Pregnancy often causes an increase in vaginal discharge. However, normal vaginal discharge is typically thin, clear or white. Vaginal discharge that is yellow, green, gray, red or frothy could be a sign of infection and may require medical treatment.
What does normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy look like?
Healthy vaginal discharge is also called leukorrhea and often increases throughout pregnancy, helping to reduce the risk of vaginal and uterine infections. Characteristic features of normal vaginal discharge are as follows:
What do different vaginal discharge colors mean?
Depending on the color, vaginal discharge may indicate different health issues:
Yellow or green
Yellow or green vaginal discharge indicates an infection, possibly a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia or trichomoniasis. Other symptoms may be present as well, such as vaginal redness or irritation.
Yellow vaginal discharge is often mistaken as leakage of small amounts of urine. However, any yellow discharge should be evaluated by a doctor. Seeking medical attention is important because STIs during pregnancy can cause complications that affect both mother and child. These complications may not show up in the child until years after birth, but they can affect the child’s nervous system and development and cause infertility in the mother.
White and lumpy
Vaginal discharge that is white/off-white and lumpy, resembling cottage cheese, may indicate a yeast infection, which is common during pregnancy. Other symptoms may include pain, burning, itching and painful urination or intercourse.
Gray vaginal discharge may indicate a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). It is also associated with a fishy odor that becomes stronger after intercourse. BV is a result of a bacterial imbalance in the vagina. Risk factors for BV include douching and sex with multiple partners.
Brown vaginal discharge is caused by old blood leaving the body. It may be an early sign of pregnancy. Brown discharge during pregnancy is usually not dangerous. Dark brown discharge during pregnancy, however, requires medical attention.
Pink vaginal discharge during pregnancy is usually normal during the early and final weeks of pregnancy. It can, however, also be a sign of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or vaginal infection. Pink discharge may also appear after sexual intercourse.
Red vaginal discharge during pregnancy can be dangerous and requires immediate attention, especially if there is heavy bleeding, clots, cramping and abdominal pain. Red discharge could be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy.
When to see a doctor for abnormal vaginal discharge
If you experience any vaginal discharge that appears unusual or feels uncomfortable, you should call your doctor. Medical attention and appropriate treatment are crucial in avoiding complications during pregnancy or long-term/permanent health problems in both mother and baby.
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Ross SM, Hoosen AA, Sheik AI. Diagnosis and treatment of vaginal discharge in pregnancy. S Afr Med J. November 8, 1980;58(19):757-9. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/7423322/
Reichman O, Gal M, Leibovici V, Samueloff A. Evaluation of Vaginal Complaints During Pregnancy: The Approach to Diagnosis. Curr Derm Rep. 2014; 3: 159-164. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13671-014-0083-0
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