Pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and breastfeeding come with lots of [sometimes surprising] extras. Like fluid. Lots of different kinds of fluids. In pregnancy, you can expect to experience fluid in the form of vaginal discharge, urine leakage, amniotic fluid (closer to birth, of course), colostrum (the fluid in your breasts before your milk comes in), sweat, and even extra mucus in your sinuses.
These fluids, while sometimes annoying, are almost always normal and safe. There are instances, however, when fluid in pregnancy can signal a problem. If this is your first pregnancy and you're seeing daily discharge in your underwear, you may be wondering: how do I know what's normal?
Generally, throughout pregnancy, it's normal to have daily, thin, milky vaginal discharge -- enough that you notice it in your underwear. This discharge is called "leukorrhea," and is a normal response to your body's shifting hormones (more estrogen in this instance) during pregnancy. This kind of normal discharge can be clear to white in color, thin to milky or mucousy in consistency, and have either almost no odor or a very mild odor. The amount of discharge can vary, but it is present almost always throughout pregnancy. Toward the end of pregnancy, you may notice an increase or changes in the discharge.
Not Normal Discharge
The general rule of thumb with pregnancy discharge is that if it smells bad, if it is any other color other than clear or white, or if it causes pain, burning, or itching, there could be a problem and you should call your midwife or doctor. Let's take a closer look at specifics.
White or clear: Normal.
Pink, brown, or red: These are all indications that blood is present in your discharge. Sometimes it's normal and sometimes it's not. Tinges of pink in your discharge is fairly common and may not signal a problem. Brown discharge indicates old blood. Bright or dark red blood is a sign of active bleeding. Any one of these in your discharge could be "nothing," but it could also signal a problem. It's best to call your midwife or doctor to discuss. It's more common to see tinges of blood in early pregnancy and late pregnancy, closer to birth. When shades of blood are accompanied are accompanied with a watery discharge, it's important to call your care provider right away.
Yellow, green, or grey: These colors are usually not normal and can indicate an infection, especially if there is also a foul smell and the consistency is frothy or watery. Call your care provider and let them know what's happening.
Creamy, milky: Normal.
Frothy: Not normal -- call your midwife or doctor.
Watery: May not be normal -- call your midwife or doctor. Watery discharge toward the end of pregnancy could be amniotic fluid leaking, which is normal, but still requires alerting your care provider. If it happens earlier in pregnancy, it could be a sign of premature labor.
What About the Mucus Plug?
Discharge and the mucus plug, while friendly partners in pregnancy, are different. The mucus plug often looks different, serves a different purpose, and shows up at a more specific time. Generally, the mucus plug, which serves as a protective barrier from bacteria into your uterus, breaks away and shows up late in your third trimester, closer to the time of labor and birth. Sometimes, you don't notice the appearance of your mucus plug, since it can release in smaller amounts and look similar to regular discharge. Other times, the mucus plug releases in bigger chunks or clumps, and is thicker and more slimy/snotty in consistency. Sometimes it will be tinged with blood. As with routine pregnancy discharge, unless there is an odor, watery discharge, or blood, it's most likely normal and not a cause for concern. Of course, it's always helpful to call your care provider as a precaution or to help relieve any concerns.
Dealing With the Discharge
While you can't get rid of pregnancy discharge (it's actually a necessary and helpful side effect of pregnancy), there are ways to help alleviate the annoyance factor. You can wear panty liners to absorb the fluid. "Breathable" cotton underwear help absorb discharge better than other materials, and will help keep you comfortable. Steer clear of tampons as they can introduce bacteria into your vagina, and don't use any douche, scented pads, or vaginal wipes as they contain chemicals that can alter the healthy bacteria and pH of your vagina.