Everyone with a vulva has vaginal discharge - it's completely normal. It’s how our vagina communicates with us.
Vaginal discharge is a fluid or mucus that keeps the vagina clean, moist and protects it from infection. You can have discharge at any age, starting from puberty, when the hormones in the glands of the vagina and cervix (neck of the womb) begin to work.
Fluids may vary in quantity, colour and consistency depending on many factors: breastfeeding, pregnancy, ovulation, birth control and sexual arousal.
Vaginal discharge may also indicate that something’s not right. We want you to know how to check your fluids and when you need to talk to your GP/gynaecologist, or visit the sexual health clinic.
What do you need to pay attention to?
The normal consistency of vaginal fluids is slimy, filamentous and sticky, like egg white. Depending on the moment of the period you are and the hormones, these fluids can become thicker or more watery.
If your vaginal discharge is more creamy, like Philadelphia cheese, it’s still nothing to worry about. This is more common for people that are using hormone-based contraceptives.
If they are even thicker or lumpy, like Ricotta cheese, this may be the sign of an infection. Same if they are watery with some clumps or like albumen (the white of an egg) but with small white dots. If you spot some of these symptoms, it’s better to see a doctor and get checked for vaginal infections.
Normal vaginal discharge is a light colour; pale, white or cream. If your discharge is yellow, green or grey, it might be a bacterial or a sexually transmitted infection.
However, if it's red, pinkish or brown, this means that there is blood in the discharge (this is called haematic discharges). This is known as spotting and happens during your menstrual cycle. When blood leaves the body quickly, it’s usually red but when it leaves slowly there is more time for blood to oxidize, so it can appear brown or even black. This colour can also be seen if there is a hormonal imbalance.
Some people experience some spotting after ovulation or sexual intercourse if the sex has caused small tears or irritation in the vagina or cervix. This would be a shade of pink. If your discharge is not a light colour, it’s important to talk to a doctor and check if everything’s ok.
Vaginal discharge does not have any strong or unpleasant smell, it simply has “our” smell. It can vary and be more intense in some moments, for example when we sweat, but it should never be too different.
If you perceive a different smell, more pungent, acidic or “fish-like”, it can be a sign of a bacterial or a sexually transmitted infection.
The volume of discharge varies from person to person; it depends on the amount of hormones present. Discharge increases throughout pregnancy to reduce the risk of vaginal and uterine infections. So, if you do have a lot of discharge, there’s nothing to worry about.
If the colour, smell and consistency is not quite right and they also change in quantity, this may be an alarm signal that there could be some kind of infection and it’s best to get checked up. It’s very important you are aware of your discharge and the warning signs, to avoid issues like vaginal infections.
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Liners can help you if you have a lot of discharge or if you are afraid of the smell. Try not to use them too often, as they can cause irritation. Remember that there are liners made of organic cotton that are hypoallergenic and so they prevent irritation.
To help avoid irritation, soreness or dryness wash the skin around your vagina gently using plain water. Avoid using perfumed or non-perfumed soaps or gels, deodorants or scented hygiene wipes and do not wash inside your vagina.
If you think there might be an infection, never self-diagnose - always see your GP or visit a sexual health clinic. Many clinics offer a walk-in service without an appointment and often get test results quicker than GPs.