pregnant person sitting in bed

Pregnancy Discharge: What’s Typical and What’s Not

By Marisa Iallonardo
Reviewed by Alyssa Quimby, M.D.
January 25, 2023

You’ll almost definitely experience vaginal discharge while pregnant. But it can be hard to tell what’s typical and what’s not, especially if this is your first pregnancy. Here, we explain why pregnancy discharge happens and what to watch for.

Typical Pregnancy Discharge, Explained

“Vaginal discharge is common for all women of reproductive age,” explains Alissa Conklin, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Indiana University Health in Indianapolis. “It changes throughout the menstrual cycle when one is not [pregnant or] taking a hormonal contraceptive.”

Officially known as leukorrhea or “physiological discharge,” vaginal discharge is usually thin, clear, or milky white. It changes in color or texture depending on where you are in your cycle, whether you're using hormonal birth control, and other factors.

Discharge tends to increase starting in early pregnancy, explains Suzanne Pugh, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at Axia Women’s Health Main Line OB/GYN in Strafford and Collegeville, Pennsylvania.

“There is so much extra blood supply to the uterus and cervix during pregnancy that sometimes the cervical mucus glands can overproduce discharge,” Pugh says.

Pregnancy causes changes to the vagina and cervix, as well as an uptick in pregnancy hormones, including progesterone, all of which may also help explain the increased discharge in early pregnancy. Discharge is important because it can help keep infections at bay, Conklin explains.

Other Types of Discharge During Pregnancy and After

You can expect to have typical leukorrhea throughout pregnancy. There are some other types of discharge that you could experience, as well. Here’s what to look out for.

Change in Pregnancy Discharge Color, Smell, or Texture

Talk to your provider if, at any point, you notice anything different about your discharge, such as:

  • A different color, like green or yellow discharge in pregnancy
  • A bad odor
  • Discharge accompanied by discomfort or irritation or itching

These could all be signs of a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis [BV], two common causes of abnormal vaginal discharge, Pugh says. Both of these conditions require diagnosis and treatment if experienced during pregnancy.

Watery Pregnancy Discharge

Excessive watery discharge could be a sign of leaking amniotic fluid, so call your doctor right away.

Bleeding During Pregnancy

Also, call if you experience red, pink, or brown discharge during pregnancy. These are all signs of vaginal bleeding. Bleeding during pregnancy isn't always a sign of a problem, but it can be. Your doctor will likely want to check using an ultrasound.

Mucus Plug Discharge

In the third trimester, you might notice a larger amount of discharge called the mucus plug. This could signal you're progressing toward labor, Pugh says.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says the mucus plug looks like a “thick clump of mucus.” During pregnancy, it develops at the cervix to help protect the uterus from infection. It's common to lose your mucus plug as the cervix dilates (gets wider) to get ready for childbirth.

“If this increase in mucus discharge, which can often be blood-tinged, is accompanied by contractions or cramping, you should let your provider know,” Pugh says. This is called the bloody show, and it means that labor will start very soon.

Postpartum Discharge

Once you deliver your baby, you’ll experience another type of discharge known as lochia. This postpartum discharge looks similar to a very heavy period. It includes blood, small clots, and tissue that lines the uterus. It starts off red, and then over the course of about six weeks, it typically gradually gets lighter in both amount and color. At times, it may look brown or have mucus.

If postpartum discharge becomes greenish or smells very bad, or if you have fever or chills, seek medical care.

What to Do About Pregnancy Discharge

Remember: Increased vaginal discharge during pregnancy is usually okay. But if you notice any concerning signs, like bleeding, significant odor, or itching, you should call your doctor.

There’s no need to do anything about typical pregnancy discharge, Pugh says. But if the increased moisture makes you feel uncomfortable, you can wear a panty liner or absorbent underwear.

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