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Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy: What's Normal and What's Not

Katlyn Joy |19, January 2014


Not all pregnancy symptoms are sweet and lovely like the glow of pregnancy or the gentle kicks of the baby. Some are... well, icky. But they are part of pregnancy none the less.

Discharge as a Sign of Early Pregnancy

Maybe when you were trying to conceive, you were paying special attention to your cervical mucus to determine the best times to attempt pregnancy. The change in your mucus when pregnant may be one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. What changes can you expect? There should be a thicker, whitish type of discharge. It won't be lumpy or have any type of odor.

What is The Purpose of the Discharge?

Vaginal discharge during pregnancy is called, "leucorrhea." It may show up early in pregnancy, dissipate throughout the mid-trimester, only to return in the final trimester.

The reason for the discharge is the body's way of protecting the cervix from infections and bacteria and keeping them flushed out, as well as maintaining proper pH levels.

What Is Not a Normal Discharge?

Not all discharges are normal. If the discharge is lumpy, streaked with blood, discolored green or yellow, or has an odor, you need to see your doctor.

Any itching or burning, perhaps accompanied by painful urination is a troublesome sign that needs checked out by a physician.

Conditions that Can Cause Abnormal Discharges

Yeast infection.

Most women have had at least one occurrence of yeast infection prior to pregnancy, and so will know the signs:

  • Itchiness
  • Discharge that resembles cottage cheese
  • An odor of bread or yeast and may be white or yellow

Pregnancy is a big time for yeast infections because of the changed physical environment of the vagina during pregnancy particularly the higher sugar levels as yeast feeds on sugars. If you suspect a yeast infection, call the doctor. You may go in for a diagnosis, or simply sent to the pharmacy to buy medicine. To prevent it from returning, limit sugar, (as you should do anyway while eating healthy for baby,) and let the area air out as much as possible. For instance, sleep sans panties. Also when wearing panties, make certain they are made of cotton. Don't wear tight pants, which can be challenging with your expanding waistline.

STD's or STI's.

Yes, this may be a potentially embarrassing cause of abnormal discharges but you cannot wish them away, so don't ignore symptoms. You could have an STD if you had unprotected sex, and if you are pregnant, it's a sure things that's happened at some point. Multiple partners or a partner who was infected are other factors. Basically, it's not something only promiscuous or unclean people contract; sexually active people can become infected. If you think something is amiss, due to a burning, itching, or foul smelling discharge, go see your doctor and have it checked out. It's important for both yours and your baby's health to be treated promptly.

Bacterial infections.

Another cause of abnormal discharges in pregnancy is a bacterial infection, typically called "bacterial vaginosis." This usually causes burning in urination, a fishy foul smell, and itching. It too is caused by a chemical imbalance in the vaginal environment. If you suspect this is a problem, talk to your health care provider. A simple test can be done on the vaginal discharge and if diagnosed, you'll only need take an antibiotic. If left untreated, bacterial vaginosis can cause preterm labor or underweight babies.

What to Do and What Not to Do

Never douche or use tampons during pregnancy. It is perfectly OK to use panty liners while pregnant, just be certain to change them often. Should you be near the end of pregnancy and you are soaking through the liners rapidly, you should check in with the labor and delivery department. It could be that your amniotic fluid is leaking. A little test can be run to check. It's important to know if it's amniotic fluid, because this signals the beginning of labor and the clock will run. You cannot labor too long once the water has broken due to a risk of infection should it take more than a day or so to give birth.

If you are close to birth, pinkish material or even blood-tinged discharge is normal. It's called the bloody show and represents the readying of the cervix for labor. Heavy blood loss however is not normal, and requires a trip to the ER and a call to the doctor.

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