Vaginas are amazing things. They bring life, pleasure and play part in our overall pelvic health. One of the many worries that often comes up during pregnancy is the fact that vaginal discharge generally increases in pregnancy. Adding this into the context of vaginal discharge generally being seen as something ‘undesirable and dirty’, it becomes something midwives and doctors are often asked about.
So, what is normal and what is not? To answer this, we need to talk a little about WHY most vaginal discharge is normal.
Well, the vagina is essentially a self-cleaning mechanism in itself. It has a microbial flora of helpful bacteria that keep the vagina at a certain pH level, and which suppresses the growth of more unhelpful and harmful bacteria and other organisms. The vaginal discharge that is commonly seen is generally a healthy symptom of this particular self-cleaning mechanism and helps ‘wash’ harmful bacteria out of the vagina. The discharge itself is made up of water, electrolytes, surface cells from the vaginal canal, (good) bacteria, fatty acids and carbohydrate compounds.
In pregnancy, this type of discharge can increase as your body is even more keen to protect itself from infection and due to the increased blood flow and change to the vaginal tissues that occurs when your body is gestating a baby. This is perfectly normal and even desirable. No amount of washing will eliminate normal discharge, and in fact, excessive cleaning can disrupt the delicate balance of good bacteria in your vagina and make you more prone to infection.
Of course, there are instances in which vaginal discharge is a sign that something IS wrong.
So, what is normal and what isn’t?
- Normal discharge is clear or milky coloured with a distinct but not unpleasant smell
- You will often simply find it in your knickers or on a pad, as a whitish stain
- It doesn’t have any other concerning symptoms associated with it
The signs and symptoms of discharge that may need investigating:
- Brown, green, bloody or grey discharge or you notice a change in colour generally
- A fishy or offensive odour, or generally a very noticeable smell
- A sudden increase in discharge that feels concerning
- A change in consistency to very thick or lumpy
- Burning in or around the vagina or vulva
- Lower pelvic or abdominal pain
- Pain or burning when passing urine
- If you suddenly have very watery loss from your vagina-this may be your waters leaking
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, consult your midwife or doctor. There are many reasons as to why you may be experiencing these symptoms, often related to an infection, and you and your baby may very much benefit from some proactive treatment.
But remember, normal vaginal discharge is NOT a sign of lacking personal hygiene or infection. It is simply a reassuring and necessary bodily function that keeps your vagina and vulva as healthy as possible.