What Causes Vaginal Discharge?

What is discharge and how does it affect women's vaginal health, you may ask? Vaginal discharge is how your vagina cleans itself naturally. However, many women feel embarrassed by it or simply don’t understand what changes in color and consistency of their discharge can mean. The discharge you see in your underwear at the end of the day is a great way to measure the health of you and your vagina. It's completely natural and normal for your vagina to have some kind of scent and it is a sign of good health when your vagina is producing discharge and keeping itself clean. However, abnormal vaginal discharge and scent can also let you know if your vagina is not healthy. This blog will breakdown healthy vs. unhealthy discharge and scent.

Vaginal Discharge Meaning

Vaginal discharge is simply any fluid released by glands in your vagina and cervix. This natural fluid keeps the vagina clean and helps prevent infection by carrying bacteria and dead cells out of your body.

Is Vaginal Discharge Normal?

Vaginal discharge is a healthy function of your reproductive system. The amount of discharge may vary through various phases of your life, such as puberty, ovulation, contraceptive use, pregnancy, sexual arousal and menopause, and can even fluctuate through exercise or emotional stress. It is a concern when the vagina is not producing normal discharge because then the vagina is not cleaning itself.  While healthy discharge is a good sign, it's important to keep an eye out for a change in your discharge as it can be a symptom of a vaginal infection or other condition. If you notice any change in your discharge color, amount or scent, you should consult with your physician. 

Vaginal Discharge 101

There are a variety of normal vaginal discharge types, generally categorized by their consistency or color. Other types may be an indication of a vaginal yeast infection or issue requiring you to visit your gynecologist. The following are the different types and colors of normal vaginal discharge:

Discharge Types

Clear and Watery –  Clear and watery discharge is normal and can occur at any time during the month. Discharge may decrease during perimenopause and menopause due to lower estrogen levels.

Clear and Stretchy – When a discharge is clear but not watery and is mucous-like and stretchy, this typically indicates that you may be ovulating.

Discharge Color

Clear Discharge – Clear discharge is considered normal discharge that can occur at any time of the month and any stage of life.

White Discharge – During pregnancy, vaginal discharge increases and is frequently thin, milky-white, and mild-smelling. It is also normal to have a bit of white discharge before or at the end of your period.

Brown or Bloody Discharge – It is normal to experience bloody or dark-colored vaginal discharge during and at the end of your menstrual cycle. It is also normal to have a bloody discharge called “spotting” in the middle of your cycle.

Green, Yellow, or Gray Discharge – These are abnormal colors for vaginal discharge and need to be addressed by your gynecologist. These are usually accompanied by a foul scent and can be an indicator of bacterial vaginosis (BV), a bacterial infection. 

How to Get Rid of Smelly Discharge

On top of wondering, is vaginal odor normal? You may also be wondering if it is normal for discharge to have an odor. While healthy vaginal discharge may have a mild scent, bacterial infection or overgrowth can exacerbate the intensity of the vaginal odor. There are a variety of easy ways to keep bacteria in check:

Practice Good Hygiene

Wash the area outside your vagina daily with a soft, clean washcloth and warm water. The vagina will cleanse itself internally. Regular cleaning will reduce bacteria and remove dead skin, sweat and dirt.

Avoid Scented Body Washes

Don’t use heavily fragranced soaps or body washes. These products are not made specifically for vaginal cleaning and may cause irritation. Opt for unscented or lightly scented pH-balanced soaps and body washes while showering. Chemical scents can irritate sensitive skin and disrupt your vagina’s natural pH levels.

Wipe from Front to Back

Keeping your vaginal area clean and free from fecal bacteria is crucial. Even if you are only urinating, always wipe from your vaginal area to your rear.

Switch to Cotton Underwear

Silk, satin and polyester underwear may feel sexier, but save them for special occasions, as they aren’t breathable materials and can trap bacteria and odor. Because excess moisture can promote unhealthy bacteria levels, switch to 100% cotton for daily wear. Cotton is breathable and wicks moisture, fluids and sweat away from your skin.

Pay Attention to Your Discharge

Your body is constantly in motion, and depending on your monthly cycle or life phase, your vaginal secretions may change. Keeping your body in balance is simple when you:

  • Pay attention to vaginal discharge types
  • Pay attention to vaginal discharge color
  • Practice good hygiene
  • Reduce bacterial overgrowth
  • Maintain normal vaginal pH levels