Vaginal Discharge during Pregnancy

Leukorrhea is the medical term used to describe vaginal discharge, especially that which happens during pregnancy. Leukorrhea is a thick white or yellowish vaginal discharge that pregnant women experience instead of their period and is, generally harmless. So what are the causes of this white discharge, what’s normal and what’s abnormal- we’ll tell you about all this and more!

Video: Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy

What is Vaginal Discharge?

Almost every woman faces vaginal discharge at some point or the other in her life. Most of the time vaginal discharge is normal and does not require any medical attention.The most common cause of this discharge is a change in hormonal levels during the menstrual cycle; the consistency of this discharge changes when ovulation occurs. When a woman is not ovulating, vaginal discharge is thick and sticky. When you are about to ovulate and while ovulating, the same discharge changes to a thin and stretchy film which helps the sperm travel towards the egg. It might last for a couple of days or even stretch to a couple of weeks in some cases! In most cases, vaginal discharge is nothing to be alarmed about and is considered normal as long as it does not cause irritation, discomfort, foul odour and itching.

Here are all the possible causes of vaginal discharge in women:

  • Hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle
  • Pregnancy
  • Infections in the vagina, especially yeast infections
  • Allergy to douches, soaps, lotions or talc
  • STDs or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Trichomoniasis- a parasitic infection that might be contracted during unprotected sex
  • Pelvic infections
  • Use of antibiotics or steroids
  • Unhygienic conditions like a tampon left on for too long or not changing your underwear often
  • Use of birth control pills or oral contraceptives
  • Diabetes or other metabolic disorders
  • Menopause
  • Trauma or injury to the vagina
  • Vaginitis, or irritation around the vagina
  • Cervical cancer

Normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy is referred to as Leukorrhea. It comes from your cervix, which is the neck of your uterus or better known as the womb for the baby.

Is It Normal to Have White Discharge during Pregnancy?

It is perfectly normal to have more vaginal discharge when pregnant. But what is considered normal is an odourless or mild-smelling thick creamy white discharge or milky white vaginal discharge. However, when it changes colour, it might become a cause for concern.

The vaginal discharge that you might face during pregnancy is very similar to that you may experience between periods, only heavier. It might not be a pleasant symptom of pregnancy, but it is bound to increase as your pregnancy progresses!

Discharge during Pregnancy

Most women who aren’t pregnant also experience some discharge in the middle of their cycle, but when you are pregnant, that discharge might increase. This is an important symptom of pregnancy that might start around the 13th week of pregnancy,  which is approximately the start of your second trimester. As your pregnancy progresses, the discharge is bound to increase as well. Your vagina is working overtime to keep your cervix moist and healthy, and this is a side-effect of that!

So, what is the purpose of this discharge, you might ask? It protects the birth canal from infection and maintains a healthy balance of good bacteria and flora in the vagina. Sometimes, the discharge might also be slightly brownish or pinkish. This is normal as long as you are not bleeding barring the occasional vaginal spotting.

Let’s discuss the type of vaginal discharge that you are likely to see at various stages of pregnancy:

1. First Trimester

Normal or minimal vaginal discharge similar to what you are used to. In some cases, there might be no discharge at all.

2. Second Trimester

Vaginal discharge or leukorrhea associated with pregnancy usually starts with the second trimester, around the 13th week of the pregnancy. It might be an increased amount of discharge than what you’re used to and will possibly increase with every week or even day!

3. Third Trimester

The vaginal discharge might become very heavy and uncomfortable and will probably keep increasing rapidly as you approach labour.

Reasons for Vaginal Discharge

Here are some of the common reasons associated with vaginal discharge:

1. Hormonal Changes

A woman’s body undergoes a lot of hormonal changes during the menstrual cycle.In the first half of the period cycle, the level of estrogen increases and peaks during the time of ovulation. As this hormone is responsible for increased blood supply it leads to an increase in colourless and odourless secretions from the cervix which is nothing but the discharge. This discharge is harmless in most cases.

  • Symptoms: An increased amount of discharge after ovulation, which changes as the cycle progresses
  • Is it normal?: Absolutely normal, as long as the discharge is not coloured or foul-smelling
  • How to deal with it: Keep the area dry, use panty liners and change your underwear regularly.

2. Pregnancy

Pregnancy brings with it the not-so-pleasant side-effect of vaginal discharge. There is an increase in the level of estrogen because of which the production of mucous increases resulting into leukorrhea.  It is quite similar to the one you may experience during periods however its presence may vary. Moreover, it may even be present throughout the duration of pregnancy as it protects the birth canal from any infections and maintains healthy bacteria in the region.

  • Symptoms: No increased discharge in the first trimester, but second trimester onwards, increasing as the pregnancy gets closer to labour
  • Is it normal?: It is normal to have an increased amount of vaginal discharge when pregnant
  • How to deal with it: Maintain hygiene and keep the vaginal area dry. Speak to your doctor for the best solution, do not self-medicate.

