It’s not the most comfortable of conversations, but discharge is something that all of us experience, some more than others. And it’s worth noticing because it could be telling you something quite important about what’s going on inside your body. Karen Morton, gynaecologist and obstetrician at Dr Morton’s – the medical helpline says,
“Vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. If a women is not on the Pill and is at reproductive age, then there are very few days in a normal menstrual cycle where she would not expect to not have a discharge.”
1. You’re ovulating
Ever noticed that your discharge is occasionally clear, stretchy and very similar to raw egg whites? This means that you’re most likely ovulating (your ovary is releasing a mature egg that will pass through the fallopian tube for fertilisation). Karen says:
“Two to three days before you start to ovulate, you will experience ovulation discharge, the texture being like raw egg white.”
This clear sticky fluid makes it easier for sperm to travel to the egg (clever, huh?), which is also a great indicator for women who are wanting to conceive. If you’re trying to get pregnant, it’s wise to keep an eye on your discharge.
2. Your period is coming
A few days after ovulation, you may not notice any discharge at all because the cervical mucus (which is the egg-white discharge) is no longer needed to trap sperm. But don’t be alarmed if you have a thicker creamier white discharge.
“After you have ovulated and produced eggs, there will be a release of the hormone progesterone in the blood stream, and this is the reason for the white discharge.”
As long as it’s odourless and doesn’t itch or burn, there’s nothing abnormal about this discharge. It’s just reflecting your bodily changes at different points in your cycle.
3. You’re pregnant
Believe it or not, your discharge can tell you when you’re pregnant. At the beginning of your pregnancy, you may notice a thicker, heavier or gummy discharge. This is because the cervix and vaginal walls get softer, and discharge increases to help prevent any infections travelling up from the vagina to the womb. Karen says that you can also experience discharge towards the end of your pregnancy as well.
“Most women will have an increased amount of vaginal discharge during pregnancy, particularly in the later stages. As long as the discharge isn’t smelly, itchy or blood stained then nothing needs to be done. The most important thing to be aware of is ‘Could this be leakage of waters?’ If there’s a lot of watery loss, get checked out by your midwife or the hospital.”
4. You’re stressed
Women are increasingly more stressed today with work, family and hectic lifestyles. But the perils of stress can also affect our physical health. Stress is a major cause for hormonal imbalances within the body, which could in turn can lead to vaginal discharge, according to some experts.
5. You have an infection
Your discharge can also indicate something’s not right physically. If you’re experiencing discharge that is odourless, thick, white and has a lumpy texture and ‘a bit like cottage cheese’, it’s likely to be a yeast infection, or thrush. You may also experience itching, soreness, burning and irritation. Karen says:
“Thrush usually occurs when there’s an overgrowth of yeast that lives normally in your gut. But if this yeast gets out of control, it can lead to unpleasant symptoms. A typical reason is taking antibiotics, for something unrelated like earache or tonsillitis, which kills off healthy bacteria.”
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The same applies to bacterial vaginosis (BV), which Karen describes as ‘having a snotty nose in the vagina’. This is an unpleasant looking mucus sort of discharge and can be accompanied by a fishy odour and burning sensation:
“This is also due to a loss of balance of the normal bacteria of the vagina. It’s also very common in older women when they don’t have oestrogen, which creates moisture in the vagina and keeps germs in the right balance.”
Your discharge could even be an indicator of a sexual transmitted infection (but bear in mind this isn’t always the case as STIs can often can lie dormant with no symptoms):
“No doubt that all common infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea, can cause vaginal discharge but they are also often silenced and are causing much more serious problems higher up in the tubes – so it’s better to go and get checked out.”
6. You need to see your GP
You may experience spotting (which is a reddish, rusty brown) before or after your period, which is perfectly normal and very common. If you’re on the Pill, you may even experience spotting throughout your cycle. But Karen says that a prolonged blood stained discharge is more worrying.
“This could be a uniformity brown staining, slightly unpleasant smelling discharge. It should be investigated as it could be something more serious higher up on the cervix or in the uterus.”