What do different colors of discharge mean in pregnancy?
Color is one of the most noticeable changes that can occur. Discharge can be:
- clear or milky white
- white and lumpy
- green or yellow
This article discusses vaginal discharge during pregnancy, including what the different colors of discharge mean and when to see a doctor.
What is normal discharge?
Some color changes in vaginal discharge are normal, and some may indicate infection or another problem.
It is normal to have discharge at various stages of the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.
Healthy vaginal discharge, also called leukorrhea, is thin and clear or white and has only a mild odor.
The volume of discharge increases throughout pregnancy to reduce the risk of vaginal and uterine infections.
Discharge is at its most heavy in the final weeks of pregnancy, when it may contain pink mucus.
The mucus is typically sticky and jelly-like in consistency, and it indicates that the body is preparing for labor.
Discharge colors and their meaning
The various colors of vaginal discharge may indicate different health issues. These include:
Clear or milky white
This color suggests leukorrhea, which is usually a normal and healthy discharge, especially if it smells mild.
However, any changes in its quantity or consistency may suggest an issue. A woman who is pregnant but not yet at full term should see a doctor if she experiences an increase in clear discharge that leaks continuously or becomes thick and jelly-like.
These changes may suggest preterm labor.
White and lumpy
Vaginal discharge that is lumpy and either white or off-white, resembling cottage cheese, can indicate a yeast infection.
Yeast infections are common, and the body is particularly susceptible to them during pregnancy. Other symptoms include itching, burning, and painful urination or intercourse.
Green or yellow
Green or yellow vaginal discharge is not healthy and suggests a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia or trichomoniasis. Other possible symptoms include redness or irritation in the genitals. STIs sometimes do not cause any symptoms.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), STIs can cause complications during pregnancy that can affect both the woman and child. These complications sometimes do not present until years after the birth, but they can affect the nervous system and development of the child and cause infertility in the woman.
People may occasionally think that they have yellow discharge when they are merely leaking small amounts of urine.
Gray vaginal discharge may indicate a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV), particularly if it also has a fishy smell that becomes stronger following intercourse.
BV is the result of a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. Douching and having multiple sexual partners are risk factors for BV, which is the most common vaginal infection during childbearing years.
Discharge is usually brown due to old blood leaving the body, which can be an early symptom of pregnancy. Brown discharge during pregnancy is not generally a cause for concern.
However, pregnant women who experience dark brown discharge should contact their doctor.
Pink discharge during pregnancy may or may not be normal. Discharge with a pink hue often occurs during early pregnancy or in the final weeks as the body prepares for labor. It can also occur before a miscarriage or during an ectopic pregnancy.
A study with 4,510 participants found that spotting and light episodes of bleeding during the first trimester, especially those persisting for just 1 to 2 days, did not correspond with a higher risk of miscarriage.
Other causes of light spotting during pregnancy include sexual intercourse and vaginal infections.
Red vaginal discharge during pregnancy requires the immediate attention of a doctor, especially if the bleeding is heavy, contains clots, or occurs alongside cramping and abdominal pain.
These symptoms suggest miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy. Approximately 10 to 15 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, which people may also refer to as pregnancy loss.
Other causes of red discharge may be less serious, especially during the first trimester, when it may result from implantation or infection. Studies indicate that between 7 and 24 percent of women bleed during early pregnancy.
Bleeding later in pregnancy can indicate potentially serious issues or preterm labor, which will require immediate medical attention.
Dealing with vaginal discharge during pregnancy
A pregnant woman can help maintain vaginal health by eating a healthful diet.
An increase in the volume of mild-smelling vaginal discharge during pregnancy is normal, but unusual colors and odors often indicate infection.
A doctor can prescribe antibiotics or other medications to treat infections in this area of the body.
Women can usually maintain vaginal health during pregnancy by doing the following:
- Avoiding using tampons.
- Avoiding douching.
- Choosing unscented personal care products and feminine hygiene items, including unscented toilet paper and soaps.
- Wearing panty liners to absorb excess discharge.
- Wiping the genital region from front to back after passing urine or stool.
- Drying the genitals thoroughly after showering or swimming.
- Wearing underwear made from a breathable fabric.
- Avoiding wearing tight jeans and nylon pantyhose, which increase the risk of infection.
- Eating a healthful diet and avoiding too much sugar, which can encourage yeast infections.
- Trying probiotic foods and supplements that are safe to consume during pregnancy, which may prevent bacterial imbalances in the vagina.
When to see a doctor
It is essential to discuss any unusual discharge with a doctor as this symptom may suggest an infection that requires treatment or an issue with the pregnancy. Without treatment, infections can lead to complications.
An increase in discharge during pregnancy is normal, but unusual discharge alongside strong odors or discomfort in the vagina or abdomen is often indicative of a health issue. This is also the case for discharge that is green, yellow, or gray.
Women should seek immediate medical care if they experience spotting or bleeding that is heavy, persists for more than a day, or occurs alongside pain or cramps.