Is Your Vaginal Discharge Normal?

3 min read  |  July 01, 2024  | 

The simple answer is yes. Daily vaginal discharge is normal and healthy. Changes to your discharge can signal normal hormonal fluctuations or a potential issue, such as infection or an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria.

What is the function of vaginal discharge?

“Vaginal discharge plays a crucial role in vaginal health, as it helps maintain normal vaginal pH as well as cleanse the vagina,” says Jacqueline Mercedes Sanchez, M.D., a gynecologist with the University of Miami Health System.

Normal vaginal discharge is white, milky, off-white or clear in color. It’s a mixture of skin cells, cervical mucus, vaginal secretions and bacteria that varies in consistency and color. It differs from vaginal lubrication produced in response to sexual stimulation, which can be clear and slippery and is secreted mainly by the Bartholin’s glands at the opening of the vagina. Normal discharge may have a mild smell but not a strong, foul, or fishy odor.

What do changes in vaginal discharge indicate?

“As hormone levels shift during the menstrual cycle, vaginal discharge can change,” Dr. Sanchez says. “For example, discharge leading up to and around ovulation may be clear and stretchy, as opposed to the thicker, more white discharge which can be seen before menstruation. Some women even use the consistency of their discharge, in conjunction with tracking their periods, to inform them of their fertile window.”

Is something wrong with me?

Not all vaginal discharge is caused by an infection or other issue. But, signs of a sexually transmitted infection can include unusual or foul-smelling vaginal discharge or a change in the color (no longer white, off-white or clear).

Yellow, grey or green discharge or a chunky or foamy texture may also indicate an STI or other infection. Brown, pink or red discharge is usually a sign of irregular menstrual bleeding (“spotting”) or pregnancy (implantation bleeding). Changes to vaginal discharge may also be caused by a pH imbalance, yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis (overgrowth of bacteria or strains of unwanted bacteria).

If you have a vaginal or sexually transmitted infection, you may also experience burning with urination, vaginal/vulvar (internal/external) itching and/or discomfort. Visit your gynecologist or primary care physician for testing to determine why you’re experiencing such symptoms and to receive treatment.

How to maintain vulvovaginal health

“Vaginal discharge is one of the most common complaints I receive from patients,” Dr. Sanchez says. “I want to reassure women that it’s a natural and normal part of the vagina’s function.”

Don’t try to “clear up” your normal, healthy vaginal discharge. It should not and cannot be “fixed.” 

Avoid using douches and scented feminine hygiene products, which can alter your pH, irritate sensitive skin or even trigger an infection. Use only warm water and mild, unscented soap to cleanse the vulva. After using the bathroom, wipe front to back. Wear cotton underwear and promptly change out of sweaty or wet clothing to avoid the growth of unwanted bacteria or yeast.

“Lastly, don’t forget to practice safe sex and keep up with your regular gynecological checkups,” Dr. Sanchez says.

The Comprehensive Women’s Health Alliance at the University of Miami Health System provides expert-led care for women of all ages. Women’s Nurse Coordinators can guide you through your health journey. To schedule an appointment with a nurse navigator, call 855-34-WOMEN (96626).

Dana Kantrowitz is a regular contributor for UHealth’s news service.

Tags: body function, Dr. Jacqueline Sanchez, gynecology, hygiene, women's wellness

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