All women have a certain amount of secretion from the vagina, even when they aren’t pregnant. The medical term for this white milky substance is leucorrhoea, and part of its job is to help keep things clean down there. During pregnancy it’s common to have more vaginal discharge than usual.

Your vaginal discharge can tell you a lot. Traces of gooey, pink or blood-streaked mucus in your discharge could be one of the first signs that labour will be starting soon. At other times, your discharge might indicate a problem: If your vaginal discharge is yellow, brown, green, frothy, lumpy or foul-smelling, it’s time to call your doctor or midwife.

Read on to find out about the different types of vaginal discharge you might notice during pregnancy.

What Is Normal Pregnancy Discharge?

Normal discharge during pregnancy is colourless or white, and usually a bit sticky. It shouldn’t smell bad.

When you're pregnant, you might find you’re producing more discharge than before, due to the pregnancy hormones coursing through your body.

This helps to protect your growing baby from infection. It’s your body’s natural way of keeping the vagina clean and stopping infections from travelling up to your uterus.

Once your pregnancy is full term (after 37 weeks of pregnancy), seeing a pink or blood-streaked mucus-like discharge is also normal. This is the mucus plug, which is described in more detail below.

Is Vaginal Discharge an Early Sign of Pregnancy?

Vaginal discharge is generally not one of the early signs of pregnancy, but in the early days of pregnancy, you might notice some light bleeding or spotting called implantation bleeding.

Not all mums-to-be experience implantation bleeding, but it can happen when the fertilised egg burrows into the lining of your uterus – usually around the time your next period would be due. Because of this, it’s sometimes mistaken for a period.

By the way, if you’ve recently discovered you’re pregnant, check out our Due Date Calculator to get an estimate of when your little one might be arriving.

Other Common Types of Vaginal Discharge in Pregnancy

Here are some other types of discharge that you may experience before, during and even just after your pregnancy:

  • Ovulation discharge. The amount of leucorrhoea (the medical name for your normal vaginal discharge) that you produce varies throughout your menstrual cycle. It tends to increase just before you ovulate (when you’re most fertile). At this time, it may also become more thick and ‘stretchy’, with a consistency a bit like raw egg white.

  • Mucus plug. Exactly as it sounds, the mucus plug is a thick blob of mucus that fills the cervix, sealing the uterus and protecting your little one from infection. As you go into labour, or possibly some time before, your cervix starts to open and the plug comes loose and is pushed out of the vagina. The mucus plug could be clear or slightly bloody or pink in colour, and it will be thicker than normal pregnancy discharge. Keep in mind, not all mums-to-be notice this discharge, but if you do, it’s sign that labour may be starting soon!

  • Waters breaking. Either during or just before labour, the membranes forming the amniotic sac that contains your baby can break, and you might feel a watery discharge of amniotic fluid. It may not be as dramatic as it seems in the movies: For some mums-to-be, it’s no more than a small trickle, others leak a bit more, and some may not even notice it at all.

  • Lochia. After your pregnancy, when you’ve delivered your baby and the placenta (either vaginally or by caesarean section), you’ll start to see a new type of vaginal discharge. Lochia is the name for the discharge of mucus, blood and tissue that you’ll shed in the weeks after you give birth. It lasts for between two and six weeks and starts out red and thick, gradually fading to a light shade of brown or pink. Eventually, the stains on your sanitary towels may fade to a paler pink, creamy or yellow colour. The amount of lochia can increase in the morning or after a longer period of lying down, or after physical activity. Breastfeeding can also stimulate the production of oxytocin in your body, which causes your uterus to contract. This may also increase the amount of lochia.

What Discharge Can Tell You – Infections and Other Problems

Unfortunately, you may be more prone to vaginal infections during pregnancy, as hormonal changes alter the balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina, leaving you more vulnerable to certain infections.

Any changes in the colour, smell or consistency of vaginal discharge could be a sign of an infection, so it’s a good idea to keep an eye on it throughout your pregnancy.

Common vaginal infections you might get when pregnant include:

  • Thrush. This yeast infection can give you a white vaginal discharge, which may have a lumpy, cottage cheese-like consistency. You may also experience itching around the vagina, and soreness or a stinging sensation when you pee. Talk to your doctor or midwife about treatment, as not all over-the-counter medicines are safe to use when you’re pregnant.

  • Bacterial vaginosis. If your discharge has a fishy smell, you may have bacterial vaginosis. Other possible signs include a greyish-white, watery discharge. It doesn’t usually cause problems in pregnancy, but it’s important to tell your doctor or midwife as there’s a small chance of complications if it’s not treated.

How to Help Prevent Vaginal Infections During Pregnancy

Although you may not be able to completely rule out the chance of getting a vaginal infection while you’re pregnant, there are a few things you can do to lower the risk:

  • Wipe from front to back, to stop bacteria from your bottom getting in your vagina

  • Take showers rather than baths

  • If you do have a bath, don’t add antiseptic liquids to the water

  • Avoid using douches or vaginal deodorants or washes

  • Wash the area around the vagina with water and a plain, gentle soap or an emollient (such as E45 cream)

  • Wear loose underwear made of cotton or other natural, breathable fibres

  • Use a mild detergent for washing your underwear

  • Give tight trousers, leggings and tights a miss for now.

What Does Brown Vaginal Discharge Mean?

A brownish discharge could be a sign of vaginal bleeding.

Light bleeding from the vagina is not unusual in the first trimester, and, in the later stages of pregnancy, traces of blood could be a sign of labour, but vaginal bleeding could also be a sign of a complication that needs urgent treatment.

If you think you have vaginal bleeding, call your midwife or doctor straight away so that they can check that everything’s OK.

When Do I Need to Call My Doctor?

Make an appointment to see your doctor if your vaginal discharge turns green or yellow (or if you notice any other change in its colour or consistency), or if it starts to smell bad. It’s also worth a visit to your doctor if you experience any itchiness or painful urination.

A watery, bloody or pink discharge during the later stages of pregnancy could be your waters breaking or your mucus plug being released.

Either of these could be a sign of labour or premature labour (depending which side of 37 weeks pregnant you are when it happens), so you’ll want to get it checked out right away.

Vaginal bleeding (other than occasional light spotting) can be cause for concern at any point in your pregnancy, so don’t hesitate to call your doctor or midwife, or visit the hospital.

Pregnancy is a weird and wonderful journey. Sometimes you may not know exactly what’s round the next corner, but we can help you with that! Download our handy Pregnancy Guide for even more insights on what’s in store for you and your little one.