Pregnancy Discharge: All You Need to Know

It may be a sensitive subject, but it’s one many moms-to-be have on their minds. What exactly is going on “down there” with the discharge? In early pregnancy, your body may produce more vaginal discharge, and before labour begins you may notice a blood-tinged mucus discharge. Sometimes, your discharge may indicate a problem, like an infection. Read on to find out about the different types of discharge you might notice during pregnancy.

What Is Normal Pregnancy Discharge?

Normal discharge during pregnancy is clear or white, and usually a bit sticky; it should not have a noticeable odour. It’s OK if your discharge looks a little yellow on your underwear or panty liner during pregnancy, too. When you're pregnant, as your estrogen and progesterone hormone levels rise and blood flow to the vagina increases, you might find that you’re producing more discharge than before, especially during the second trimester. This actually helps to protect your growing baby from infection, as it’s your body’s natural way of keeping the vagina clean and flushing out dead cells. Once your pregnancy is full term (at 39 weeks of pregnancy), seeing a mucus-like discharge is also normal. This is the mucus plug, which is described below in more detail.

Is Vaginal Discharge a Sign of Pregnancy?

Vaginal discharge is generally not a sign that you're pregnant, but in the early days of pregnancy, you might notice some light spotting called implantation bleeding. This can happen when the fertilized egg implants in the uterine lining. In early pregnancy, this discharge is usually pink, a bit lighter in colour than normal menstrual blood. By the way, if you’ve recently discovered you’re pregnant, check out our Due Date Calculator to get an estimate of when your little one might be arriving.

What Is Leukorrhea?

Leukorrhea is simply the medical term for all vaginal discharge, not just the discharge that occurs during pregnancy. It’s usually a clear or whitish mucus-like substance, and it starts to appear at puberty. The colour, consistency, and amount of leukorrhea can vary depending on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Remember, during pregnancy you might be seeing more of it than usual, but this is normal.

What Is Considered Abnormal Discharge?

Unfortunately, you’re also more prone to vaginal infections when you’re pregnant. This is because pregnancy hormones change the balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina, leaving you more vulnerable to yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis.

Any changes in the colour, odour, or consistency of vaginal discharge might indicate an infection, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it throughout your pregnancy. Bacterial vaginosis can lead to changes in the discharge, usually giving it a strong, fishy odor and a grey, white, or green colour. A yeast infection can cause thick, white, or chunky-looking discharge. If you notice any of these changes, or anything else that you think is off, let your healthcare provider know as treatment may be required. If left untreated, vaginal infections can spread to the uterus and endanger your baby.

When Do I Need to Call My Healthcare Provider?

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if your discharge changes colour or consistency or starts to smell bad. It’s also worth contacting your provider if you experience any itchiness or painful urination. If your discharge becomes watery or bloody, this could be your water breaking or your mucus plug being released; either of these may be a sign of preterm labor if it occurs before you’re full term at 39 weeks, so you’ll want to get checked out right away. Vaginal bleeding (other than occasional light spotting or bloody mucus) can be cause for concern at any point in your pregnancy, so don’t hesitate to call your provider or visit the hospital.

How Can I Help Prevent a Vaginal Infection During Pregnancy?

To keep yourself clean down there, always wipe from front to back to avoid introducing any fecal bacteria into the vagina. Use a panty liner (not tampons) if you’re experiencing heavy discharge during pregnancy. Also take care to wash yourself in the tub or shower using water and a gentle soap. It’s also a good idea to choose underwear made from cotton or other natural, breathable fibers, and to steer clear of tight pants (sorry, yoga pants lovers!).

If your discharge starts to smell unpleasant, you may be tempted to use products like douches to help mask the odour, but this is not advised. Instead, talk to your healthcare provider, who can recommend the best course of action.

Are There Any Other Types of Vaginal Discharge to Watch For?

Here are other types of discharge you may experience before, during, and even after your pregnancy:

  • Ovulation discharge. The amount of leukorrhea you produce varies throughout your menstrual cycle. This amount will increase just before you ovulate (when you’re most fertile) and its consistency is usually thin and slick. After you ovulate, the amount of mucus discharged decreases and becomes thicker, but less noticeable. You might be more aware of these changes if you were monitoring your fertility before becoming pregnant.

  • Mucus plug. Exactly as it sounds, the mucus plug is a thick accumulation of mucus that fills the cervix, blocking entry to the uterus. It develops during your pregnancy to help protect your growing baby from infection. Just before or as you go into labor, as your cervix dilates, the plug comes loose and is pushed out of the vagina. The mucus plug can look clear or slightly bloody and pinkish in colour, and it will be thicker than normal pregnancy discharge.

  • Water breaking. A few hours before labour, the amniotic sac that contains your baby may break, and you could feel a watery discharge of amniotic fluid. It may not be as dramatic as it seems in the movies: Some women feel a small trickle, others leak a bit more, and some moms-to-be may not notice it at all.

  • Lochia. After you’ve delivered your baby and the placenta, either vaginally, or by c-section, you’ll start to see a new type of discharge. Lochia is the name for the vaginal discharge consisting of mucus and blood that you’ll shed in the days after you give birth. It will start out red and thick, gradually fade to a pinkish shade, and then eventually become yellow or white. If you have a c-section, you might not have quite as much lochia as moms who have vaginal deliveries. You can expect this type of discharge to continue for about four to six weeks after you give birth.

There are so many curious and wonderful things that take place during pregnancy. Download our handy pregnancy guide for even more insights on what’s in store for you and your baby.

How we wrote this article
The information in this article is based on the expert advice found in trusted medical and government sources, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
The content on this page should not replace professional medical advice. Always consult medical professionals for full diagnosis and treatment.