3. Yeast Infection

A yeast infection can be nasty, but thankfully, easy to identify. It is a fungal infection which quite commonly occurs in the vaginal region indicating the increase of yeast cells in the vagina that disrupts the pH balance and causes discomfort.

  • Symptoms: The vaginal discharge is whitish or yellowish, and might resemble cottage cheese. It might also have a nasty smell, and make the area super itchy.
  • Is it normal?: It is common, but not normal.
  • How to deal with it: Air out your vagina and try to keep it dry. Cut down sugar and speak to your doctor who might recommend some medication, oral or topical

4. Allergic Reaction 

They’re more common than you think! Could happen due to a fabric or soap allergy.

  • Symptoms: The vagina might become itchy, with a burning sensation. The area might become swollen or red, with a thick discharge combined with a foul smell.
  • Is it normal?: Not normal, but it is important to identify the cause
  • How to deal with it: Identify the cause and avoid interaction of the vaginal area with it. Speak to your doctor for a suitable medication.

5. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

There are a lot of STDs out there, and a few which come with an increased amount of vaginal discharge.

  • Symptoms: Thick, yellowish vaginal discharge coupled with severe itching, and possibly rashes or boils as well.
  • Is it normal?: Not normal, and needs immediate medical attention before it’s transmitted further
  • How to deal with it: You’ll have to trust only your doctor on this one, who might run a few tests as well to examine and conclude the course of treatment.

6. Medication Side-Effects

A lot of medicines like birth control pills might also mess with the delicate balance down there. Also, application of ointments and jellies used for contraception can irritate the mucous lining causing a discharge.

  • Symptoms: Thick discharge, which might be coupled with a foul smell.
  • Is it normal?: As long as the discharge is not smelling too much, there’s no reason to worry and it’s absolutely normal if it comes as a side-effect of certain medication.
  • How to deal with it: Keep the area dry and hygienic. Make sure to use panty liners to soak up the excess discharge.

7. Trichomoniasis

This is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis and can increase the risk of getting HIV/AIDS.

  • Symptoms: Itchy vagina with a thin, foul-smelling discharge. Urination and sex might pain or burn.
  • Is it normal?: Not normal, and must be treated immediately
  • How to deal with it: Bring it to the attention of your doctor immediately, who might run some tests and diagnose the problem.

Types of Abnormal Vaginal Discharge and Their Symptoms

While a brown discharge during early pregnancy is usually nothing to worry about as long as it is limited to vaginal spotting, a yellow discharge during pregnancy that is thick and cheesy and has a very foul smell might be indicative of a vaginal infection. Itchy or white discharge can also indicate something wrong. In such a  case, you might require treatment and should bring it to the attention of your doctor.

Here is a quick table to understand what is normal discharge while pregnant and what’s abnormal.

Type of Vaginal Discharge Normal/ Abnormal Indication
Clear Normal Healthy
Milky White Normal Healthy
Odourless Normal Healthy
Brown/ Reddish or Pinkish Normal Healthy, only if it’s limited to spotting
Yellowish Abnormal Possible vaginal infection or sexually transmitted disease like Gonorrhoea
Greenish Abnormal Possible vaginal infection, specifically Trichomoniasis
Thick and cheesy Abnormal Possible vaginal infection, mostly a yeast infection
Foul-smelling Abnormal Possible vaginal infection, mostly Bacterial vaginosis
Frothy Abnormal Possible vaginal infection
Itchy Abnormal Possible vaginal infection
Burning sensation Abnormal Possible vaginal infection
Rapid increase, extremely watery Abnormal Possible amniotic fluid leak

Another very important concern is differentiating between increased vaginal discharge during pregnancy and leaking amniotic fluid. If you are not at 37 weeks yet and notice a rapid increase in the discharge or if it becomes very watery, then this may be a sign of pre-term labour and needs to be brought to the attention of your doctor immediately.

How is Leukorrhea during Pregnancy Treated?

Abnormal vaginal discharge during pregnancy should be identified and treated as soon as possible because some vaginal infections are linked to a higher risk of miscarriage or premature delivery.

Thrush or a yeast infection does not increase the risk during pregnancy but can be extremely uncomfortable.

The treatment that you undergo for an abnormal vaginal discharge will depend on the cause for abnormal discharge. For example, thrush or yeast infections are usually treated with anti-fungal medications, creams or gels. Bacterial vaginosis is treated with antibiotic pills or with creams. A drug called Metronidazole or Tinidazole is usually prescribed to treat Trichomoniasis. However, it is very important that you do not ignore an instance of abnormal discharge or self-medicate in case of a suspected vaginal infection as it could be risky for your foetus.

While there are cases of vaginal discharge which might indicate something abnormal, there are some steps that you can take to tackle the problem and make yourself more comfortable.

