Why Your Baby Has Vaginal Discharge

Mother changing baby's diaper on a changing table

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Some of the most common questions new parents ask are in regards to diapering their brand new babies. One situation in particular frequently surprises parents of newborns—when they peel back one of their baby's first diapers and find what looks like white or bloody discharge coming from their baby's vagina. It can be shocking to see vaginal discharge on a newborn. However, it's completely normal.

Newborn Vaginal Discharge

Newborns may develop a discharge because of their mother's hormone levels. During pregnancy, high levels of hormones circulating in the mother's body. These cross the placenta and reach the baby. This is totally normal and not harmful to the baby in any way.

Actually, some maternal hormones are necessary for the baby to develop correctly. When the baby is born, they lose this supply of hormones, which can lead to discharge. The discharge usually looks white and possibly, bloody. This is simply how the newborn's body reacts to the sudden absence of the high levels of estrogen it was used to during pregnancy.

In newborn girls, these hormonal shifts can cause vaginal discharge after birth. In both girls and boys, the hormones can cause the baby to have what looks like breast buds because of the swollen tissue around the nipples. In fact, a tiny bit of breast milk may even discharge from a male or female newborn's nipples. Also, the labia—or outside lips of the vagina—and the clitoris may also look visibly swollen in newborns due to these maternal hormones.

Newborn vaginal discharge is completely normal. It does not hurt your baby, and it usually disappears on its own by the time your baby is 10 days old.

Other Genital Concerns

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

Labial Adhesions

Labial adhesions are very rare, occurring in about 2% of girls, but more often in the second year of life than in babies. The exact cause is unknown but the condition may occur when the labia skin is raw (usually from a prolonged diaper rash) and during the healing process, two sides of the labia begin growing together. Another theory is that this condition occurs due to low estrogen levels.

When this happens, the labia may seem stuck together. Proper cleaning and bathing (see more on this below) usually prevent this from happening or can quickly treat the problem. This condition will often resolve on its own as well. In fact, in around 80% of cases, the adhesions resolve with no intervention.

However, if you notice this issue and believe your baby's labia have adhered, contact your 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, as noted above, this condition, particularly with the need for invasive treatment, 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. However, these brick-red crystals, which doctors often refer to as "brick stain," are a normal byproduct of a combination of the 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 the condition could indicate newborn dehydration. 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 feeding. Consult your pediatrician if brick stain lingers past four or more days and/or if you have any other related concerns.

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 plain warm water on a cotton ball or smooth cloth, being sure to only wipe the area from front to back. Use a light touch and don't worry too much about getting it spotlessly clean, as any excess fluid will be absorbed by the diaper and is not harmful. That said, of course, thoroughly clean any fecal matter from the genital area.

You may also want to check inside the labia (the outside folds of the genital area), as discharge (and excess diaper cream) can build up inside the skin folds. You can lightly clean between the labia, again with water on a cotton ball or gentle cloth, but be careful not to be overly fastidious as you could damage your baby's sensitive genital area. Also, most of this buildup with be naturally removed during bathing and regular diaper changing habits.

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."

You should also use care not to cleanse the vagina with anything but warm water or gentle baby wipes. Soap can actually irritate the diaper area, upset the natural balance of the vagina, or cause a rash in your baby. Call your pediatrician if the vaginal discharge persists longer than two weeks or becomes yellow or foul-smelling, as those symptoms may be a sign of an infection.

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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