Leukorrhea & Pregnancy: Is Your Discharge Normal?
Cervical mucus discharge is something that nearly all women experience, but probably don’t think a lot about. It is a normal part of a woman’s menstrual cycle and an important indicator of health.
As your body goes through a regular menstrual cycle, you will notice changes in vaginal discharge over time and leukorrhea is no exception. These changes can tell you a lot about your fertility, potential pregnancy, and your overall health.
Understanding and being aware of changes in discharge can not only be helpful in tracking your menstrual cycle but also allows you to be a better advocate for your own health.
What Is Leukorrhea?
Leukorrhea is simply the medical term for the normal vaginal discharge you experience with major hormonal changes. If you are tracking your cycle you might notice that you experience this normal vaginal discharge at the same time in each cycle – typically around the time of ovulation.
This type of discharge is actually very important for your health. It helps maintain acidic pH levels in your vagina to prevent pathogens from growing while also maintaining healthy vaginal flora that helps prevent yeast and bacterial infections.
What Does Leukorrhea Look Like?
Leukorrhea is typically milky white or off-white in color, though it is sometimes clear. It should not be gray, bright yellow, or green. Abnormal colors might signify a potential health concern, such as an infection.
What Does Leukorrhea Feel Like?
Leukorrhea is typically thin and stretchy, whereas other types of vaginal discharge may be thicker or tackier. Normal vaginal discharge can range from thin and stretchy, like leukorrhea, to creamy or sticky. Abnormal vaginal discharge may have clumps or appear especially watery.
What Does Leukorrhea Smell Like?
Leukorrhea may have a mild odor but it typically does not have a smell. While it’s normal for some odor to come from the vagina, it could be a sign of a type of infection called bacterial vaginosis if the odor is especially fishy or foul.
What Does Leukorrhea Mean For Pregnancy?
Leukorrhea is often considered an early sign of pregnancy and it’s easy to get your hopes up if you’re TTC. The reality is that the discharge alone is not a BFP (big fat positive) and it’s important to stay informed when it comes time to interpret what your body is actually telling you.
Is Leukorrhea a Good Sign in Pregnancy?
Leukorrhea itself is not an early sign of pregnancy, but changes in vaginal discharge can be and knowing what your normal vaginal discharge looks like throughout your cycle can help you spot changes. If you are using a fertility tracker such as Mira, you can match these changes to the specific normal changes in your hormones.
Within the first two weeks of conception, some women do see an increase in mucus production with discharge going from thin and white to thicker, gummier, and clear in color. This can happen in early pregnancy but isn’t always a sign of pregnancy. Early pregnancy discharge may also be thicker than your pre-pregnancy discharge.
There are many possible causes for changes in leukorrhea, so it may or may not be a sign of pregnancy. You can take a pregnancy test as soon as 14 days past ovulation (DPO) to verify. If you think you may be pregnant or are experiencing unusual symptoms (such as a foul odor, itching, or burning) alongside vaginal discharge, make sure to visit your doctor ASAP.
How Early Do You Get Leukorrhea in Pregnancy?
Not all women experience changes in leukorrhea during early pregnancy. Some, however, might notice that they produce more vaginal discharge than usual, or that their vaginal discharge changes in color or texture.
If this is due to pregnancy, it will occur alongside rising levels of the pregnancy hormone hCG. Because the embryo produces hCG as soon as conception occurs, you can theoretically experience symptoms from the first week of pregnancy. However, most women don’t experience changes in leukorrhea (or other early pregnancy symptoms) until a few weeks after conception, when hCG levels are higher.
As your pregnancy progresses, you will notice more discharge that will continue to thicken over time. Near the end of your pregnancy, you may even notice streaks of pink in your discharge. This often precedes labor and you may eventually see a large discharge that is known as your mucus plug.
Once you notice this large streaked discharge of cervical mucus, you should let your healthcare team know. It might not mean you are actively in labor, but your body is preparing for the delivery of your baby.
