7 Normal and Not-So-Normal Kinds of Vaginal Discharge

From menstrual cycles and pregnancy to STIs, women experience all kinds of discharge.

Medically reviewed in January 2020

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Fluid that comes from your vagina—also known as vaginal discharge—is very normal, especially during certain life stages such as pregnancy and menopause.

Normal vaginal discharge contains vaginal skin cells, bacteria, mucus and fluid that come from the vagina and the cervix, which is the narrow opening of the uterus. This discharge protects you from vaginal and urinary tract infections (UTIs) and helps lubricate your delicate tissues.

But how can you tell whether your discharge is normal? Chances are, if something doesn’t look, feel or smell right, it’s best to see your OBGYN, says women’s health specialist Jackie Moore, DNP, WHNP-BC, of Women’s Health Partners and Summerville Medical Center in South Carolina. With that in mind, here’s your vaginal discharge guide: times to expect it, what it should look like and when to worry.

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You’re in the middle of your menstrual cycle

After menstrual bleeding stops, your vaginal discharge returns to a mucus-like white consistency and may become heavier after activities like exercising. Then, right about mid-ovulation, the discharge will change to a clearer color, and look like egg whites. The consistency of this discharge will be stretchy and can sometimes drip into the toilet, says Moore. "This discharge is perfectly normal—it's nature's way of allowing for pregnancy.”

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You’re pregnant

When you’re pregnant, your hormone levels are always changing. “You’re going to have thin, white mucousy discharge that smells mild at times,” says Moore. Pregnancy-specific discharge is called leukorrhea and normally isn’t a cause for worry. If you’re bothered by the discharge, you can always wear a panty liner or pad to help soak it up.

If you’re pregnant and you have discharge that is green or yellow, smells strongly or is accompanied by itching, see your OBGYN; you may have a vaginal infection.

Spotting during pregnancy is normal, especially during the first 20 weeks, but heavy bleeding is not. It’s best to tell your OBGYN about any bleeding, but especially if it progresses to heavy bleeding that fills a pad. Tell your OBGYN if you have cramping or pain, as well.

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You just had a baby

If you have a vaginal birth, it’s likely you’re going to have some bleeding for up to six weeks afterwards. The discharge will probably start off pretty red, but will go through a series of color changes—red, pink, then yellow or white. You may even pass some small blood clots right after birth, too.

Your menstrual period will return four to nine weeks after delivery if you’re not breastfeeding, and 3 to 12 months or longer after delivery if you're breastfeeding. When it does, your hormone levels will start to normalize. “Your estrogen and progesterone levels revert back to how they were before, so you may notice your discharge returning back to normal, too,” says Moore.

If you go back on certain birth control methods, you may notice an increase in discharge. “The vaginal estrogen and progesterone birth control ring as well as regular birth control pills are great contraception options, but one of the side effects is an increase in normal, physiologic discharge,” says Moore. On the flip side, other progestin-only birth control methods like pills and implants may actually reduce your discharge.

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You’re going through perimenopause or menopause

Most premenopausal women will have one-half to one teaspoon of discharge per day. It's normally white or clear, but can also be thick and mucus-like without any smell.

“Then, once you’re going through menopause, your estrogen levels start coming down, and your vaginal lining starts to get thinner and drier,” says Moore. For most menopausal women, discharge is minimal if there’s any at all.

However, up to 40 percent of postmenopausal women will experience genitourinary syndrome of menopause, or inflammation of the vagina. It's caused by lower levels of estrogen, plus increased pH level. Symptoms include leaky discharge, pain during sex, irritation and burning. To treat the condition, most healthcare providers recommend vaginal estrogen treatment in the form of a cream, tablet or ring. If your vaginal dryness is severe, you may notice a thin, odorless, mustard-colored discharge, for which you may need antibiotics.

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You’re in the middle of having sex

Arousal may cause wetness—and that’s a good thing! This moisture lubricates your vagina and makes sex feel good.

Here's how it works: when you’re stimulated, your genital tissues dilate and start to fill with blood, which causes your clitoris, vaginal opening and inner and outer lips to feel swollen. The swelling and increased blood flow help produce a fluid that makes the vaginal lips wet.

When you orgasm, you may have a mucous-like discharge. “During intercourse, all of the glands are moist so there’s an increase in lubrication," says Moore. Some women may actually squirt, or ejaculate, when clear fluid releases from their glands.

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You have bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV), an infection that occurs when bacteria levels in the vagina are unbalanced, may bring about a thin, white or gray discharge, vaginal pain, burning or a fish-like odor. The infection mostly affects sexually active women or women who douche. Gynecologists do not recommend douching and researchers aren’t completely sure why there’s a connection between sex and douching and BV.

Leaving BV untreated can increase your risk of HIV, pelvic inflammatory disease and sexually transmitted diseases like chlamydia and gonorrhea, all of which may make it difficult to become pregnant. If you have BV, you’ll be prescribed medications that you take by mouth or insert into the vagina, such as metronidazole and clindamycin.

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You have a yeast infection

A vaginal yeast infection occurs when there is an overgrowth of yeast called Candida. If you have a yeast infection, you’ll probably have a thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge along with vaginal itching and burning. Taking simple antifungal creams or pills prescribed by your gynecologist will clear up the infection in one to seven days. Over-the-counter creams can be highly effective, too.

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When it’s time to see your gyno

If you have any discharge that’s out of the ordinary, you should see your gynecologist. “If your discharge is green, yellow or has a very pungent odor and you have other symptoms like pelvic pain or trouble urinating, you definitely need to see your gyno,” says Moore. Sometimes sexually transmitted infections like chlamydia, gonorrhea and trichomoniasis may not bring about any symptoms, but may cause discharge.

Moore suggests you take note of where you’re having the discharge, too. “If it’s mustardy or green when you wipe, it may be an infection," she says. "If have white discharge that dries and turns slightly yellow on your underwear, that’s okay.”

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