Ever wonder what that watery discharge coming from your vagina is? The first thing to know is that it's perfectly natural, and the substance and amount of discharge changes throughout the course of a month. Still, it's probably not something you want to bring up over Friday night pizza with your friends. That said, it's really important to understand what is and isn't typical vaginal discharge, since certain changes can be a clear sign of an STI or vaginal infection. Let's take a look at what's healthy, what isn't, and when you should make an appointment with your doctor.
What Type of Discharge Is Normal?
It can be nerve-wracking to notice that your body is producing a watery discharge, especially if you're noticing it for the first time. However, let me reassure, you: it's healthy and completely normal to produce a discharge that's clear or white. It may be slippery and wet, thick or sticky.
Some characteristics of healthy discharge can change based on where you are in your menstrual cycle. However, there are two characteristics that should remain the same if you are healthy. It should be clear or milky white, and it should be relatively odorless. If you notice that it suddenly has an unusual color or smell, it could be a sign that you've developed an infection.
Why Am I Experiencing Watery Discharge?
The truth is that the watery discharge you may be seeing is actually helping your vagina stay moist and clean and prevent infections. There are, in general, three main causes of watery discharge:
This is why watery discharge isn't anything to be concerned about if you aren't noticing any type of strong odor.
Discharge During Pregnancy
It's important to keep an eye out for unusual discharge if you're pregnant. Some changes to watch out for include:
Changes in color, smell or texture
Discharge accompanied by pain
Itching or soreness in the vaginal area
Normal discharge during pregnancy is usually mucus-like. If you're seeing an increased amount of discharge, an amount that would require you to use a panty liner or pad, it could indicate that your water has broken.
Before Your Period
As mentioned, the discharge you see can change as the month goes along, based on where you are in your cycle. In general, the discharge that you notice will tend to be more stretchy and wet in preparation for ovulation and during it. This is because the body is producing more mucus at this stage than it does after it. Ovulation occurs between days 11 and 21 of your cycle. Just before your period starts, you may notice that, because of the raised levels of progesterone in your body, the discharge is white and cloudy.
After Your Period
In the first few days immediately following your period, you may notice that your vaginal discharge is brown. Don't stress, this is completely normal. It happens because of the remnants of blood in the vagina and shouldn't last long. After this is flushed out of your body, you may go several days without any type of discharge.
What If My Watery Discharge Has an Odor?
Healthy discharge should be odorless or slightly musky, so if you do start to notice a strong smell, definitely don't ignore it. There are a number of different vaginal infections that can cause changes in vaginal discharge, including dryness, strong odors or a change in color.
If the odor is accompanied by itching, burning, a rash or even pain, you should visit your doctor right away to make sure you don't have an infection or STD. Some possible culprits in these situations could be:
Bacterial vaginosis: This infection is caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina that upsets the body's natural balance. The symptoms of BV are a thin white, green or gray discharge; itching; a fishy odor; and possibly a burning sensation during urination. While unpleasant, bacterial vaginosis (BV) is easily treatable with medication.
Yeast infection: A yeast infection is incredibly common and it's estimated that the majority of women will have at least one in their lifetime. A healthy vagina contains bacteria and some yeast cells. However, if there is a change in the balance of bacteria and yeast, the yeast cells can become overgrown, causing a yeast infection. Some of the symptoms of yeast infections include a thick white discharge, itching, redness, swelling, and painful intercourse.
Trichomoniasis: This is a very common STD caused by a tiny parasite—fortunately, it's easy to cure. In women, signs of this Trichomoniasis include a strong-smelling vaginal discharge that's white, yellow, green, or gray. It may be accompanied by itching, burning or redness, as well as possible pain during intercourse or urination.
Chlamydia: Chlamydia is another STD that you can get by having vaginal, oral, or anal sex with someone who has the disease. Women who have contracted this STD may notice typical chlamydia symptoms, such as unusual discharge or experience a burning sensation when they urinate.
Gonorrhea: This is an STD that is typically spread during vaginal, oral or anal sex. Some of the most common gonorrhea symptoms include an increase in vaginal discharge, abdominal or pelvic pain, painful urination or bleeding between periods, especially after engaging in vaginal intercourse.
Herpes: This is another common STD caused by the herpes simplex virus, the same one that produces cold sores on the mouth. Symptoms of herpes can begin two to 12 days after exposure and may include itching or pain, tiny white blisters or small red bumps, painful ulcers or scabs. While there is no cure, it is easily treatable, and you can even use medication to prevent outbreaks. Many people with herpes don't know they even have it because they never have symptoms, or the ones they ignore the outbreak and assume it is something else, like vaginal pimples.
Learning about your body's normal functions can be stressful, especially in the case a watery discharge coming from your vagina. However, as we've discussed, odorless white or milky discharge entirely normal and not a sign of an STD of infection. That said, there are some things you can do to reduce the likelihood of a vaginal infection, such as washing your vagina regularly with a nonallergenic soap or with just water. You should also change your underwear regularly, wipe from front to back and wash your hands each time you use the bathroom.
So as long as your discharge is clear or white and odorless, don't sweat it. It's only if you start to notice the telltale signs of infection—strong odor, burning or itching, along with the discharge—that it means you may want to take an online symptoms quiz.