It's common to feel curious or worried when it comes to vaginal discharge. In reality, normal vaginal discharge is a sign that you are healthy and everything is working well. Fluid and mucus in the vagina and cervix are produced to protect the uterus from bacteria, with the fluids cleansing the areas from any possible infections. However, it is when this discharge becomes abnormal that you should investigate it with your doctor.
So, what exactly is normal and abnormal? We have explained below exactly what to look out for and how to tell whether your vaginal discharge is healthy or a cause for concern.
What is normal vaginal discharge?
There are various types of vaginal discharge, and it is normal for the amount, colour, scent and texture to change throughout the month. The causes of vaginal discharge and any changes you notice usually depend on fluctuating hormone levels throughout your monthly menstrual cycle. Here is an overview of what to expect at different stages of your cycle:
After your period: you are likely to experience minimal discharge in the days following your period. It may start off light brown in colour (which is leftover blood from your period), becoming yellow, white or cloudy with a sticky texture.
Days approaching ovulation: It is common to experience an increase in discharge during this time. Your estrogen levels are on the rise and this is when your discharge will become more clear, stretchy, watery and slippery.
During ovulation: this is when you should notice clear, stretchy mucus with an egg white consistency. This type of discharge has the right texture and PH to support and protect sperm, so this is the ideal time to conceive.
After ovulation: on the days between the end of ovulation and your period, it is common to return to the yellow, white or cloudy discharge with a thicker, dryer consistency.
It is normal for vaginal discharge to have an odour, however, it shouldn’t be foul or unpleasant. The colour and smell may also change if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
What is abnormal vaginal discharge?
It’s important to remember that vaginal discharge varies from person to person. However, most doctors recommend seeking medical assistance if there is a definite change in the smell, colour and texture of your ‘normal' discharge and if the discharge is accompanied by itching or burning.
As a general guide, your discharge may be abnormal if:
- It has become heavier or thicker than usual
- It has a cottage cheese-like consistency (white and clumpy)
- It becomes greyish, greenish, darker yellow or blood-tinged
- It smells pungent or fishy
- It is accompanied by itching, burning or soreness
Possible causes of abnormal discharge
There are a few common reasons for experiencing abnormal discharge;
Bacterial infection, sexually-transmitted diseases (STD), yeast infections, or vaginitis (an infection in the vagina) are common causes of abnormal discharge.
Scented products like bubble baths, soaps or creams may cause irritation and or infection, leading to a change in your normal discharge.
Birth control pills, antibiotics and steroids can all affect your hormone levels and your body's inner balance, creating change in ‘normal' functioning.
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) and cervical cancer could also be the cause of the abnormal discharge.
If anything changes from your usual, or if you are experiencing itching, burning, or think you might have any of the above symptoms, it's always best to consult your local doctor immediately.