Everybody’s favorite topic, right? Pregnancy discharge ….um, not so much. But every pregnant woman will experience some form of discharge during pregnancy—some may even experience this as a very early sign of pregnancy.
To help you understand what’s going on down there, this post covers all the different ways pregnancy discharge can present and what each one means. Read on to find out:
- What pregnancy discharge is and what causes it
- If white discharge is a sign of pregnancy
- What it means if pregnancy discharge is an usual color
- How to tell the difference between regular pregnancy discharge and your mucus plug or bloody show
What Is Pregnancy Discharge?
All women experience some type of vaginal discharge especially during ovulation, but pregnancy usually causes an increase in vaginal discharge.
Pregnancy discharge, also called leukorrhea, is a thin, white or off-white, milky, mild-smelling fluid.
Pregnancy discharge becomes increasingly present as your pregnancy advances—so much so that some women may actually think they’ve peed their pants!
What Causes Pregnancy Discharge?
Hormones, hormones, hormones! When you become pregnant, your estrogen levels skyrocket.
Estrogen is so important, because it is one of the hormones that helps nourish your growing baby by increasing blood supply to the pelvic region, namely your uterus where the baby is growing. It also softens the walls of the birth canal and cervix, stimulating the secretion of discharge from the mucous membrane of the cervix and the vaginal canal.
Why Is There an Increase in Discharge During Pregnancy?
Pregnancy discharge is a mixture of cells and normal vaginal bacteria that’s excreted from the cervix and vaginal walls. Though sometimes unpleasant, pregnancy discharge acts as a protective mechanism for your growing baby. Because this discharge is flowing down and out, it’s more difficult for unwanted pathogens to flow in. Pregnancy discharge also helps maintain a healthy pH in the vaginal canal, thus protecting the good bacteria that exists there. (source)
Also, as this discharge continues to increase, it develops into what is called the mucus plug. (Read on for more on that!)
Can White Discharge Be a Sign of Pregnancy?
Physiological changes in your body happen from that very moment the sperm meets the egg, and you may notice that one of the earliest signs of pregnancy is pregnancy discharge.
When a woman’s body is preparing for ovulation, she will see an increase in cervical mucus and discharge around the time she is most fertile, however, if a pregnancy is not established, the cervical mucus dries up within 24-48 hours.
However, ongoing vaginal discharge may tip you off to the possibility that you are pregnant. As the body prepares the birth canal and cervix for pregnancy, the walls of the vagina thicken and the mucus membranes become more active. (source)
What Does It Mean if Pregnancy Discharge is White and Thick?
Leukorrhea, or pregnancy discharge, is white or off-white, but not thick. If it’s thick, this could indicate a yeast infection. Yeast infections are especially common during pregnancy, because all of those hormonal changes can really disrupt the pH balance within the vagina.
Common yeast infection symptoms include:
- Vaginal itching
- Thick, white discharge that looks like cottage cheese curds
- Burning, soreness or rash on the outer lips of the vagina
Talk to your OB or Midwife if you experience any of these symptoms.
What Does It Mean if Pregnancy Discharge is Green or Yellow?
If you see green or yellow discharge, call your healthcare provider, especially if it’s accompanied by redness, itching, burning, or a strong, unpleasant odor.
This type of pregnancy discharge generally signals two common vaginal infections:
- Bacterial vaginosis: This is a very common infection affecting anywhere between 10-30 percent of all pregnant women. It is not a sexually transmitted disease, but is associated with having sex. It results from an overgrowth of common bacteria and a reduction in beneficial bacterial. The discharge is often described as green, frothy, and fishy smelling.
- Trichomonas: This is a sexualy transmitted infection caused by the parasite trichomonas vaginalis. The discharge from this infection is copious, yellow/green, and accompanied by intense burning and itching.
Unfortunately, both of these types of infections have been linked to preterm labor and low birthweight, so prompt medical treatment is necessary if you are experiencing green or yellow pregnancy discharge. Both of these infections can be easily treated with oral prescription medications that are safe to take during pregnancy.
What Does It Mean if Pregnancy Discharge is Brown?
Brown or pinkish pregnancy discharge indicates blood.
Pink is newer blood; brown is older. This can be normal (so can spotting during pregnancy), but you should talk to your doctor. Some causes include:
- Implantation bleeding: When a sperm and egg unite and start the journey of forming into a baby, they need a home to grow in, and that home is the juicy, blood-rich wall of the uterus. The blastocyst (scientific name for cells dividing and turning into a baby!) embeds in the wall of the uterus some time around 6-12 days after ovulation/fertilization. Symptoms of implantation bleeding include pinkish/brownish discharge that is light and can be watery or spotty. It can also be associated with light cramping.
