Vaginal discharge in pregnancy

Ahem! Why am I getting more, shall we say, secretions now that I'm pregnant? And how can I tell if it's a sign of something more serious?

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Congrats, you’re pregnant! You may experience a healthy glow, unusual cravings and, er, an increased amount of discharge ‘down there’. But don’t worry, you’re not alone…

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Why have I got more vaginal discharge now I’m pregnant?

In the 1st trimester, your hormones cause the cervix and vaginal wall to become softer, increasing the amount of discharge. The clear, odourless fluid produced prevents infections travelling up from the vagina to your baby. So while it’s not particularly pleasant it’s completely normal and there’s no need to get your knickers in a twist about it.

Obstetrician Leonie Penna says, “Changing hormone levels in pregnancy can cause an increase of vaginal discharge. The normal, physiological discharge of pregnancy is odourless and very pale coloured”.

What if the discharge is whiffy – or I’m itchy down there?

While an increased amount of vaginal discharge is natural, any discharge that is discoloured, itchy, bloodstained or smelly could be a sign of something more serious.

The two most common vaginal infections that pregnant women experience are:

  • Thrush
  • Bacterial vaginosis (BV)

Both of these infections are caused by a change in the balance of bacteria in the vagina and, you guessed it, it’s those pesky hormones that are to blame.

Curds and why?!

Dr Penna says, Yeast infections – thrush – are also more common in pregnancy due to a change in the levels of acidity in the vagina – discharge is often ‘curd-like’ and accompanied by itchiness.”

Keen MFMer MrsGarfieldAckles says she’s suffered from thrush more than once in her pregnancy, “I’ve never had thrush before in my life, never had it with my previous pregnancy but have had it twice since being pregnant this time round. It’s nothing that you do wrong (although it does feel like it doesn’t it?). It’ll get better in a day or two and fingers crossed this will be the last time”.

Thrush is caused by a tiny, microscopic fungus called candida albicans.  We all carry it on and in our bodies (no amount of showering and preening will shift it) and it’s normal part of our digestive system. Candida usually lives harmlessly in the vagina, and you won’t know that you’re carrying it but upset the levels of acidity in the vagina and thrush develops.

The discharge is white, lumpy, looks like ‘curd’ (yuk) and boy, does it itch! But it doesn’t harm your baby and it can be treated with prescriptive cream from your GP.

“Thrush isn’t dangerous,” says Dr Penna, “And treatment with a cream or pessary from a pharmacy or your doctor will help. But if your discharge is very watery, bloodstained or has an offensive smell, see your GP or midwife.”

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Smells fishy to me…

BV tends to produce a more watery, fishy, smelly discharge and occurs when the number of ‘bad’ bacteria in the vagina outweigh the number of ‘good bacteria’. Unlike thrush it’s not itchy but it does cause redness and inflammation.

Although common, BV has been linked to an increased risk of miscarriage and premature birth, so it’s best to speak to your GP if you suspect you may have it. It can be treated with antibiotic tablets or gels, but half of women treated experience symptoms again within 6 months.

Sometimes the infections occur together – oh, happy day! – so a swab is important in order to make an accurate diagnosis.

Stop the itch

If you notice an increase in usual discharge (and it’s pretty noticeable), you’ll need to see your GP and get treated.

Thrush in pregnancy can be pretty stubborn and hard to shift but there are anti-fungal creams and pessaries that are used to treat the infection. Don’t take anti-fungal pills to treat thrush when you’re pregnant though – there’s some concern over whether they’re totally safe.

Perfumed toiletries, shower gels or vaginal deodorants can also cause irritation and itchiness, so use a bland, unscented moisturiser or a soap substitute instead.

BV is treated with a course of antibiotics – the usual one is called Metronidazole – and the course will usually last 5-7 days. BV can come back though – and if does, your GP will prescribe an alternative treatment.

And what if the discharge is brown?

Seeing brown discharge is a big worry for pregnant women and it’s enough to send you into a spin, probably because it looks a lot like blood. But, although it’s hard to believe, it’s pretty normal and unless you’ve got other symptoms it’s unlikely to be a sign that something’s wrong.

Mum-to-be Lambchop80 had a scare when she saw brown blood, “I’ve had almost constant brown blood (and some large amounts of red blood which terrified me) all through the early stages of my pregnancy. But I had my scan on Friday and all seems fine so it was obviously nothing.”

The brown that you see is blood – but it’s most likely to be old blood from your uterus that’s taken a while to come out. If your female parts are irritated, you’ve had sex or your midwife has examined you, you might see a bit of brown discharge in your knickers. But rest assured, it’s completely normal.

“As your body adjusts to pregnancy, your hormones can bring on spotting around the time your period is due – known as breakthrough bleeding. This light bleeding should be pain-free and brownish in colour,” says Dr Rob Hicks.

Very occasionally brown discharge is a sign that there’s a problem with your pregnancy, or that you have an infection. If you see pink or red blood see your doctor straight away.

Could this be implantation bleeding?

Well, vaginal bleeding can occur in pregnancy for all kinds of reasons. Some women continue to get cyclical, period-like bleeding in early pregnancy, and a few will appear to have ‘periods’ throughout the pregnancy.

Implantation bleeding can occur when the fertilised egg attaches and burrows into the wall of your uterus (womb). Because this often happens at the same time as your period is normally due, it can be a bit confusing.

MummyGG has been there, done that: “I had an implantation bleed at 4.5 weeks (watery red/brown when I wiped, never on knickers, lasted 3 days I think) and then I got a little red spotting at 9.5 weeks (on just one wipe). This would have been a week and a half after my period was due.”

While anything niffy in your knick knacks is a concern, BV, thrush or implantation bleeding are all part and parcel of the wonderful world of becoming a mum. So let our joy be unconfined!

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