My discharge is grossing me out. Why is there so much of it? Is it ever a sign of a problem?

Excerpt from Asking for a Pregnant Friend: 101 Answers to Questions Women Are Too Embarrassed to Ask about Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Motherhood

One of my childbirth prep class mamas once told me she felt like she had a bottle of “drippy glue” leaking out of her vagina. “It’s everywhere down there — all the time. I go through like ten pair of underwear a day. WTF?”

I’ll tell you what I told her: Vagina-glue is a sure sign your child will be an arts and crafts savant. Just kidding. But for real, this is an incredibly normal byproduct of pregnancy, and it has a fun name! Leukorrhea. Okay, maybe not so fun.

This abundance of goo is caused by an elevation in estrogen, which increases the amount of blood pumping to the pelvis area, which stimulates the mucous membranes, which makes your vagina a discharge factory. It can be icky, but it serves many purposes for the vagina, such as wiping away dead cells, helping its bacteria levels find equilibrium, and guarding the birth canal from infection.

While leukorrhea is usually thin, odorless, a little sticky, and clear or white, its color can range from green, yellow, pink, or red, to white, brown, or gray, depending on what’s going on within your body.

Here’s a discharge color guide:

  • Clear to white: This is what normal discharge usually looks like.
  • Green or yellow: These hues could signal the presence of the STD chlamydia or trichomoniasis.
  • Pink: A bit of pink discharge in early pregnancy could appear when the embryo implants in the uterus. When you’re nearing your due date, thick gobs of clear discharge tinged with pink or red could occur when your mucous plug dislodges in preparation for birth — this is also called bloody show.
  • Red: Tinges of red in discharge can be normal in early or late pregnancy, because of the implantation and mucous plug mentioned above. A touch of red discharge may also appear after sex. However, if you experience so much red that it’s more blood than “red discharge,” reach out to your care provider immediately, as this could be a sign of a complication.
  • Brown: Brown discharge is common in early pregnancy, when old blood is clearing out of the uterus. Alert your care provider if you experience dark brown discharge, as this could be a sign of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy, or an issue with the placenta.
  • Gray: The vaginal infection bacterial vaginosis could cause gray discharge. It’s caused by a bacterial imbalance in the vagina that can be rebalanced with antibiotics.

In addition to color, the odor, consistency, and accompanying symptoms of discharge could be signs that something is off:

  • Fishy: In addition to gray discharge, a fishy odor is a common calling card of bacterial vaginosis.
  • Cottage cheese: If food aversions haven’t already put you off cottage cheese, know that the vagina equivalent of this dairy dish may appear on your toilet paper if you have a yeast infection.
  • Itching or burning: Another joy of a yeast infection is itching, burning, an inflamed vulva, or my favorite, all of the above!

If you experience discharge that indicates an infection or other issue, tell your care provider. While you’re likely qualified to diagnose a yeast infection, for example, it’s still best to get the green light before using over-the-counter or homemade treatments.

What to do

Because pregnancy doesn’t need any help being uncomfortable, here are a few ways to minimize the wet and yucky feeling of normal discharge in your unders, and the bevy of discomforts caused by not-normal discharge:

  • Wear unscented, organic cotton panty liners. These are a safe way to prevent discharge from soaking through your panties and making you feel like you wet yourself a little.
  • Don breathable cotton undergarments. Beyond being comfortable, not-too-tight underwear made from a breathable fabric like cotton helps prevent excess moisture — which is like a breeding ground for yeast infection–inducing bacteria.
  • Say no to tampons and douching. Beyond a penis, your fingers, a sex toy, or your care provider’s vaginal exam devices, nothing should be going up your vagina during pregnancy. As tempting as it can be to use a tampon to thwart your discharge’s descent, tampons can introduce harmful bacteria. And you don’t want to douche, as it could disrupt the balance of microorganisms in your vagina and potentially cause bacterial vaginosis.
  • Use unscented personal care products. As the chemicals used for many scented products can disrupt the sensitive vaginal ecosystem, resist the temptation to purchase perfumed toilet paper, soaps, oils, or anything else that might touch your vagina.
  • Honor the wiping rule. When we were potty trained, many of us were taught to wipe front to back, to prevent fecal matter from entering the vagina. This is especially important during pregnancy, as not abiding by this golden rule could lead to a urinary tract infection (UTI).
  • Get those probiotics. Eating unsweetened yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, and other probiotic-rich foods infuses the vagina with healthy bacteria, helping to prevent unpleasantries like yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis.
  • Avoid sugar. As yeast loves sugar, eating too much of the sweet stuff can cause an overabundance of yeast in the vagina, which leads to… you know.

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