A milky white vaginal discharge often appears just before and after a period. But, there are other possible causes, such as a bacterial or yeast infection.
Healthy discharge can range in color and texture. White discharge, known medically as leukorrhea, is normal and typically occurs in the second half of the menstrual cycle.
However, if white discharge accompanies a foul odor, itching, or burning, this could indicate an infection. This might be a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Below, we explore the relationship between menstruation and white discharge. We also question whether there is a link with pregnancy, examine other causes of white discharge, and advise about when to see a doctor.
Vaginal discharge contains dead cells and bacteria, and the process of discharge helps keep the vagina clean and healthy.
The amount and appearance of discharge naturally changes throughout the menstrual cycle.
This cycle has several stages, though the many changes involved often overlap or happen at the same time.
The lining of the uterus thickens, in response to changes in hormones, and the body prepares in other ways for a potential pregnancy. Halfway through the cycle, one ovary releases an egg. Ultimately, if the person does not become pregnant, the lining of the uterus sheds, along with the egg: the person has a period.
Discharge may change to become:
- White: This typically occurs at the beginning and end of the cycle.
- Clear and watery: Discharge that is clear and watery happens throughout the cycle and may be heaviest during exercise.
- Clear and stretchy: This generally indicates that the person is fertile.
- Brownish: This often occurs after the menstrual cycle, as the body clears away any remaining blood.
- Greenish or yellowish: Green or yellow discharge, particularly if it has an odor, may indicate an infection.
Age and some health conditions can change the amount of discharge that a person has.
For example, decreases in estrogen can cause a person to have less discharge. Factors that can reduce the amounts of estrogen in the body and vaginal discharge include:
- perimenopause and menopause
- excessive exercise
- some hormone therapies
- radiation treatment near the pelvis
- the removal of the ovaries
White discharge can be a sign of an infection when it occurs with certain symptoms. Some common infections that may be responsible include:
This can cause:
- itching or irritation around the vagina
- thick, white discharge with a texture similar to cottage cheese
- pain when urinating
- pain during sex
Sometimes known as BV, this infection can cause:
- grayish-white discharge
- thin, watery discharge
- a fishy odor
- yellow, green, or frothy discharge
- an unpleasant odor
- itching around the vagina
- pain when urinating
During pregnancy, a person may notice more discharge than usual. However, changes in the color, consistency, or amount of discharge are not a common or reliable indicator of pregnancy.
Instead, a person might watch for
- a missed period
- tender or swollen breasts and nipples
- abdominal bloating
- cravings for certain foods
- aversions to certain foods
A person should talk to their doctor if they suspect that they may be pregnant.
White discharge is typically not a cause for concern.
However, if any of the following also occur, it is a good idea to contact a doctor:
- a bad odor
- unusually thick or thin discharge
- discharge that is greenish or yellowish
- any unusual changes in the amount of discharge
- swelling of the vagina
- a burning sensation around the vagina
- vaginal pain, possibly while urinating or during sex
- pelvic pain
A doctor can examine the discharge and otherwise check for signs of infection. If an infection is present, they can recommend a course of treatment.
A person may not be able to change the color or amount of healthy discharge, but it is often possible to prevent an infection.
- Do not douche or use scented products, such as tampons.
- Change tampons and pads frequently.
- Avoid tight underwear and pants.
- Opt for underwear with a cotton crotch.
- Change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes right away.
- Wipe from front to back.
- For people with diabetes, maintaining blood sugar control can also help.
White vaginal discharge is healthy and often appears right before and after menstruation.
However, if it accompanies any symptoms, such as itchiness, pain, a burning sensation, a bad odor, or any unusual changes in discharge, contact a doctor, as this may indicate an infection.