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Pregnancy Discharge: Reasons and Types

calendarJuly 20, 2016
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Early pregnancy discharge

Many women will notice that the amount of discharge they have in pregnancy are higher than expected levels. This normal vaginal discharge is the result of estrogen levels in the human serum that stimulate the cervix to secrete more discharge. The early pregnancy discharge can be white creamy discharge or clear vaginal discharge. Both types of discharge are considered normal during pregnancy. At times there is heavy discharge during pregnancy to the point where the woman has to wear a panty liner in order to collect the constant vaginal discharge.

Is Discharge a Sign of Pregnancy?

Some women will experience an increase in white vaginal discharge or milky white discharge as an early sign of pregnancy. This is because the levels of estrogen are going up and causes the cervix to secrete more leukorrhea. This is the time when the cervix is making its mucus plug. The mucus plug remains throughout the pregnancy and protects the contents of the uterus from outside influences such as bacteria that could enter the uterus and cause infection in the amniotic sac. The mucus plug will fall out as the cervix opens up at the end of the pregnancy.

What is Vaginal Discharge?

Vaginal discharge usually doesn’t come from the vagina but is secreted by the cervix in response to a woman’s normal hormones, estrogen and progesterone. At the time of ovulation, for example. There is usually a lot of discharge that is clear and stringy in texture. The thick vaginal discharge is this way because it allows the sperm to better travel up the vagina, cervix and uterus so there is a greater chance of fertilization. This increased vaginal discharge is normal and just means that you are about to ovulate and could get pregnant.

After ovulation, the cervical discharge becomes thick and sticky. It may be clear or white in color but is usually a cloudy discharge as opposed to the clear vaginal discharge seen at the time of ovulation. What causes vaginal discharge after ovulation? The estrogen levels are still high, which contributes to the amount of discharge you have but, because of the influence of progesterone, it will be a sticky vaginal discharge that is not conducive to sperm being able to travel through it.

If you become pregnant during that menstrual cycle, the sticky vaginal discharge will increase and will remain high throughout the pregnancy. This is because estrogen and progesterone levels are high during pregnancy and this triggers more discharge from the cervix and vagina. Excessive vaginal discharge is a normal part of pregnancy and is not something you generally need to see your doctor about.

What If the Pregnancy Discharge Is Abnormal?

Is discharge a sign of pregnancy

Vaginal discharge during pregnancy should be white or clear in color and should have no specific odor. If you have abnormal vaginal discharge in pregnancy, it can mean that you are suffering from a sexually transmitted disease or STD. STDs can happen in pregnancy and can lead to vaginal odor during pregnancy. The discharge can be a greenish vaginal discharge or you can have a brown discharge. If the discharge is due to an infection, you will likely have other symptoms brown discharge. If the discharge is due to an infection, you will likely have other symptoms. The most common symptoms of an infection causing:

  • abnormal vaginal discharge include vaginal burning;
  • vaginal itching;
  • pain in the vulvar area.

Some types of infection you can get in pregnancy include chlamydia, gonorrhea, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomonas. Sometimes the discharge will be foamy and sometimes it will be clumpy like cottage cheese. The types of vaginal discharge you’ll see in an infection vary according to the type of infection you have. For example, if you have yeast infection, you will have white, clumpy, and thick vaginal discharge associated with vaginal itching. Yeast infections are very common in pregnancy and are related to an altered immune response to yeast during pregnancy. If you have yellow green vaginal discharge in pregnancy, it may mean that the infection is due to gonorrhea or trichomonas.

What causes vaginal discharge to be that way in an infection? The infectious organisms mix with an excess of protective vaginal discharge, causing it to become discolored and to have a bad odor. If you experience these symptoms along with an abnormal vaginal discharge in pregnancy, you should see your doctor about getting an evaluation and to possibly be placed on an antibiotic or an antifungal agent to clear up the infection before the baby is born.

Your sexual partner should be treated as well so that you don’t end up passing the infection back and forth between each other during sex. You both need to complete the course of treatment and avoid sex while you are being treated for the infection. Smelly discharge during pregnancy is never considered normal and should be checked out. Some vaginal infections in pregnancy can get past the mucus plug and can cause an infection inside the uterus that could lead to premature labor and problems with the fetus. You need to have any kind of smelly vaginal discharge checked out, especially if you have other symptoms besides the malodorous vaginal discharge.