Here’s a guide on handling vaginal discharge during pregnancy and how to get rid of smelly discharge:

  • Keep your outer genital area or the vulva clean and dry
  • Wear light pads or panty liners to absorb the discharge, if the wetness makes you feel uncomfortable. Make sure these are the non-perfumed variety
  • Wear cotton underwear, which allows your skin to breathe
  • Change your underwear often At least 2-3 times a day.
  • Use unscented soap and water when washing your genital area
  • Wash your hands properly before and after touching your vagina
  • Make sure your vagina is well-lubricated before you have sex
  • Clean your vagina by wiping from front to back, especially after you have had sex

Things you should NOT do while  handling vaginal discharge during pregnancy in order to avoid infections:

  • Do not wear a tampon during pregnancy to absorb the discharge. These are not recommended for pregnant women
  • Do not continue wearing a smeared underwear for a long time as the continued wetness will make your vagina a breeding ground for infection
  • Avoid douching (rinsing the vagina from inside) during pregnancy to get rid of the vaginal discharge. Douching during pregnancy can upset the delicate balance of good bacteria and lead to vaginal infections. It might even force air into the vagina, which can be dangerous when you’re expecting
  • Do not use any vaginal wipes or washes. While they smell good they could mess the delicate pH of your intimate area and increase your chances of a vaginal infection.
  • Do not use perfume or even vaginal deodorants during pregnancy.

How to Diagnose Vaginal Discharge

Depending on the symptoms, your doctor might ask you a series of questions regarding the discharge, the most common ones being:

When did the abnormal discharge begin?

  • What is the colour of the discharge?
  • How is the smell of the discharge?
  • Is there any itching with the discharge?
  • Is there a burning sensation with the discharge?
  • Your recent sexual history

Based on your answers, your doctor might take a sample of the discharge or run a pap smear test, which involves collecting cells from your cervix for further investigation.

The most common reason for abnormal vaginal discharge, whether during pregnancy or otherwise, is a vaginal infection. Thrush, bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis could be the culprits.

Home Remedies for Vaginal Discharge

There are several over-the-counter as well as prescribed medicines to treat leukorrhea, but this can also be dealt with at home with some simple home remedies. However, remember to exercise extra caution when you are pregnant. Make sure to consult your doctor before trying out any home remedies.

1. Apple Cider Vinegar

Hailed as a miracle product by many, apple cider vinegar is believed to be useful in treating vaginal discharge. How it works is that it restores the natural pH balance of the body, thanks to its acidic properties. Its antiseptic properties help restore the vaginal flora and also controls vaginal odour. Here’s how to use it:

Mix distilled water and raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar in equal amounts . This can be used as a vaginal wash once or twice a day for a couple of days.

Drinking a glass of water mixed with one or two tablespoons of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar once daily is also said to be very healthy for the body as well as the genital area.

2. Fenugreek seeds

Another food that controls and maintains the natural pH of the body and the vagina- Fenugreek. It also has an impact on the estrogen levels in the body and boosts the immunity. Here’s how to use it:

Soak one teaspoon of fenugreek seeds in water overnight, and strain the water the next morning. Add half a teaspoon of honey to it and drink it on an empty stomach.

You could also boil two teaspoons of fenugreek seeds in four cups of water for 30 minutes. Strain the water and allow it to cool down. This water can be used as a vaginal wash two to three times a day for a couple of days.

3. Bananas

Bananas not only aid digestion but can also help control vaginal discharge. Here’s how to use them:

Eating one or two overripe bananas daily can help control leukorrhea

You can also mix two tablespoons of banana flower juice with two teaspoons of powdered palmyrah candy. Consume this once a day

4. Cranberries

Cranberry is good for those suffering from urinary tract infection because cranberries are known to have antiseptic and antibiotic properties. Here’s how to use them:

Drinking one glass of unsweetened cranberry juice two or three times daily can help keep vaginal discharge at bay

Cranberry tablets are also available, which help prevent bacteria from attaching to the vaginal wall and fight the problem of leukorrhea. But make sure to consult your doctor before consuming these tablets

5. Indian Gooseberry (Amla)

High in vitamin C, Amla (Indian Gooseberry) is another fruit that’s beneficial for vaginal health. Here’s how to use them:

Mix one teaspoon of Indian gooseberry powder with honey to make a thick paste. Consume this daily for about a week

Combine one cup of water with one teaspoon of dried Indian gooseberry root powder and boil until it reduces to half. Add some sugar and consume this on an empty stomach every morning

6. Figs

Figs have a powerful laxative effect on the body and help with excess vaginal discharge as well. Here’s how to use them:

Soak a couple of dried figs in one cup of water overnight. Blend soaked figs and drink the mixture the next morning

Grind equal amounts of the bark of the fig tree and banyan tree into a fine powder. Mix one tablespoon of this powder in two cups of water and use it as a vaginal wash for a couple of days

Remember to always seek medical intervention if you suspect an abnormal discharge in the course of your pregnancy and always refrain from self-diagnosis. It is always better to be sure and avoid further complications from arising. Ensure you practice complete hygiene and keep your vaginal area dry. Remember it’s a journey of 9 months and a lifetime! You can use all the above requisite information for a happy and a healthy pregnancy!

Also Read: Watery Discharge during Pregnancy