Everything you need to know about vaginal discharge

woman on toilet in underwear

by Andrea Maduro |
Updated on

Vaginal discharge is a general term used to describe any fluid that comes out of your vagina. While it's not something many of us enjoy thinking about, it is a normal, healthy occurrence that serves a very important function in the reproductive system. Normal vaginal discharge can range in colour, and it helps remove dead cells and bacteria, which helps the vagina keep clean and sustain the normal microflora.

What are the different types of vaginal discharge


Clear and watery discharge is healthy, normal vaginal discharge. It provides lubrication and protects your vagina and urinary tract. It can feel like water running out of your vagina and can be anything from a clear, thin, watery fluid to something more like the texture of egg whites. This variance happens because of the body’s natural processes and can be linked to events like ovulation, sexual arousal, or exercise.


White discharge is a healthy normal variant of your vaginal discharge. Depending on where you are in your cycle, your vaginal discharge may change. Creamy white and odourless discharge is normal a few days before your period. When the creamy white discharge starts to become stretchy and thick, it can also be an indication that you are ovulating. After your ovulation and until your next period, your discharge is usually opaque and creamy.


Light-yellow or pale-yellow discharge without odour and other accompanying symptoms (such as a foul smell or vaginal burning or itching) are very common and quite normal, especially just before or immediately following a period. A few days before your period, you may notice a creamy or sticky, pale-yellow discharge. In the days leading up to your period, the discharge can become darker, as a small amount of blood may mix with the discharge. At the end of your period, the colour of the discharge will change from red to brown and eventually to a brownish-yellow. And you might notice a yellow discharge, which is just leftover menstrual fluid exiting your uterus.


You can have pink discharge at any point throughout your cycle, typically when your menstrual cycle is just starting or ending. When there are small amounts of menstrual blood mixed with your normal clear or white discharge, your discharge can appear pink. But your period isn’t the only possible cause of pink discharge.

Just before you ovulate, your estrogen levels rise, which causes the lining of your uterus to thicken in preparation for pregnancy. If after ovulation you don’t conceive, the estrogen levels drop again. This can cause light spotting (bleeding that happens outside of your regular period). Your discharge can mix with this spotting blood as it leaves your uterus and makes it appear pink. This is what is known as ovulation bleeding.


Normally, vaginal discharge is clear or white, but sometimes your vaginal discharge can be brown, and this is simply old blood. Fresh blood has a bright red colour, but the more time blood spends outside of your blood vessels, the darker it becomes. When blood comes into contact with air, it goes through a process called oxidation. As the hemoglobin and iron in your blood interact with air, your blood turns a brownish hue.

Many people notice brown discharge before a period, especially around two days before, when their flow is still very light and not much blood is coming out. It’s also common to notice brown discharge after your period. This is perfectly normal and can last for a couple of days after your period is over. It is usually a dark brown discharge that lightens over time.

In very early pregnancy, brown discharge can also potentially be a symptom of an early miscarriage.

How does vaginal discharge change if you’re pregnant?

During pregnancy, your body produces more estrogen, and the blood flow to the vaginal area is increased. As the cervix and the walls of the vagina soften, there is an increase in the secretion of cervical fluid, resulting in an increased pregnancy discharge which helps prevent infections. Toward the end of your pregnancy, the head of your baby may also press against your cervix, which could result in an increase in vaginal discharge.

The increase in vaginal discharge during pregnancy is normal and shouldn’t be a cause for concern, as it is common and harmless and helps keep your vagina clean and prevent infections. The discharge is clear or milky white, thin or mucus-like, and mild smelling. Discharge that is slightly yellow without odour can also be perfectly normal. However, if you’re experiencing pregnancy discharge with an unpleasant and strong smell or an unusual colour, you should contact your midwife or doctor.

What are the causes of abnormal vaginal discharge?

Unexpected changes and abnormal discharge colours or odours can indicate possible infection or other medical conditions.

Yellow — Bright yellow discharge or thick yellow discharge — especially with an accompanying odour — is not considered normal. This usually indicates an infection. This may be a sign of a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Other common symptoms of STIs include pelvic or abdominal pain, pain or a burning sensation during urination, increased vaginal discharge, and bleeding between periods.

Yellow or greenish, foamy, and with a bad smell — Often, this could be a sign of an STI called trichomoniasis. Common symptoms include itching, burning, irritation, and genital redness or soreness. You might also experience discomfort or pain during urination.

Thick, white, cheesy, lumpy — This is a sign of a yeast infection. Other common symptoms of a yeast infection can be itching, burning sensations around the vulva and vagina, pain during sex, and pain or discomfort while urinating.

White, grey, yellow, or greenish with a fishy smell — This may indicate bacterial vaginosis. Some other common symptoms include itching, pain, burning of the vagina or vulva, and a burning sensation when urinating or during sex.

Bloody or brown — Brown or bloody discharge that occurs outside of the normal changes associated with your period could be a sign of something more serious. Reproductive issues such as polyps, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, and cervical or endometrial cancer can cause brown or bloody discharge. Other symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.

When should I see a doctor?

If you’ve noticed a change in colour, consistency, smell, or volume that seems different than usual or if you are experiencing burning, itching, pain, or a burning sensation when urinating or during sex, it could be a sign of infection or other conditions. If you have any concerns about these changes to your vaginal discharge, make sure to talk to your health care provider.

How is abnormal discharge treated?

The treatment of abnormal vaginal discharge depends on the cause:

• If you have a yeast infection, it can be treated with antifungal medications in the form of creams, ointments, tablets, and suppositories.

• If you have bacterial vaginosis, it can be treated with antibiotics, usually in the form of pills or creams.

• If you have an STI, such as chlamydia, gonorrhea, or trichomoniasis, it can be treated with antibiotics.

How to reduce the chance of infections.

There are some things you can do to keep your vagina healthy and prevent vaginal infections that can lead to abnormal discharge:

• Gently wash your vulva every day with warm water, and try to avoid foaming and scented soaps, feminine sprays, and bubble baths.

• Don’t use douches. They can upset the balance of bacteria in your vagina.

• Use unscented pads and tampons.

• Wear cotton underwear and avoid tight clothing.

• After going to the bathroom, wipe from front to back to keep bacteria from entering your vagina.

• Change your laundry detergent or fabric softener if you think it may be causing irritation.

• Always use protection with new sexual partners.

• Use latex condoms to minimise your chances of getting STIs.

Andrea Maduro, MD, is the Medical Advisor at Flo Health.

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