Reasons for Vaginal Discharge

  1. Unless a woman is passed menopause, vaginal discharge is a normal part of the menstrual cycle and a part of being pregnant. After menopause, the estrogen and progesterone levels drop way down and the vagina becomes relatively dry, giving off very little discharge.
  2. The vaginal discharge usually carries normal vaginal bacteria and sometimes a few yeast organisms. The discharge keeps the pH of the vaginal tissues in the normal range in order to protect the vagina from getting infected. If a woman uses douches too much, she can alter the pH of the vaginal tissues and it can make her more predisposed to getting a vaginal infection.
  3. Vaginal discharge also helps lubricate a woman during sexual activity. Upon being stimulated sexually, the cervix is triggered to create an increase in vaginal secretions so that there is less discomfort during sex. If a woman is not sufficiently aroused or is after menopause, there may be no increase in vaginal discharge and the woman may have to use an artificial vaginal lubricant such as KY jelly or other water-based vaginal lubricant when she has sex. Do not use an oil-based lubricant like petroleum jelly because this can cause condoms to break and is not healthy to put inside the vagina.
  4. Vaginal discharge also protects the vagina from drying out. A dry vaginal vault can crack or break open during sex, especially after menopause, when the vaginal mucosa is thinner than it is before menopause. Women after menopause may need to use some kind of artificial vaginal lubricant to protect the thin vaginal lining so that infection in the vagina is less likely to occur.

Pregnancy Discharge throughout the Pregnancy

As mentioned, there is an increased vaginal discharge throughout pregnancy because of an increase in female hormones, especially estrogen and progesterone. An increase in vaginal discharge can mean that a woman is pregnant if it is detected around the time of the missed period. This kind of discharge is usually thick, white in color, and does not have an odor. This kind of vaginal discharge proceeds throughout the pregnancy. There is usually never a time in pregnancy when some kind of vaginal discharge is absent.

Toward the end of the pregnancy, the vaginal discharge can increase and can become more like mucus. This can be a sign that the mucus plug is coming out. The mucus plug does not usually come out all at once but can come out little by little. It can be clear or pink in color and indicates that the cervix is beginning to open up as a result of early labor contractions. Some women will experience the loss of a mucus plug all at once while others will have a mucus-like discharge from the plug coming out little by little. Either way to lose the mucus plug is totally acceptable and just means that labor is coming up sooner rather than later.

Pregnancy Discharge in a Yeast Infection

As mentioned, yeast infections are very common during the pregnancy. When you have a yeast infection during pregnancy, you will begin to have vaginal or vulvar itching that won’t go away. The discharge will usually begin to occur around the same time as the other symptoms. It will usually be white and will resemble cottage cheese, being thick and clumpy in texture. If you notice these signs and symptoms, it is time to see the doctor to be evaluated for a yeast infection.

If you have had vaginal yeast infections in the past and know what they look like, you can purchase an over the counter anti-yeast preparation such as Monistat or Gyne-Lotrimin. They come as a cream or as suppositories with or without cream for external application. Some come with prefilled applicators that are inserted into the vagina in order to clear up the infection. There are one day treatments and there are treatments lasting up to seven days. If you are pregnant, you should aim to take the treatment that takes the longest or the infection may come back.

Vaginal Discharge in Gonorrhea

Reasons for vaginal discharge

If you have gonorrhea (in or outside of pregnancy) you will have a malodorous vaginal discharge that can be thick or thin and watery. The discharge will be yellow or green in color and may be associated with abnormal vaginal bleeding or irritation and discharge from the vagina or anus. Some women will experience pelvic tenderness or low abdominal pain. There will be dysuria, which is pain or burning upon trying to pass urine. Some women will have tenderness upon touching the uterus or the lower abdominal area.

If you experience any of these symptoms, it could mean that you have contracted gonorrhea from your sexual partner. You need to see the doctor about getting a culture for gonorrhea and will be placed on an antibiotic against gonorrhea if the culture is positive for the organism. You cannot have sex while you are being treated and you should have all of your sexual partners treated as well. Both partners must complete the course of treatment to make sure that the infection doesn’t get passed back to the other partner.

Vaginal Discharge in Trichomonas

Most women with a trichomonas infection do not have any symptoms at all. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), only about 30 percent of people infected with trichomonas will have some type of symptom. Common trichomonas symptoms in women include redness or itching in the vagina and the vulva. There will be pain on urination and an increased urge to urinate, even during the nighttime hours. The vaginal discharge will be frothy in texture and may be green or yellowish in color.

This type of discharge will have a foul vaginal odor and will be much different from normal vaginal discharge and there may be swelling of the lymph nodes in the groin area. If you have symptoms as noted above, you should see your doctor about getting a culture for trichomonas. A sampling is taken of the discharge and it is grown on a culture plate. If it is positive for trichomonas, you should take antibiotics for your infection. Your sexual partner should also be treated and you should have no sex while taking the antibiotics.

Vaginal Discharge in Bacterial Vaginosis

In general, bacterial vaginosis is not a dangerous infection but it can cause obvious symptoms. While many women do not have symptoms of a bacterial vaginosis infection, some women do. The main symptoms are a discolored vaginal discharge and an odor coming from the vagina. When diagnosing bacterial vaginosis, it is vital that the doctor excludes other, more serious vaginal infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea. If bacterial vaginosis is diagnosed, prescription antibiotics or vaginal gels are given in order to clear up the condition.

It is important to note that serious complications of the infection can occur if the infection happens in pregnancy. Even with treatment, it is possible to get the infection back again, even if you take all of the antibiotics and your sexual partner is treated.

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