Pregnancy Discharge: Is It Something to Worry About?

Having wet underwear during pregnancy or having some type of clear or slightly white vaginal discharge is something completely normal. This happens due to increased estrogen in the body, as well as an increase in blood circulation in the pelvic area.

Normal, commonly-occurring discharge generally presents with the following characteristics:

  • Transparent or white;
  • Slightly thick, similar to mucous;
  • Odorless.

Vaginal discharge that is red in color or has a foul smell should be evaluated by your family doctor or obstetrician to diagnose if there is any problem that needs to be treated, such as infection or an STD.

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When is it serious

Vaginal discharge can be a sign of serious health problems when it's greenish, yellow, has a strong smell, or causes some type of pain. Some common health problems that can cause a discharge to appear during pregnancy include:

1. Yeast infections

Vaginal yeast infections, know as candidiasis, are vaginal infections that occur due to a fungal cell overgrowth, which can cause symptoms such as white discharge (similar to cottage cheese), intense itchiness and redness in the genital area. Learn more about what causes yeast infections

This type of infection is very common in pregnancy and even though it does not affect the baby's development in the uterus, it requires treatment to reduce discomfort and to prevent the baby from coming into contact with the fungus during labor.  

What to do: See our doctor for assessment if you suspect you have a yeast infection. Treatment usually involves the use of creams or anti-fungal pills, such as miconazole or terconazole. You can also use home remedies, like natural yogurt, to relieve symptoms and speed up medical treatment. Read more about yeast infection treatments.

2. Bacterial vaginosis 

Bacteria vaginosis is a type of infection that is quite common, even during pregnancy, as changes in estrogen levels promote the growth of fungi and bacteria.

This type of discharge is slightly gray or yellow, and has a strong, foul odor like rotten fish.

What to do: You should see your family doctor or obstetrician for diagnosis. Treatment is usually completed with pregnancy-safe antibiotics like metronidazole or clindamycin, taken for 7 days. 

3. Gonorrhea

This sexually-transmitted infection is caused by Neisseria gonorrhoeae bacteria through unprotected sex. Common symptoms include yellow discharge, pain when urinating, incontinence, and lumps in the vagina. 

Gonorrhea can affect pregnancy and increasing the risk of miscarriage, premature labor, or infection within the amniotic fluid. Therefore, prompt treatment is imperative. 

What to do: If you suspect you may have been exposed to gonorrhea or any other STi, you should see your family doctor or obstetrician for assessment. Treatment usually involves antibiotics, such as penicillin or ciprofloxacin. 

4. Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is another STI that can also occur during pregnancy. Trichomoniasis can increase the risk of premature birth or low birth weight, and therefore it must be treated as quickly as possible. 

The most characteristic signs of this infection include greenish or yellow discharge, redness in the genital area, pain when urinating, itchiness, and slight vaginal bleeding.

What to do: You should see your family doctor or obstetrician for diagnosis. Treatment is usually completed with antibiotics like metronidazole, taken for about 3 to 7 days. 

 Discharge or waters breaking 

To differentiate between vaginal discharge and your waters breaking take into consideration the color and thickness of the liquid:

  • Discharge: is viscous and it may have a smell or some color;
  • Amniotic fluid: is quite watery, it's either transparent or a light yellow color, and it's odorless;
  • Mucus plug: is usually yellow, thick, and it looks like phlegm or it may contain strings of blood. It may have a brownish color, and will be quite different from normal discharge.

Some women can present with a small loss of amniotic fluid before labor starts, and therefore if you experience a watery discharge close to your due date, you should seek medical attention..

When to visit the doctor

You should follow-up with your obstetrician if you experience discharge with any of the following symptoms: 

  • Discharge with strong or different smell;
  • Pain and burning sensation when urinating;
  • Pain and burning during sexual intercourse;
  • Vaginal blood loss;
  • If you suspect that your waters have broken.

You should advise the doctor when your symptoms first emerged and describe the characteristics of your discharge like the color, smell, and thickness. This will help the doctor reach a diagnosis and initiate treatment as needed.