Whether you are pregnant or experiencing normal vaginal discharge, leukorrhea can get annoying! Feeling dampness in your panties is uncomfortable and even embarrassing — but unfortunately, since leukorrhea is normal, there’s no way to treat or get rid of it. Instead, you have to learn to live with it. Here are some simple ways to manage leukorrhea on your own.
Wearing pantyliners on days when you’re experiencing heavy vaginal discharge can help you feel drier and more comfortable. Staying dry “down there” is important for preventing vaginal infections, such as yeast infections (which might impact your fertility). Just make sure you change your liner every three to five hours to prevent bacteria and wetness from accumulating.
Practicing good vaginal hygiene helps prevent excessive vaginal discharge and vaginal infections. It’s a good idea to avoid anything that could disrupt your vagina’s natural pH. That includes douching, using scented feminine sprays or washes, and bathing for too long (particularly using bubble baths or bath bombs). Your safest bet is to choose the shower over the bath and to gently clean the vulva (the outer part of the vagina) — NOT the vagina itself — with warm water and unscented soap.
It’s important to avoid trapped moisture near the vagina to prevent abnormal vaginal discharge and infections. Panties made from synthetic materials don’t absorb moisture well, meaning they allow discharge to accumulate. 100% cotton panties, on the other hand, are better at absorbing moisture from discharge, keeping the vagina clean and dry. Wearing 100% cotton underwear can also prevent feminine odor “down there.”
What If It’s Something Else?
Vaginal discharge may not always be normal leukorrhea. Sometimes, you may experience vaginal discharge due to other causes, such as vaginal infections. Read on to learn the changes you should look out for — and how to tell leukorrhea apart from other types of discharge.
Other Types of Discharge
Leukorrhea is thin, milky white (or off-white), and odorless. If your vaginal discharge has other characteristics, it may not be leukorrhea. Here are some examples of other types of vaginal discharge:
- Stretchy, clear vaginal discharge that resembles a raw egg white is normal, and usually due to ovulation.
- Thick, clumpy vaginal discharge that resembles cottage cheese may be due to a vaginal yeast infection.
- Gray, watery vaginal discharge with a fishy odor may be due to a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis.
- Frothy yellow or green vaginal discharge may be due to an infection called trichomoniasis.
- Bloody or brown vaginal discharge between periods can be due to hormonal birth control, sexually-transmitted infections (STIs), or even cervical cancer.
When to See a Doctor
If leukorrhea is a normal part of your cycle, how do you know when you should see a doctor?
First, knowing what is normal for your body will help you decide if it is time to see your doctor. Learning to check your cervical mucus can teach you what is normal for your body.
Second, keep in mind that most changes in vaginal discharge are harmless and due to natural fluctuations in hormones. There are, however, a few symptoms to watch for that mean it is time to see your healthcare provider:
- Burning, itching, or pain
- Redness or swelling
- Yellow, green, or gray-colored discharge
- Clumpy, cottage cheese-like discharge
- Discharge with a foul odor
- Unexpected bleeding between periods
Abnormal vaginal discharge can be a sign of an infection. Catching changes early can help you get a diagnosis and fix the problem before it becomes more serious.
Pregnant women should keep an especially close eye on their cervical mucus, which can signify different health problems during pregnancy.
If you are not yet at full term and experience a continuous discharge or it changes to a thick jellylike consistency, you should see your doctor right away as this may be a sign of pre-term labor.
If you’re pregnant and experience a large discharge of more than an ounce that is bright red in color, you should also contact your doctor right away. This could be a sign of complications such as placenta previa or placental abruption.
Remember, vaginal discharge is a natural part of your menstrual cycle. Getting to know your body better and what is normal for you will allow you to be more aware of your cycle and spot changes early.
If you ever have questions about changes in your cervical mucus, reach out to your healthcare provider to get an expert opinion.