Milky White Discharge: When It’s Normal and When It’s Not
Vaginal discharge is an essential part of your reproductive system and the types of vaginal discharge you experience will vary throughout your menstrual cycle. In nearly all cases, changes in vaginal discharge are a positive sign that your reproductive system is working properly. In addition, white discharge before your period can mean your vagina is healthy, or that you may be in the early stages of pregnancy.
In this post we will explore what causes milky white discharge, what it means, and when it could be a symptom of an underlying issue.
What is milky white discharge?
Your vaginal discharge may become thinner and milky white in color at the beginning of your menstrual cycle. Usually, this indicates that your body is gearing up for ovulation.
Similarly, this milky white vaginal discharge can be an indicator of pregnancy. During the early stages of pregnancy, some people may experience a thinner, milky white discharge before their menstrual period. The change in cervical discharge is caused by the body’s hormones, which are preparing your body for pregnancy.
Provided that the discharge is thin and only has a mild odor, it’s most likely a sign of a healthy vagina. Thin milky white or grayish-white discharge with a fishy smell, or thick, clumpy milky white discharge, can both be signs of a vaginal infection.
Is white discharge normal?
The name for this discharge is leukorrhea and it’s completely normal to experience it throughout much of your menstrual cycle. Most women experience some leukorrhea during their menstrual cycle and the volume increases in early pregnancy.
Vaginal discharge helps to keep the walls of the vagina moist and help sperm travel to the cervix. The discharge is heavily influenced by the hormones in your reproductive system which is why it changes in color and consistency through your menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
The Mira fertility tracker analyzes fertility hormones and gives you specific fertility hormone concentration levels to let you know when you are ovulating or pregnant and better understand what is normal for your body.
Milky White vs. Egg White Discharge
At the beginning of your menstrual cycle (i.e. before ovulation), you may experience thin, milky white discharge. As you get closer to ovulation, your vaginal discharge may turn from thin and milky white to clear and stretchy.
Some women call this “egg white” discharge because it is the consistency of an egg white. Of course, every woman is different, so your vaginal discharge may not perfectly follow this pattern.
The difference between milky white discharge and egg white discharge is primarily in the color with milky white discharge being white or off-white in color, while egg white discharge is usually transparent.
That being said, you cannot necessarily tell if you are fertile solely from the color of your vaginal discharge. It’s important to use a hormone tracker like Mira to get your exact hormone concentrations if you are trying to get pregnant or avoid pregnancy naturally.
What causes it?
Milky white discharge is almost always normal, though sometimes it may be caused by a vaginal infection. Here are some of the different things that can cause milky white discharge — and how to tell the difference between what’s “normal” and “unhealthy”.
Most of the time, milky white discharge is a normal part of your menstrual cycle. Called leukorrhea, this discharge can be white, off-white, or clear in color. It may change colors or become thicker or thinner throughout your menstrual cycle.
Many women keep track of the changes in their vaginal discharge to let them know when they are most and least fertile. They may do this because they are trying to conceive or as a natural form of birth control (called the fertility awareness method).
Women usually experience thin, milky white discharge before their menstrual period leading up to ovulation. As they approach ovulation, their discharge may become clear, stretchy, and voluminous, resembling a raw egg white.
When your vaginal discharge is milky white in color but is thick and clumpy in texture, it may be a sign of a yeast infection. The discharge caused by a yeast infection is white or off-white and often resembles cottage cheese.
Yeast infections are caused by an overgrowth of candida, or yeast, that grows naturally in the vagina. This can happen when the vagina is not kept clean and dry (for example, if you sit too long in a wet bathing suit) or, less frequently, due to problems with the immune system (such as diabetes). Because of hormonal changes, they are also more common during pregnancy and can indirectly affect your fertility.
The treatment for yeast infections is an antifungal medication. You can purchase intravaginal antifungal medication at the drugstore, sold under the brand name Monistat. Or, if you would rather take a pill, you can see your doctor for a prescription for fluconazole, an antifungal medication taken by mouth.
If you are seeing a greater volume of milky white discharge than usual and recently had unprotected sex, it could be a sign of early pregnancy. Leukorrhea — the milky white discharge you experience throughout your menstrual cycle — often increases in volume during early pregnancy.
This change in vaginal discharge is caused by hormonal changes in the early days of pregnancy. Your vaginal discharge plays an essential role in protecting your pregnancy, by keeping harmful bacteria out of the cervix and preventing infections.
While milky white discharge can be normal in pregnancy, it’s also important to note that thick, white, clumpy discharge during pregnancy can be caused by a yeast infection. These infections are more common in pregnancy, so if your milky white discharge resembles cottage cheese, visit your OB/GYN stat.
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs)
For some women, milky white discharge isn’t normal and their discharge may appear clear or off-white throughout most of their menstrual cycle. Whenever your vaginal discharge does not look the way it usually does, there is a risk that you may have an infection.
