Why Your Baby Has Vaginal Discharge

Father changing baby girl's diaper on changing table
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Parents, especially first-timers, are often taken by surprise when they change their baby's diaper. Poop color and consistency can definitely be unexpected, but so too can what looks like white or blood discharge from the baby's vagina.

However, vaginal discharge in a newborn is completely normal, and a baby may experience it because of their mother's hormone levels.

Newborn Vaginal Discharge

During pregnancy, high levels of estrogen and progesterone circulate in a mother's body. These cross the placenta and reach the baby. This is totally normal and not harmful in any way. In fact, some of the hormones are necessary for the baby to develop correctly.

After they are born, the baby loses this steady supply of hormones.

In girls, the sudden absence of the high levels of estrogen and progesterone they were used to during gestation triggers a response in their body that causes a white and sometimes bloody discharge.

The end-of-pregnancy maternal hormone shift increases levels of oxytocin and prolactin that spur a mother's breasts to produce breastmilk. Exposure to these hormones in the womb can cause swollen tissue around the nipples in both female and male newborns, resulting in what looks like breast buds. In fact, a tiny bit of breast milk may even discharge from a male or female newborn's nipples for a period of up to several weeks.

Newborn vaginal discharge usually disappears on its own by the time your baby is 10 days old. Call your pediatrician if it persists longer than two weeks or becomes yellow or foul-smelling, as those symptoms may be a sign of an infection.

Other Genital Concerns

In addition to vaginal discharge, there are a few other genital concerns you may notice when changing your newborn's diapers.

Genital Swelling

The labia—or outside lips of the vagina—and the clitoris may also look visibly swollen in newborns due to the sudden shift in exposure to maternal hormones. While this may worry some parents, this swelling is normal and not a medical concern.

Labial Adhesions

Labial adhesions—when the two sides of the labia stick together—are very rare, occurring in about 2% of girls. Though they can form in babies, they are more common in the second year of life.

The exact cause is unknown but the condition may occur when the labia skin is raw (usually from a prolonged diaper rash) and begins healing. Another theory is that labial adhesions occur due to low estrogen levels.

Proper cleaning and bathing usually prevent this from happening or can quickly resolve it. This condition will often improve on its own as well. In fact, in many cases, studies show that such adhesions resolve or improve significantly with no intervention (besides implementing enhanced hygiene)—and at similar rates compared to those who receive topical estrogen.

However, if you notice this issue, contact your baby's doctor, who can usually break the adhesion with light pressure. If not, an estrogen cream may be prescribed to help the area detach without causing any skin trauma. Research indicates a success rate of around 90% using these creams

In severe cases, surgery may be needed as the adhesion could obstruct the urinary tract or vaginal opening. However, this is very uncommon.

Urate Crystals

Another surprising thing you might see in your baby's diaper is urate crystals, which look like a red or orange stain and can easily be confused with blood.

These brick-red crystals, which doctors often refer to as "brick stain," are a normal byproduct of a combination of urate and calcium found in urine. It's quite common for these crystals to appear in a newborn's diaper.

There is no cause for concern unless the issue lasts beyond the first several days of life, after which it could indicate newborn dehydration. Consult your pediatrician if brick stain lingers past four or more days and/or if you have any other related concerns.

If dehydration is the cause, this means your baby needs to be breastfed or bottle-fed more often. Feeding your baby on demand is a good strategy that helps to ensure adequate hydration.

How to Clean a Baby's Vagina

Vaginal discharge in a baby doesn't require any special treatment. You can simply clean the area with a gentle wet wipe or warm water on a cotton ball or smooth cloth. Any excess fluid that remains will be absorbed by the diaper and is not harmful.

Tips for cleaning a baby's vagina:

  • Use a light touch so you do not damage your baby's sensitive genital area.
  • Only use warm water or gentle baby wipes. Soap can irritate the diaper area, upset the natural balance of the vagina, and cause a rash.
  • Only wipe the area from front to back.
  • Be sure to thoroughly clean any fecal matter from the genital area.
  • Check inside the labia, too, as discharge and excess diaper cream can build up within the skin folds.

Never scrub your baby's genital area. Also, do not attempt to clean in the vagina itself as this is completely unnecessary and may actually cause injury or infection. For the most part, you can think of the vagina as "self-cleaning."

A Word From Verywell

Rest assured that it is normal and expected for a newborn to have vaginal discharge in the first week or so of life. However, if you ever have questions or concerns about your newborn's vaginal health (or any other health worry), always check with your baby’s pediatrician.

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Article Sources
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