Talking about vaginal discharge can lead to an uncomfortable, even taboo, conversation. Even when talking with your OBGYN, it can feel awkward. But if we never talk about it, how are women supposed to know what’s normal? If you’re wondering whether vaginal discharge is common, we’re here to open the door for that conversation. We’ll cover what it is, why it exists, when to worry, and how to manage it.
Let’s open with the basics. When we say vaginal discharge, what are we referring to? Vaginal discharge is a fluid created by a woman’s body inside her vagina and cervix. There are many reasons why this discharge is needed, including:
Those are all very important functions that could not be carried out without the help of vaginal discharge. So now that you know why you have it, you may still be wondering — what does normal vaginal discharge look like?
Normal discharge is clear or milky white, and thick. A woman’s body adjusts the production of discharge to match her needs throughout her menstrual cycle; therefore, the look, feel, and amount of fluid will change at different points in her cycle. For example, a short-lived, watery-brown discharge after her period is a sign that a woman’s uterus is preparing for her uterine lining to replenish.
The menstrual cycle and fluctuation of hormones in your body aren’t the only things that control the ebb and flow of your fluids. Other factors may affect your vaginal secretions including:
Now that we’ve established that healthy vaginas produce regular discharge, let’s talk about when your secretions can function as a warning sign of illness.
By now, we can see that vaginal discharge serves a very important function in a woman’s body for daily health and regulation. When things start to get off course, discharge has another superpower. It’s an excellent indicator and early detector of disease.
What is your vaginal discharge telling you?
Alone, thick white discharge is not a concern. However, if you have additional symptoms like itching, redness, dryness, or irritation, and the texture resembles cottage cheese, this could be a sign of an infection.
Discharge that is yellow or green is usually accompanied by a foul odor and is a sign of a bacterial infection or possibly a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
If you notice a change in your regular cycle of discharge along with some of these other red flags, you should discuss your symptoms with your gynecologist.
If you are experiencing any of these red flags in your discharge, we recommend that you speak to your OBGYN to see if there is an underlying cause that can be treated. You can get a professional assessment in addition to testing and treatment online from the comfort of your own home with My Virtual Physician’s board-certified doctors who are standing by for your call.
If your vaginal discharge is within the normal parameters, you might just be wondering how to practice good personal hygiene when you have vaginal fluid seemingly leaking out. If you find that your underwear has been lightly coated with a white or yellowish tint, as normal as that is, it can be a nuisance.
For days where your discharge is more bothersome, you can try using unscented, breathable pantiliners. Cloth pantiliners are a good option; they are less irritating than the disposable versions that come with an adhesive that can limit airflow. If you choose disposable liners, be sure to pick unscented to avoid irritation and upsetting your normal pH balance.
Other ways to keep your undergarments fresh include choosing breathable underwear, like cotton, and changing underwear throughout the day as needed. Be sure to avoid products that can upset your natural pH levels, like scented soaps and douching, as those may increase your discharge.
We hope that this article clears up any confusion about what’s normal when it comes to vaginal discharge and when it may warrant further investigation. Do you have any other tips for managing your lady part secretions? If so, we’d love to hear from you, send us a message to share your insights!