Discharge While Pregnant: What’s Normal And What’s Not?


Nobody wants to talk about discharge during pregnancy, but here’s the thing: It happens. Like, a lot. So much so, that some women choose to wear pads during pregnancy to soak up the mess. “I hadn’t worn pads since I was in high school,” a new-mum friend told me. “But I just got so sick of seeing my underwear covered in white goo. I felt like Slimer from Ghostbusters.”

Okay, so vaginal discharge during pregnancy may be one of the grosser symptoms, but it’s usually harmless. I spoke with obstetrician Dr Melissa Goist and found out everything you need to know about discharge during pregnancy and what (if anything) you can do about it.

What causes vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

“Hormones,” says Dr Goist. Vaginal discharge is an important fluid that prevents infection by taking dead cells and bacteria out of the vagina and cervix, and when you’re pregnant, heightened hormones means more discharge. Sorry ladies!

What does normal discharge look like?

Most women experience normal discharge during pregnancy—that is to say, clear or white and odourless. If it is pinkish, that could indicate bleeding in which case you should contact your healthcare provider, and if it is clumping that could indicate a yeast infection (again, call your doctor). In pregnant women, Dr Goist says that discharge seems to get worse as pregnancy progresses, and that a change in discharge could indicate a cervical change (as in, possible early signs of labour), but not always.

Discharge during pregnancy is so normal, that Goist suggests contacting your healthcare provider if you notice a change; if it becomes clear and runny it may actually be amniotic fluid, which could mean you’re going into labour. Additionally, Dr Goist explains that abnormal discharge means the same thing in pregnant women as it does in non-pregnant women, and usually indicates bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections or STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infection).

Is discharge during pregnancy ever a cause for concern?

Most discharge will not cause harm to the pregnancy unless it is an STI, says Dr Goist. “Sexually transmitted infections can cause the most problems at the time of delivery if they are not treated by possibly infecting the newborn,” she adds. During your first trimester, your healthcare provider will test for many sexually transmitted diseases like Hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV. However, if you are concerned about the possibility of a new STI, definitely tell your healthcare provider.

As for the discharge, it may be a telling sign. “Sometimes yeast infections and STIs will not only create a vaginal discharge but also sometimes vaginal spotting can be associated with these problems,” adds Dr Goist. Bloody (soaking a pad) discharge could mean anything from an ectopic pregnancy, placenta previa, preterm labour, or the loss of your mucus plug, and should be checked out. Lastly, if the discharge is clear or runny and flowing copiously, call your doctor—amniotic fluid should not “leak” unless you are going into labour.

What can you do about it?

If it is “normal” discharge, Dr Goist says there is nothing you can do about it. Try wearing a pad in your undies, but never insert a tampon or douche to lessen the flow as they can introduce germs and change the bacterial levels in your vagina. However, if you’re concerned, see your healthcare provider. If there is an infection, your doctor will likely treat it with the same over-the-counter options you’d use if you weren’t pregnant.

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Image: Getty