- Leaking amniotic fluid: Amniotic fluid reaches its peak between 32 and 34 weeks gestation. After this point, it begins to decline gradually. (source) Leaking amniotic fluid is generally colorless and odorless, but it may appear slightly brown or green if baby has passed meconium. (source) Meconium aspiration is serious—contact your healthcare provider if you suspect your brown pregnancy discharge may be amniotic fluid.
- Irritated cervix: You may have heard the term friable cervix, essentially this means a cervix whose tissues are easily irritated. In pregnancy, as your blood volume doubles, the blood enriched tissue of your cervix may bleed more easily than usual. A common time to see spotting from a friable cervix is after sex. This is not a concern for the pregnancy, though all bleeding should be reported to your care provider.
- Ectopic Pregnancy: Also known as a tubal pregnancy, this is when the fertilized egg doesn’t quite make its way into the uterus, but rather implants in the fallopian tubes. Ectopic pregnancy can be difficult to diagnose, because symptoms are similar to normal early signs of pregnancy. But the first warning signs of an ectopic pregnancy are often pain or vaginal bleeding. An ectopic pregnancy can pose serious health risks to a pregnant woman, so please report these symptoms to your healthcare provider immediately.
- Miscarriage: More common than we think, miscarriage occurs in one out of every four or five pregnancies. This unfortunate event is when the baby dies in the womb before 20 weeks of pregnancy. Women experiencing a miscarriage will see spotting, both red and brown, accompanied by period-like cramping.
- Infections: It’s alway best to check in with your healthcare provider when you see brown or red (or green or yellow!) pregnancy discharge, so that they can ask you about what you are seeing and feeling. Several STDs and Urinary Tract Infections can also cause brown/red discharge, and these conditions generally require proper medical care.
What Does It Mean if Pregnancy Discharge is Watery?
Many women experience leaking urine (sad, but true!) at some point during their pregnancy. Why? The hormones of pregnancy cause the muscles around the urethra and other pelvic floor muscles to soften. And of course, as the baby grows and puts downward pressure on your bladder, that too can cause a little leakage.
You may notice leaking urine while exercising, coughing or sneezing, or even laughing. Consider wearing a panty liner or carrying an extra pair of underwear with you in your purse. (Never use tampons during pregnancy!)
You may wonder if what you’re experiencing is urine or amniotic fluid?
- Amniotic fluid doesn’t always gush out like it does in Hollywood movies, it often times comes out in a slow leak. Amniotic fluid has a high pH, being very alkaline.
- Urine has a distinct urine smell as it dries, amniotic fluid does not have much of an odor. It also is more acidic than amniotic fluid.
If you are concerned that your water pregnancy discharge may actually be amniotic fluid, call your doctor or midwife.
How Does the Mucus Plug Differ From Regular Pregnancy Discharge?
The mucus plug is exactly as the name sounds, a plug of mucus! This mucus forms in the cervix and acts as a protective barrier, guarding the uterus from any unwanted pathogens from the outside world.
The mucus plug is a translucent, jelly-like substance that can vary in color from yellow, to greenish, or even slightly pink or brown. It resembles egg white or snot (gross, but true!). Remember, regular pregnancy discharge will look more like a thin, white or off-white, milky, mild- smelling fluid.
Most women will be on the lookout for the mucus plug, because it is discharged from the cervix in the last few days/weeks of pregnancy when the cervix starts to soften and dilate in preparation for labor. Some women lose parts of their mucus plug and others lose it all at once. Keep in mind that the mucus plug can reestablish itself so don’t think labor is a given, although it usually signals the end of pregnancy!
How Does the Bloody Show Differ From Regular Pregnancy Discharge?
During the last few weeks of pregnancy, your hormones are hard at work making changes in your body. As the cervix softens or “ripens,” it often causes the tiny capillaries around the area to break, leading to some bloody discharge.
There are a few different events that can cause this bloody discharge:
A Note About Any Kind of Pregnancy Discharge
Pregnancy discharge is a normal, natural part of pregnancy. But if you have questions about what’s going on down there, always seek advice from a medical professional.
If things are just a little uncomfortable, because of all that pregnancy discharge, here are a few tips:
- Wear a panty liner (Do NOT use tampons during pregnancy—they can introduce bacteria.)
- Wear breathable cotton underwear
- Do NOT douche—this can disrupt the balance of bacterial flora in your vagina
How About You?
Did you notice a change in discharge during pregnancy?