Vaginal discharge serves an important housekeeping function in the female reproductive system. Fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix carries away dead cells and bacteria. This keeps the vagina clean and helps prevent infection.
Vaginal discharge amount can vary, as can odor and hue depending on the time in your menstrual cycle. For example, there will be more discharge if you are ovulating, breastfeeding, or are sensually stimulated. The smell may be different if you are pregnant or you haven't been diligent about your personal hygiene.
None of those changes is cause for alarm. However, if the color, smell, or consistency seems significantly unusual, especially if it accompanied by vaginal itching or burning, you could be noticing an infection or other condition.
Clear, elastic mucous resembling raw egg white is normal. Your discharge will look like this from the beginning of your cycle through ovulation—its stickiness helps draw sperm into your uterus.
It's Milky White
Again, this is totally healthy. From the middle to the end of your cycle, discharge becomes creamier, a result of progesterone release. The thick quality blocks your cervix to trap sperm inside. (If you're on the pill, your discharge will be creamy all the time.)
It's Yellow and Puss-Like
In addition to the off-color, does your vagina also itch, hurt, or smell bad? If so, contact your gynecologist. It could be Gonorrhea, Chlamydia, or a pelvic infection. The color you see on your underwear is not necessarily the color of your discharge, because it gets oxidized and discolored by the air. If your inner ware look yellow but the discharge itself is clear or milky, don't freak out.
It's Grayish-Green and Foamy
In addition to wacky-looking discharge, bacterial vaginosis can be accompanied by a fishy odor and burning sensation. It's a common, mild infection that's easily treated with a prescription cream or pill. Although it may be uncomfortable, you'll feel better within a couple of days.
It has strands of Blood inside
Spotting between periods is very common when you're taking Contraceptive Pill, as is a rusty-brown discharge following your period which is caused by dried blood.
If the bloody discharge is an isolated incident don't worry about it; if it's persistent, visit your gynecologist so she can talk to you about other birth control options, and also screen you for polyps, fibroids, cervical inflammation, and infection.
Heads up: Liquid discharge might indicate a herpes infection, caused by open sores inside your vagina. You might also feel vague below-the-belt discomfort, and notice more discharge than usual.
It's Heavier Than Normal
Excess discharge is a common side effect of an IUD—the string irritates your vagina, generating more fluid. If your v-zone is also itchy, a yeast infection is probably to blame. Another common cause of heavy discharge is pregnancy. None of the above make sense for you? Then relax; the amount of discharge your body produces naturally varies from month to month, depending on the fluctuating balance of hormones in your system.
Shedding of the uterine lining after childbirth
Thick, white, cheesy
When there is an overgrowth of yeast in the vagina, often due to antibiotic use or other factors that affect the natural balance of bacteria in the vaginal area. Candida species are the type of yeast most commonly responsible.
White, gray, or yellow with fishy odor
Bacterial vaginosis – Itching or burning, redness and swelling of the vagina or vulva
Vaginal Odors to Put on Your Radar
A healthy vagina will usually have some sort of smell, but the scent may vary day-to-day depending on how active you are. Like, after a super intense spin class, your hoo-ha may have a stronger, musky smell from the surrounding sweat glands—which is 100 percent normal.
If your vagina gives off a strong, foul odor, it may be the sign of an infection. For example, bacterial vaginosis is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria and upsets the delicate PH balance of the vagina, causing an increase in discharge and a strong fishy odor that increases after you've had bed play. A foul odor with green discharge typically indicates trichomoniasis, an STD. So, if you just don't smell right, trust your instinct and see your doctor.
Your vagina might smell differently depending on the lubricants you've used during sensual act and whether or not you've used a condom. Typically, most women describe the smell as "chlorine-like or bleachy" and it's nothing to be worried about.
If you notice you constantly smell a bit off (like the scent of blood) during that time of the month, it's typically nothing to be alarmed about. When you have your period, the blood can mix with the natural state of a healthy vagina and give off a different—but normal—smell.
What you eat can also make your hoo-ha smell differently. Citrus fruits like oranges, pineapple, and grapefruit have been known to sweeten the smell and taste of vaginal fluids.
Tips for preventing vaginal infections
- Keep the vagina clean by washing regularly with a gentle, mild soap and warm water.
- Never use scented soaps and feminine products or douche. Also avoid feminine sprays and bubble baths.
- After going to the bathroom, always wipe from front to back to prevent bacteria from getting into the vagina and causing an infection.
- Wear 100% cotton underpants, and avoid overly tight clothing.
When to Seek Medical Care
It is appropriate to seek medical care any time you have a change in the character (color, odor, consistency) or amount of vaginal discharge or if you have other symptoms such as pain, burning, or itching of the vaginal area.