What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a body fluid that keeps your vagina clean and moist. It helps stop infections developing in your vagina.
Normal vaginal discharge changes over the course of your menstrual cycle and with other situations, such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. It also varies from person to person — some people have a lot of discharge while for others it may be very light. It should be clear, white or cream-coloured and shouldn’t have a strong smell.
There are good bacteria called lactobacilli that live in your vagina and help keep it healthy. If the balance of bacteria is disturbed and you have an overgrowth of yeasts or bad bacteria, you might get an abnormal vaginal discharge.
An abnormal vaginal discharge is most often caused by an infection. It can also result from some medicines and health conditions, or from using products that irritate your vulva or vagina.
Is it normal to have vaginal discharge in pregnancy?
Yes. You might notice more vaginal discharge than usual when you’re pregnant. This is called leucorrhoea. It usually looks clear or white and doesn’t have a strong smell. It’s caused by a higher level of the hormones oestrogen and progesterone in pregnancy.
Does vaginal discharge change during pregnancy?
It’s normal to have a larger amount of vaginal discharge in pregnancy, but the discharge itself should look like your normal vaginal discharge.
Your discharge may be abnormal if it:
- looks green, brown or grey
- smells bad
- is bloodstained
- is watery or looks like cottage cheese or froth
- is accompanied by itching or pain
What kind of discharge should I get help for in pregnancy?
If you have any vaginal discharge which is unusual for you, see your doctor. It could be a sign of an infection.
If you have thrush, your discharge may be thick and white like cottage cheese, with pain and itch. It won’t harm your baby. People who are pregnant are not tested for thrush on a routine basis, but you can be tested if you have symptoms.
If you have bacterial vaginosis, your discharge may be grey or green and watery with a fishy smell. You might feel itchy and uncomfortable. It can cause problems in pregnancy, such as preterm birth.
Many people who are pregnant have bacterial vaginosis and about half of them don’t have any symptoms. However, for most people, treatment with antibiotics doesn’t lower the risk of preterm birth. For this reason, it’s not tested on a routine basis in pregnancy. If you do have symptoms, your doctor will most likely test you for bacterial vaginosis.
What's the difference between vaginal discharge and a 'show'?
A ‘show’ is a specific type of discharge from your vagina that you might see shortly before you have your baby.
During pregnancy, a plug of mucus seals the opening of your cervix to prevent infections getting in. When your cervix starts to dilate in preparation for labour, the plug will come out. This is called a ‘show’. It may be watery, sticky or jelly-like. It might contain blood or look pink or brown.
If you see blood that is bright red or not mixed with mucus coming from your vagina, it is probably not a ‘show’. You should contact your doctor or midwife immediately.
What’s the difference between vaginal discharge and my waters breaking?
During pregnancy your baby is inside a sac filled with amniotic fluid. When the sac breaks open for your baby to be born, it lets out the amniotic fluid. This is what’s known as your waters breaking. It’s also called a ‘rupture of membranes’.
You will feel liquid trickling or gushing from your vagina and you won't be able to hold it in. Sometimes it can be hard to tell if it’s amniotic fluid or vaginal discharge. It usually happens during labour, but it can happen earlier and occasionally it might happen before you reach full term. Contact your doctor or midwife immediately if this happens to you.
When should I see my doctor?
See your doctor if you have any vaginal discharge that is unusual for you.
Contact your doctor or midwife immediately if you have any bleeding or fluid leaking from your vagina during pregnancy.
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.
Last reviewed: August 2022