When should I be worried about vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

Although pregnancy is filled with many exciting moments and a beautiful growing belly, it can also come with some unwanted side effects, such as tender breasts, hormonal changes and a vaginal discharge.

We look at what’s normal and what’s not…

ALSO SEE: 10 pregnancy warning signs to look out for

Mild or musky-smelling milky fluid

During pregnancy, a lot of blood flows into the cervical area, which can cause more discharge from the cervix – also known as the neck of the womb, explains independent nursing and midwifery consultant Prof Diana du Plessis. “This increased discharge is nothing to be concerned about, as it’s fairly common for pregnant women and it’s usually harmless,” she says.

As this type of vaginal discharge is more common in the first and third trimester of pregnancy, you might want to use panty liners at this time, change your underwear regularly, and use unscented, non-irritating soaps when washing, advises Prof Du dlessis.

When to see the doctor

See your gynae or midwife if you have a vaginal discharge with a strong, unpleasant smell, if it’s white, grey yellow or even green, and if it’s watery and/or frothy.

Clear, slightly pink or blood tinged discharge

Show is also known as the mucus plug. Its purpose is to seal the cervix to help prevent infections. It forms early in pregnancy, at about seven weeks, explains Prof du Plessis. When show starts to be released, it’s a sign that your cervix is starting to open and labour may follow. For a first-time mom, labour may only start in another week or so after losing the mucus plug, whereas if you’ve had a baby before, it may mean that active labour is a few hours away.

What it looks like

The mucus plug is usually clear, slightly pink or blood tinged in colour, according to the American Pregnancy Association. It can also be sticky or stringy in consistency.

When to see the doctor

If your mucus plug comes out, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor, who will need to assess how far you are from delivery and how much your cervix has dilated. It’s even more important to see your doctor if you experience any bleeding.

ALSO SEE: 6 things you need to know about your cervix

Pale pink or brown discharge

Although it might be alarming to see any bloody vaginal discharge in your underwear, in some cases, especially in the first trimester of pregnancy, spotting is fairly normal, explains Prof du Plessis.

What it looks like

It’s a bloody discharge that’s either pale pink or brown in colour. If it’s red, it’s a sign to see your doctor.

When to see the doctor

Spotting can be caused by several things, including sexual intercourse, a tear in the vaginal wall or an infection, says Prof du Plessis. Some moms may also experience a menstrual cycle in their first trimester, which is quite rare.

However, bleeding in pregnancy should never be ignored, says Natalie Peters, senior midwife at Flora Clinic in Johannesburg. This is because, in some cases, spotting could be an early sign of miscarriage, ectopic pregnancy or placenta praevia.

ALSO SEE: Bleeding during pregnancy

White, strong-smelling discharge

Pregnancy hormones affect the vaginal pH, making it more susceptible to pathogenic organisms that cause infections such as yeast infections, says Natalie. Therefore, pregnant women often experience yeast infections, especially in the second trimester.

Yeast infections can be harder to treat during pregnancy, and may take up to two weeks to go away, explains Prof du Plessis. To prevent additional infections, wear cotton underwear and always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement, she suggests.

What it looks like

It’s a thin, white, strong-smelling vaginal discharge, which can also have a “cottage cheese”-type texture.

When to see the doctor

If you think you have a yeast infection, contact your gynae or midwife, who will take a vaginal swab to confirm the diagnosis. They may recommend an over-the-counter vaginal cream, too, says Prof du Plessis.

ALSO SEE: Dealing with thrush during pregnancy

Is a yellow discharge normal?

Also described as “liquor”, amniotic fluid can leak anytime during pregnancy – but it normally happens in the second or third trimester, as you approach your due date. It’s usually warm and you’ll feel wet immediately – it won’t feel like you’ve passed urine, explains Natalie.

What it looks like

It can be clear, cloudy or light pink if mixed with a bit of blood, says Natalie. It can also be yellowish or green if meconium (a dark greenish substance) is present, she says.  It’s a myth that amniotic fluid smells like urine. In fact, it tends to have no odour or have a faint sweet scent.

When to see the doctor

If you suspect your vaginal discharge is amniotic fluid, go to your maternity unit or labour ward immediately.

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