In women, sexually transmitted infections (STIs) often do not come with many symptoms. Gonorrhea can cause cloudy white discharge that looks similar to your normal milky white discharge — and as many as 80% of women with chlamydia do not experience symptoms at all, meaning you may continue to have normal leukorrhea.
Using a barrier like a condom or dental dam is the best way to prevent STIs. If you recently had unprotected sex with a new partner, it’s important to get tested for STIs, especially if you notice unusual discharge. STIs like gonorrhea and chlamydia need to be caught and treated promptly since they can lead to infertility if left untreated.
How can you treat milky white discharge?
On the off case that your milky white discharge is abnormal, or if you find it bothersome, there are some things you can do to get rid of it. Here are a few ways to treat or prevent milky white discharge.
When milky white discharge is caused by an infection, the only way to treat it is with the appropriate medication.
The treatment for a yeast infection is an antifungal medication. This can take the form of an intravaginal suppository or ointment, which can be purchased at a drugstore, or a pill you can get with a prescription from your doctor.
If you are dealing with a STD like chlamydia or gonorrhea, you will need to take antibiotics, which are only available via prescription. Sometimes, you may be able to get relief in as little as one dose of antibiotics.
You can prevent many infections and steer clear of excessive vaginal discharge by taking proper care of your vagina and vulva.
The vagina maintains a certain pH, which can be thrown off by hygiene products containing fragrance or chemicals. To keep it clean “down there,” use an unscented, gynecologist-tested soap on the vulva only. You should never use scented sprays or douches, nor should you ever wash inside the vagina.
You can also maintain proper vaginal hygiene by keeping the vagina dry. Always change out of swimsuits and sweaty gym clothes ASAP to prevent yeast infections, as yeast can overgrow when the vagina is in a damp environment. You should also wear 100% cotton underwear to keep the vagina clean and dry.
Lastly, vaginal hygiene should always include using a barrier method — such as a condom or dental dam — during sexual activity. Other forms of birth control, like the oral contraceptive pill, do not protect against STIs, so you need to use a barrier method anytime you engage in sexual activity with a new partner.
If you struggle with recurrent vaginal infections or other discharge issues, it can help to enrich your diet with probiotics. These beneficial organisms grow naturally in the vagina and help maintain a healthy pH.
You can find probiotics in certain foods and yogurt, kimchi, sauerkraut, and other fermented foods are filled with them. You can also take a dietary supplement containing probiotics.
Probiotic supplements are sold over-the-counter at many drugstores and supermarkets. You should look for a probiotic containing Lactobacillus acidophilus, which comprises most of the vaginal flora. The best probiotics have over one billion colony-forming units (CFUs) of live probiotics. Keep them in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life.
What does it mean for fertility and pregnancy?
Thin, milky white discharge can be a sign that you are approaching your fertile window — or even that you are pregnant. To tell the difference, it’s important to pay attention to timing.
If you experience milky white discharge after your period, prior to the middle of your cycle, it may be a sign that you are approaching ovulation. For someone who is trying to conceive (TTC), that might mean it is a good time to have sex.
Alternatively, thin, milky white discharge after ovulation but before your period might be a sign of early pregnancy — especially if you are having more vaginal discharge than usual. If you experience a greater volume of milky white discharge than usual, take a pregnancy test on the first day of your next expected period to confirm.
Of course, charting your vaginal discharge can only provide an estimate of fertility and potential pregnancy. The best way to know for sure if you are fertile or pregnant is to use a hormone tracker like Mira, which measures your exact fertility hormone concentrations.
What does it mean for vaginal health?
Most of the time, milky white discharge, or leukorrhea, is a sign that your vagina is happy and healthy. Leukorrhea — the white, off-white, or clear discharge you experience throughout your menstrual cycle — helps maintain a healthy vaginal pH by keeping out bacteria and preventing infections.
There is a broad spectrum of what is considered normal when it comes to vaginal discharge. Normal vaginal discharge can be milky white, off-white, or clear. When you are most fertile, it may be thin or stretchy, like the white of an egg. When you are less fertile, it can be thick and creamy like paste, or even crumbly in texture.
Abnormal signs and symptoms to pay attention to include a foul odor, unusual color (including gray, green, or bright yellow discharge), or odd texture (such as frothy or cottage cheese-like discharge). These can be signs of vaginal infections like a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or an STI.
When should you see a doctor?
Unless you notice any unusual signs or symptoms, you should assume that vaginal discharge is normal, healthy, and nothing to worry about. Some of the signs and symptoms to keep an eye out for include:
- Thin, watery gray or brown discharge with a fishy odor
- White, yellow, or bloody discharge with a foul odor
- Thick, white, cottage-cheese like discharge
- Discharge that significantly differs from your usual vaginal discharge
- Itching or burning of the vagina and/or vulva
- Painful urination and/or sexual activity
Anytime you notice one of the above symptoms, it’s important to visit your OB/GYN to get it checked out. Most of the time, changes in vaginal discharge are nothing serious. Even if they do signify an infection, these infections are treatable and shouldn’t cause any damage to your health or fertility — as long as you treat them promptly.