How Much Vaginal Discharge Is Normal?
Vaginal discharge is fluid that naturally comes out of the vagina to keep it healthy, properly lubricated and clean. The vagina is a self-cleaning organ: Vaginal discharge is how the vagina “washes itself” to get rid of old period blood, old cells, semen, bacteria and anything else that doesn’t need to be there. It’s your vagina’s way of preventing infections—including urinary tract infections (UTIs), which are more common in women than men.
How much discharge is 'too much'?
Much like the amount of period blood you should expect, the “normal amount” of discharge tends to depend on the woman. What is normal for you may not be normal for someone else. Factors such as estrogen levels, where you’re in your menstrual cycle, birth control method, sexual activity, changes in stress levels and even changes in your diet can all affect how much discharge your body will produce. It’s important to know what’s normal for you and to notify your doctor if anything changes.
During pregnancy, for example, almost all women experience an increase in vaginal discharge. This is completely normal and happens because of changing hormone levels. It's also your body's way of keeping your womb safe from infections.
While a sudden change in the amount of discharge can signal a problem, it’s normal for women of all ages to have changes in the amount of vaginal discharge from day to day. Some days you may have none (and even feel a little “dry”) and other days you may want to wear a panty liner to deal with the amount. Often, the amount isn’t an issue unless it’s a drastic change with no explanation or it’s met with other symptoms involving color, smell and how you feel “down there.”
What color should my discharge be?
The color of your vaginal discharge can say a lot about your vaginal health. It's important to keep an eye on any color changes and accompanying symptoms. Normal vaginal discharge ranges from white to clear.
White discharge is very normal at the beginning of your menstrual cycle or with certain birth control methods, as it’s generally caused by changing hormone levels. For women on birth control pills, it’s normal for vaginal discharge to be a white color throughout the month. However, if you’re also experiencing itching, thick white discharge could indicate a yeast infection.
Gray discharge can be a sign of bacterial vaginosis; while this can resolve on its own, it’s better to see your gynecologist for treatment.
Green discharge that is green-tinted (or yellowish) and “bubbly” can be a sign of trichomoniasis, especially if it’s accompanied by an unfortunate smell and/or pain or itching when urinating.
Bloody or brown discharge is common after your period, and it’s merely blood that has been in the uterus for a considerable amount of time and has a “dried blood” look. However, if you’re pregnant, brown discharge can be a sign of an early miscarriage and you should see your OB-GYN immediately.
In some cases, blood in your discharge can signal a problem (especially off your period). Ask your doctor about this to make sure it’s simple breakthrough bleeding caused by hormones, birth control or other factors and not a serious problem.
Yellow can be okay, but it’s something to keep an eye on. Generally, white discharge that dries in your underwear will have a yellow tint to it. However, if it comes out rather yellow and is accompanied by discomfort such as burning or itching, make an appointment to see your doctor.
What about the smell and consistency?
Discharge should have little to no smell. At the very least, it shouldn’t smell foul. A fishy smell could indicate bacterial vaginosis.
If your discharge is a cottage cheese consistency, that could be a sign of a yeast infection. Thick vaginal discharge is extremely common when you’re ovulating, sexually aroused or breastfeeding due to changing hormone levels.
Other things to know about vaginal discharge
Changes in your discharge accompanied by burning (in general or when you pee), itching or painful sex is almost definitely an infection. Whether it’s a simple yeast infection or a more serious one, it’s best to make an appointment with your gynecologist ASAP. It’s important to stay on top of your vaginal health and it’s the quickest (and safest) way to alleviate your symptoms.
Tips to avoiding unhealthy discharge
Most women will have a vaginal infection in their lifetime, but severity and frequency can be significantly reduced by adopting some healthy behaviors such as:
- Always wiping from front to back.
- Never douching.
- Wearing the right underwear (preferably cotton), and potentially not wearing underwear at night at all.
- Avoiding wearing tight pants, tights and bathing suits for extended periods.
- Making sure your laundry detergent isn’t causing irritation.
- Making sure you’re not allergic to your birth control method (namely, condoms).
- Avoiding hot tubs.
- Regularly showering, patting your vulva dry with a clean towel and changing underwear daily.
- Avoiding scented soaps, bubble bath, feminine hygiene sprays, colored or perfumed toilet paper and scented pads or tampons.
Vaginal discharge is a normal and healthy thing in a woman’s life. Never be embarrassed to ask questions when you see your gynecologist or family doctor (especially if you’re at all worried). Keeping your vagina healthy is more important than mild social discomfort--and the reality is they’ve most likely heard it before anyway.