How Vaginal Discharge Changes During Pregnancy

What’s normal and when to call the doctor

cervical mucus changes

Verywell / Emily Roberts

The consistency of vaginal discharge and cervical mucus changes throughout the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy. Often, women look for physical signs, including changes in cervical mucus, as a signal of early pregnancy or as a way to know if time is right to try to conceive.

These physical signs of early pregnancy are generally subtle, and therefore they should not be taken as indicators of fertility or pregnancy in the early weeks after conception. A pregnancy test is a more reliable confirmation of pregnancy. If you are pregnant, however, you can expect to experience vaginal discharge throughout your pregnancy.

Vaginal Discharge and Cervical Mucus

It is normal for your body to discharge fluids throughout the menstrual cycle, and cervical mucus is one component of this vaginal discharge. Despite its name, cervical mucus isn't actually produced by the cervix, but rather by glands located near the cervix.

Cervical mucus plays an important role in your reproductive system. In the non-fertile stages of the menstrual cycle, it becomes thick and sticky to prevent infection. When you're about to ovulate, it becomes more watery and abundant, which allows sperm to more easily swim and survive.

You may notice an increase in vaginal discharge right before your period. This change is caused by increased blood flow, changing estrogen levels, and the cervix preparing for menstruation. Monitoring your vaginal discharge (in particular, your cervical mucus) can also help you identify your most fertile time or "fertile window."

Vaginal Discharge Changes During Pregnancy

Just as vaginal discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle, it also changes during pregnancy. It is usually thin, milky-white or colorless, and with a mild odor (or no odor). This discharge is referred to as leukorrhea. The term frequently refers to vaginal discharge during pregnancy, but leukorrhea is also present in non-pregnant women.

During pregnancy, leukorrhea production increases due to increased estrogen and blood flow to the vaginal area. However, this increase doesn't typically become noticeable until the eighth week—after other, more definitive signs of early pregnancy, such as a missed period.

In your first trimester of pregnancy, vaginal discharge increases in an effort to remove dead cells and bacteria from the uterus and vagina to help prevent infections. The amount of vaginal discharge you experience will increase gradually as your pregnancy progresses. As long as it remains generally colorless and odorless, it is normal and not cause for concern.

Over time, this discharge also helps form the mucus plug. This plug blocks the opening of your cervix to prevent an infection from entering the uterus and harming the baby.

Brown or Pink Discharge During Pregnancy

Brown or pinkish vaginal discharge may occur during pregnancy. This could appear as light streaks or spots of color on your underwear or the toilet paper when you wipe. If it seems like very light bleeding, it could be spotting. Usually, this brown- or pink-tinged discharged does not indicate a problem. Common causes may include:

  • Implantation: Some women (but not all) see a small amount of brown or pink discharge or spotting at the very beginning of pregnancy, around the time their period is due. This may be a sign of implantation—when an embryo implants in the uterine lining, about 10 days after fertilization. It's unlikely that implantation actually causes the spotting or bleeding. The name is based on the timing.
  • Intercourse or a vaginal exam: At any time in pregnancy, you may experience brown- or pink-tinged discharge following intercourse or an internal exam. This happens because the cervix and vagina are easily irritated during pregnancy, thanks to increased blood flow in the area.
  • Vigorous exercise: A hard workout can cause spotting or tinged discharge at any point in pregnancy. As long as it does not progress to bleeding, it is usually just a sign that you should ease up on exercise.
  • Bloody show: At the end of pregnancy, as your cervix begins to dilate, the mucus plug slowly breaks down and may come out in small bits, large clumps, or mucousy streaks. This may make vaginal discharge appear brownish or pinkish. Not everyone experiences or notices "bloody show." While it means that birth is approaching, it could happen hours, days, or even weeks before true labor begins.

When to Call Your Doctor

Some changes in vaginal discharge during pregnancy can be signs of infection. Check in with your healthcare provider if you notice redness, itching, or swelling in the vulva, or changes in discharge including:

  • Color: Yellow, green, or gray rather than colorless or white; bright red (indicating bleeding)
  • Odor: Strong or foul smell rather than mild or odorless
  • Consistency: Frothy or chunky/cottage cheese-like instead of stringy

If the discharge is very watery and seems excessive, it could be amniotic fluid (or even urine). Since leaking amniotic fluid could be a sign of preterm labor, it's important to call your doctor and have this checked out.

Bleeding (as opposed to light spotting or pink-tinged discharge) in pregnancy is not normal. Always call your doctor right away if you have any vaginal bleeding.

A Word From Verywell

While it can be uncomfortable or annoying, increased vaginal discharge is normal during pregnancy. You may wish to wear breathable underwear, change it often, and/or use unscented panty liners (never tampons) to help manage the increase. If you have any questions or concerns, or experience bleeding or a change in the amount, consistency, color, or odor of discharge, it's important to call your healthcare provider.

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Article Sources
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