Vaginal discharge is common during your menstrual cycle. The discharge originates from cervical mucus that finds its way out of the reproductive tract via the vagina. It may vary considerably concerning colour and consistency throughout your cycle. More often than not, having an irregular vaginal discharge is normal and nothing to worry about. Some vaginal discharge colours can signify an infection, ovulation (egg white vaginal discharge), or other reproductive health-related conditions. Therefore, knowing and understanding what the different vaginal discharge colours mean is crucial. This article will review the five most common vaginal discharge colours, their meanings, and their causes.
Vaginal discharge colours: what do they mean?
The vaginal discharge colour can vary greatly throughout your cycle. It may change from being clear and transparent to white or off-white. Tracking the colour of the discharge can be a great way to predict your fertility window. The vaginal discharge can sometimes assume quite an unusual colour, such as brown, yellow, green, or red. Such unusual colours can signify certain health conditions, including infections, ovulation, or pregnancy.
Vaginal discharge vs. Cervical mucus
Vaginal discharge and cervical mucus are not the same, although the terms are often interchangeable. Cervical mucus is secreted by glands found in and around the cervix, while vaginal discharge is any ‘non-period fluid that leaves the vagina. The cervix, a part of your uterus that extends into your vagina, has many mucus glands that secrete mucus. The cervix increases mucus production during the fertile window of your cycle and reduces production during the other phases of the cycle. Once you have your period, the cervix may cease producing any discharge. The vaginal discharge does contain cervical mucus, but it also contains other things. Vaginal discharge typically contains cervical mucus, vaginal fluid, dead cells from the cervix and the vagina, and even arousal fluid (a discharge produced during sexual arousal). That said, the cervical mucus contributes the most to vaginal discharge.
Egg-white cervical mucus
The Egg white cervical mucus (EWCM) discharge resembles the consistency of raw egg white. It is stretchy, slippery, and clear. It usually has no particular odour or any distinct colour. Such a discharge is commonly observed right around the middle of the cycle. The appearance of an egg-white discharge often correlates to ovulation.
The reason for the consistency is an elevation in oestrogen in your body. An egg white discharge often means that you have entered your fertility window. If you are trying to get pregnant, you should try having intercourse when you see egg white discharge. If, on the other hand, you don’t want to conceive, avoid having sex during this time. Sexual arousal can also increase the volume of the egg white discharge. Sexual stimulation causes the vagina to secrete more naturally lubricating secretions that add to the volume of the egg white discharge.
Red/Brown vaginal discharge
If your vaginal discharge is brown or red, it is often due to menstrual blood. Observing brownish discharge a few days before your expected period may mean that your period starts earlier than usual. The brown discharge is due to oxidised blood mixed with the normal cervical mucus. There are many reasons for your periods to start earlier than usual, including stress, hormonal imbalance, etc. Another reason for a brown discharge is the egg implantation in the endometrium of the uterus. Such a discharge is called implantation bleeding. It is an indication that you might be pregnant. Therefore, if you had unprotected intercourse during your previous cycle and observed a brown discharge a few days before your expected period, it’s time to get a pregnancy test.
Sometimes, you may see a red or brown discharge in the middle of your menstrual cycle, known as spotting. Spotting is a common side effect if you are using oral contraceptive pills. If you experience spotting for over a few days, you should see your doctor as soon as possible to rule out any serious issues. In rare cases, such a red or brown discharge may be due to serious medical conditions such as cervical cancer or vaginal blockage.
Milky white vaginal discharge
If you experience a milky white discharge during the menstrual cycle, it is called Leukorrhoea. It is considered to be a normal discharge during your menstrual cycle. The appearance of milky white discharge can indicate early pregnancy. The discharge may vary slightly in colour and texture but mostly appears white or off-white. If you observe a milky white discharge after having unprotected intercourse during your fertile ovulation window, it might be time to get a home pregnancy test (HPT).
In some instances, a milky white discharge can also indicate an infection. That said, the texture might change in case of a vaginal infection. In case of a yeast infection, the texture becomes clumpy, almost cottage cheese-like. A bacterial infection, on the other hand, is indicated by a greyish colouration and thinner consistency.
Yellow/green vaginal discharge
Sometimes, the discharge can be off-white or even have a yellowish tinge. It is still considered to be normal if it happens so. However, if you observe a bright yellow or green abnormal vaginal discharge may indicate trichomoniasis, a type of abnormal vaginal infection. The infection, commonly called ‘Trich,’ is a sexually transmitted (STI). It is spread through unprotected sexual contact with a partner having the infection. Men have no obvious signs of infection and may not even know about it until they spread it to their female partners. Trich is caused by a protozoan called Trichomonas vaginalis. A foul-smelling, green, or yellow discharge is a hallmark of the infection. That said, the infection is easily treatable using prescription antibiotics.
Clear vaginal discharge
You might also notice a clear vaginal discharge during your menstrual cycle. The discharge is predominantly observed as you near your fertility window or during sexual stimulation. In some women, the volume of the clear discharge might increase after a cardio workout session. It is perfectly normal to experience some vaginal discharge during moderate cardio exercises. Excessive wetness during exercise might indicate urinary incontinence, which could easily be confused with a vaginal discharge.
