Having small amounts of brown discharge during pregnancy is common and usually isn't concerning. However, it is possible that there are other issues going on, like infections, pH changes or cervical dilation.
In early pregnancy, scant amounts of light-colored, mucus-like discharge is typical and usually not worrying, but dark discharge with a foul odor may indicate more serious concerns.
In any case, you should report your findings to your obstetrician. He or she will assess you and order testing to determine the cause of the discharge and to start indicated treatment promptly.
Main causes for brown vaginal discharge
Fluctuations in vaginal pH can result in small amounts of brown discharge. This is typically not concerning, as it usually lasts for 2 to 3 days and resolves spontaneously.
Brown discharge in scant amounts can also occur in pregnant women, particularly after performing any physical activity (e.g. working out, climbing stairs with shopping bags, or after moderate-level house chores like cleaning).
It is important to note, however, whether the discharge is dark, has a foul odor, or causes any burning or itching, as these symptoms may this may indicate a more serious problem like:
- Infection (like sexually transmitted infections, which pregnant women are at increased risk for)
- Possibility of miscarriage
- Ectopic pregnancy (which is usually also accompanied by severe abdominal pain and blood)
- Cervical infection
Darker discharge in large amounts or heavy bleeding, especially in later pregnancy, is more likely associated with complications like premature delivery or rupture of the amniotic sac. It's important to contact your obstetrician whenever you see dark discharge, even in small amounts. He or she will likely perform an ultrasound to ensure your health and the baby's. Learn more about common symptoms of miscarriage that you should be aware of.
When is brown vaginal normal?
Small amounts of brown discharge that ranges from fluid to mucus-like consistency is common, particularly in the early stages of pregnancy. It is also normal to have some dark discharge following sexual intercourse.
Symptoms that can accompany brown discharge and shouldn’t be ignored include vaginal itching, foul odor and cramping. These signs don’t always indicate something serious, but it is better to be cautious and to contact your doctor.
Dark brown discharge resembling coffee grounds may indicate loss of old blood, and should be reported immediately to the obstetrician. If you are nearing the end of pregnancy, and notice that discharge is heavy and light brown with a few streaks of blood, it may be a mucus plug, indicating that you will go into labor soon.
Treatment for brown discharge during pregnancy
If an infection is confirmed, treatment can be started using medication like antifungals (for treatment of a yeast infection) or antibiotics (for treatment of a sexually transmitted infection). However, if an infection has been ruled out, your doctor may just recommend rest and avoidance of any strenuous activity.
Regardless of the cause, you can help to prevent the occurrence of brown discharge by:
- Avoiding the use of soaps with moisturizing cream or antibacterial/antifungal agents
- Performing vaginal douching only at the advice of your gynecologist
- Ensuring underwear fabric is light, loose and made of cotton
- Avoiding use of softeners or bleach on underwear
- Washing underwear with a mild soap and water
- Avoiding use of panty liners
- Ensuring you do not wash the genital area more than twice a day, as this can decrease the natural-occurring bacteria that helps to protect you from infection
Is brown discharge a sign of pregnancy?
Brown discharge may be a sign of pregnancy, but it isn’t always the case. The color of menstrual blood can vary depending on the cycle day and on the woman's flow. For example, menstrual flow usually slows in the last days of menstruation, and because it takes longer for the blood to travel, it can become more concentrated and darker in color. Read more about brown discharge before a period and what it means.
Even if your period is late, although your may suspect pregnancy, dark discharge may indicate early or incomplete shedding of the endometrium (which lines the uterus). Regardless, a thorough examination by your doctor is recommended. Understand what brown discharge can mean and what you should do.