughout pregnancy but will often come loose and fall out as the cervix thins and dilates in preparation for labor a few days or weeks before birth. 

The loss of the mucus plug is often referred to as a "bloody show," as it usually has a significant amount of blood incorporated throughout the clump of jelly-like mucus. It can be alarming if not expected, but it is a perfectly normal part of the birth process and can be an exciting sign that your baby is on their way! The mucus plug is often lost in smaller pieces bit by bit and goes unnoticed, so don't worry if your due date is approaching and you haven't seen it yet!

Suppose you suspect you may have lost your mucus plug before 37 weeks. In that case, you should contact your doctor immediately, as it can be a sign of early labor or another pregnancy complication. 

Because vaginal discharge isn't something commonly discussed, it can feel uncomfortable to bring up; but it is an entirely normal and important part of a healthy pregnancy. If you have any questions, ask your medical care provider or even another trusted loved one with pregnancy experience. No question is too embarrassing or insignificant when it comes to you and your baby!

 

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