Yes, You Should Have Vaginal Discharge. Yes, It’s Normal.
Dr. Ashley Margeson
Some discharge is a sign of a healthy vagina, but do you know the difference between normal vaginal discharge and abnormal vaginal discharge? Before we get into the nitty gritty of things, let me make this very clear… YOU. SHOULD. HAVE. VAGINAL. DISCHARGE.
Now that we’ve cleared this up, lets take a look so we can tell if your discharge is normal, or maybe we need to have a conversation about it
Your Natural Vagina
The basic function of your vagina is to act as a route from the outside of your vagina to the uterus and the rest of your internal reproductive system. It is a dynamic and finely tuned ecosystem which includes a specific balance of bacteria, pH and moisture. This balance is sensitive to changes, from within and outside your body, and it doesn’t always take much to throw it “off.”
It is normal to have differences in discharge depending on where you are in your cycle, if you’re on a hormonal contraceptive, if you’re going through perimenopause or menopause or if you’ve got an infection. Generally, a significant or sudden change in the smell, colour or consistent of your fluid might mean something else is going on, and should be addressed.
That being said, it’s important to familiarize yourself with your own, unique discharge “norm” – in terms of smell, colour and changes throughout the cycle.
What’s considered “normal”?
At the beginning of your cycle discharge tends to be more dry and sticky. It could even be a bit itchy. Then it becomes creamy and white and finally before your ovulation it generally starts to look a bit like this stretchy, wet, transparent egg white. This is your body’s sign that you’ve ovulated. After you ovulate it goes back to that dry and sticky discharge.
Generally the volume of your discharge also changes with your cycle. The closer to ovulation you get, the more volume of discharge you have. After you ovulate that discharge decreases in volume. Similarly if you become aroused you will produce more volume.
Finally, the smell of your discharge is important to note. Normal discharge can be odourless or have a slight smell, but it’s usually mild and not unpleasant.
What’s considered “atypical”?
Abnormal, or atypical, discharge can happen when the vagina’s microbial environment becomes out of balance. This means that there is more “bad” bacteria than “good” bacteria. This can lead to conditions like bacterial vaginosis or yeast infections.
Many factors can lead to a change in your normal vaginal flora. Hormonal birth control, sex, antibiotics, medications, diabetes, douching and soaps can all cause a change in this microflora environment. Sometimes even STIs can cause an abnormal discharge, like trichomonad vaginalis, chlamydia and gonorrhea. However, most of these STIs don’t show symptoms so regular testing is important.
A change in fluid (usually becoming thinner, thicker or more textured), a grayish, greenish, yellowish or brownish colour and a fishy, metallic or abnormal smell can all be signs that something is going on down there.
What Should I Do? Track it. You will generally only know something is off if you know what your normal is. If you have consistent yeast infections, your culprit is generally a microflora imbalance and you can treat this with an over-the-counter treatment or a combination of natural supplements like antimicrobials and probiotics. If the over-the-counter treatments don’t resolve your yeast infection or you have more than 1 a month for 3 months straight or 4 a year you should visit a medical provider.
Bacterial Vaginosis will generally always go away on its own, but it will often recur, so it’s a great idea to talk to your medical provider about treatment. Untreated BV can put you at risk for an STI, which we really don’t want to have happen.
How Do I Keep My Vagina Healthy?
For prevention, keep your vagina as healthy as possible: don’t douche, keep foaming and scented soap away from your vulva (or soap altogether), and be extremely diligent about using protection with new and untested sexual partners. Use a fresh barrier tool (like a condom) if switching from anal to vaginal activity during sex . A healthy vaginal environment will make you less likely to contract an STI, and help you avoid uncomfortable symptoms and potential health complications.
Keep care y’all.
Morris M, Nicoll A, Simms I, Wilson J, Catchpole M. Bacterial vaginosis: a public health review. BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics & Gynaecology. 2001 May 1;108(5):439–50.
Farage MA, Miller KW, Sobel JD. Dynamics of the vaginal ecosystem — hormonal influences. Infectious Diseases: Research and Treatment. 2010 Jan 1;3:1.
Neggers YH, Nansel TR, Andrews WW, Schwebke JR, Yu KF, Goldenberg RL, Klebanoff MA. Dietary intake of selected nutrients affects bacterial vaginosis in women. The Journal of nutrition. 2007 Sep 1;137(9):2128–33.
Cherpes TL, Hillier SL, Meyn LA, Busch JL, Krohn MA. A delicate balance: risk factors for acquisition of bacterial vaginosis include sexual activity, absence of hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli, black race, and positive herpes simplex virus type 2 serology. Sexually transmitted diseases. 2008 Jan 1;35(1):78–83.
Madden T, Grentzer JM, Secura GM, Allsworth JE, Peipert JF. Risk of bacterial vaginosis in users of the intrauterine device: a longitudinal study. Sexually transmitted diseases. 2012 Mar;39(3):217.
Cherpes TL, Hillier SL, Meyn LA, Busch JL, Krohn MA. A delicate balance: risk factors for acquisition of bacterial vaginosis include sexual activity, absence of hydrogen peroxide-producing lactobacilli, black race, and positive herpes simplex virus type 2 serology. Sexually transmitted diseases. 2008 Jan 1;35(1):78–83
Workowski KA, Berman SM. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention sexually transmitted disease treatment guidelines. Clinical infectious diseases. 2011 Dec 15;53(suppl 3):S59–63.
Donders GG, Van Bulck B, Caudron J, Londers L, Vereecken A, Spitz B. Relationship of bacterial vaginosis and mycoplasmas to the risk of spontaneous abortion. American journal of obstetrics and gynecology. 2000 Aug 31;183(2):431–7.
Fethers KA, Fairley CK, Hocking JS, Gurrin LC, Bradshaw CS. Sexual risk factors and bacterial vaginosis: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Infectious Diseases. 2008 Dec 1;47(11):1426–35.