Things to look for regarding discharge
A change in the consistency, colour or even texture of your vaginal discharge may reveal crucial information regarding your reproductive health and help increase your chances of falling pregnant. Ensure you consult your doctor if you observe any ‘abnormal‘ discharge to rule out serious infections.
Thick, cottage cheese-like discharge
Yeast infection can make your discharge appear thick and almost cheese-like in texture. Yeast (Candida species) is a normal inhabitant of your vagina, but if it grows out of proportion, it may cause infection. Exposure to excessive moisture for a prolonged time can cause the yeast to overgrow, causing infection. Yeast infections can cause pain during sexual intercourse, urination, and itching in the vaginal area or the vulva. Yeast infections can be treated easily using over-the-counter treatments. That said, consult your doctor before using any such medications, especially if it is your first yeast infection.
Thin watery grey discharge
An abnormal vaginal discharge that is thin, grey in colour, and almost fishy in odour can indicate a bacterial infection called vaginosis. Unlike a yeast infection, this infection does not cause pain during urination or itching. The infection results from an imbalance in the bacterial population in your reproductive tract. The causative organism of bacterial vaginosis is called Gardnerella vaginalis. However, it is not known why this infection happens in the first place. It is thought that increased sexual activity might contribute to bacterial vaginosis. Men can carry this bacteria and potentially spread it to their female partners. It is not the only way to get this infection; therefore, bacterial vaginosis is not considered an STI. It is treated with prescription antibiotics.
Frothy yellow or green discharge
Trichomoniasis, or ‘trich’ for short, can result in such a discharge. It is a foul-smelling discharge that appears apart from normal menstrual discharges. The causative organism of the infection-Trichomonas vaginalis is spread through unprotected sexual contact with a carrier. Men harbouring the bacteria don’t have any symptoms but can spread them to their female partners easily. The typical symptoms apart from the green/yellow frothy discharge include pain during urination and sex. Trich is also treated with prescription antibiotics.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Spotting or abnormal vaginal bleeding outside your period may be a side effect of oral birth control pills. Abnormal vaginal bleeding may also occur if your stress hormone levels are high. In some rare cases, abnormal vaginal bleeding or spotting may indicate serious infections and even cervical cancer. Contact your doctor immediately if you observe any abnormal vaginal bleeding during your cycle.
Thick, dark brown discharge
An abnormal vaginal blockage might cause the appearance of a thick, dark brown discharge. A used condom or a lost tampon can easily block the vagina. Remember that any object ‘lost’ in your vagina has no place to go, as the opening of the cervix is too narrow for any object to go through. Any object lost in the vagina can block the cervical opening, resulting in a dark brown or black discharge. If you observe such a thick and dark discharge and suspect something is blocking your cervix, consult your OB/GYN immediately.
How to maintain vaginal health?
Having good vaginal hygiene can help prevent infections. Here are some tips that you can follow to maintain your vaginal health.
Use an unscented soap.
The use of soaps that have artificial fragrances can disturb the pH balance of your vagina. Douching can also have the same effect. It is recommended to clean your vagina with warm water and unscented soap on the outside only. Putting soaps or douching products inside your vagina can cause infections. Remember, your vagina is designed to clean itself, so you don’t need to wash it from the inside with any cleaning product, including a douche.
Wear 100% cotton underwear.
Underwear made from polyester or other synthetic fibres is not breathable. On the contrary, underwear made from 100% cotton is completely breathable and helps wick away excessive moisture. Using underwear made from synthetic fibres can cause excessive moisture buildup causing fungal and bacterial infections. Hence, it is recommended that you should wear only 100% cotton underwear.
Keep your vaginal area dry.
Excessive moisture in your vaginal area is an invitation for yeast infections. Make sure you change your damp clothes and bathing suits immediately. Make sure you change your sweaty underwear after a workout as soon as possible to avoid any potential infections.
Consider taking probiotics
Old bacteria, such as lactobacillus, can help improve your vaginal health. Supplements rich in this probiotic can help replenish the naturally occurring bacteria in your vagina. Fermented foods such as kimchi, yogurt, and kombucha are rich in probiotics, and including them in your daily diet can help improve your vaginal health.
Consult your doctor as needed.
If you are sexually active, ensure you are getting examined by your OB/GYN at least once a year. It is also recommended that you should have a Pap smear once every five years if you are above 25 years of age. You may notice abnormal discharges during your menstrual cycle; consult your doctor immediately. When the infections are not treated in time, they can spread deeper into your reproductive system and cause infertility. If you are prescribed any medications, take a complete course, even if you start feeling better before completing the course.
For comprehensive and reliable fertility and reproductive health information, Fertility2Family is your trusted resource. We offer various products and services to support your fertility journey, from ovulation tests to fertility kits. Our blog provides valuable insights and advice on various fertility-related topics. Whether you’re trying to conceive or seeking to understand your menstrual cycle better, Fertility2Family is here to guide you every step of the way.
Evan is the founder of Fertility2Family and is passionate about fertility education & providing affordable products to help people in their fertility journey. Evan is a qualified enrolled nurse and has expertise in guiding & managing patients through their fertility journeys.