Your Guide to Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge, an important housekeeping bodily fluid, gives us clues to reproductive health, fertility and our menstrual cycles. It also can point to pregnancy, infection or an undiagnosed condition to bring up with a doctor.
What’s the Purpose of Vaginal Discharge?
Normal vaginal discharge can happen every day or every few days and usually is clear or milky white. It may have a subtle scent.
Produced by glands inside the vagina and cervix, vaginal discharge keeps the vagina clean and moist while also providing lubrication during sexual intercourse. The use of feminine hygiene products that “keep you fresh” are not recommended or necessary — your vagina is self-cleaning.
Your discharge also has its own beneficial bacteria — the vaginal flora — that protects against urogenital infection. Discharge also has a slightly acidic pH level that helps fight off bad bacteria and prevent infections.
Fertility and Pregnancy
Vaginal discharge can be a useful indicator of fertility levels, since it changes over the course of your menstrual cycle. In the two weeks directly after a menstrual period, vaginal discharge is thinner and drier with a white, cloudy or chalky color. At this point, you are about two weeks before ovulation, indicating low fertility.
After ovulation, in the two weeks leading up to the next menstrual cycle, vaginal discharge can become thicker, almost like raw egg white. This isn’t just an indicator of high fertility, it also helps sperm travel faster up the reproductive channel and stick better once there.
Leukorrhea, a special type of vaginal discharge that appears thin, white, milky and with an odor, can serve as an early sign of pregnancy. It’s not usually excessive, but copious amounts of it are nothing to worry about, as it actually forms a barrier to prevent infection during pregnancy. The amount of vaginal discharge tends to increase in the third trimester, although this should not be confused with your water breaking.
When Vaginal Discharge Can Be a Warning Sign
While you probably know what types of discharge are normal for you, changes in discharge can indicate illness or conditions that should be discussed with your healthcare team.
Talk to your doctor if your discharge:
Begins to have an unexpected smell
Is grayish, which could point to bacterial vaginosis
Is yellow or greenish, which could point to a sexually transmitted disease
Has a lumpy texture, which could point to a yeast infection
Yeast infections can be especially problematic, as recurrent, untreated yeast infections can be a sign of uncontrolled diabetes.
While it can feel awkward to discuss these issues with your doctor, it’s important that you do. Delaying doing so can worsen any potential conditions. Keeping your doctor in the know can help end uncomfortable symptoms, and even save your life.
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