If you have tried to get pregnant, you know how uncomfortable the waiting period can be. There is that period of time between when you think you may have ovulated and when you think you can trust what a pregnancy test. Those moments seem endless. Many hopeful parents look to changes in their bodies to give them a hint that a baby is on the way. One of those hints can be vaginal discharge.
Changes in your vaginal discharge--or leukorrhea--during early pregnancy are the result of normal hormonal patterns caused by that embryo getting snug as a bug in your uterus. Combined with additional symptoms and early signs of pregnancy, your leukorrhea can give you clues as to whether or not you might be pregnant.
So what does early pregnancy discharge look like? It will get thicker and have a tacky feel and then becomes milky. It can be helpful to explore all of the different types of discharge so you can notice changes when they occur.
Normal Discharge Before and During Pregnancy
Leukorrhea is the fancy medical term for any discharge that comes out of your vagina, besides menstruation. Normal leukorrhea goes through many changes throughout someone's menstrual cycle.
Cervical discharge increases as estrogen levels rise during ovulation. Then, once the egg is fertilized and implants in the uterus, your body sparks an even bigger rise in estrogen. The more estrogen your body produces, the more leukorrhea you will see.
If you become pregnant, your estrogen and progesterone increase steadily throughout your pregnancy right up until birth. The balance of these hormones affects the cervical secretions you see as a vaginal discharge. If you are looking for early signs of pregnancy, leukorrhea might provide a clue.
Clear Thin and Slippery Discharge
You may notice your vaginal discharge changes during ovulation. As your ovary releases an egg, the level of estrogen produced by the ovary is at its highest point of your cycle. This estrogen prompts the increase of mucus secretion from the glands lining the canal of the cervix.
Thick Dry Discharge
If your egg gets fertilized, the ovary begins to secrete more estrogen and progesterone. The progesterone causes your cervical mucus to thicken.
During the two weeks before your first missed period, you may notice this thicker mucus as a heavier, tacky, or gummy discharge. This thicker cervical mucus will eventually create the mucus plug in the cervix for the rest of the pregnancy, which helps keep infection out of the uterus.
In early pregnancy, your vaginal discharge can become thin, milky white or creamy, and usually odorless. Glands in your cervix become more exposed than usual, which causes them to produce more mucus secretions.
Sometimes leukorrhea can be heavy and cause vaginal or vulvar itching. The exposed cervix can also become inflamed (cervicitis) and produce more mucus for that reason.
At about six days after fertilization, the brand-new embryo begins to burrow into the lining of the uterus. This action, called implantation, can cause a little bit of bleeding. Some women may notice some small amount of stringy, red, brownish, or pinkish mucus discharge shortly after.
The blood-tinged mucus normally lasts a few days but can continue up to the time you expect your next period. This stringy, bloody discharge could also come from an abnormal pregnancy or a cervical infection, so consult your doctor if this bloody mucus discharge during early pregnancy continues past that time frame.
Brown vaginal discharge can be an early sign of pregnancy. The discharge is brown because the bleeding is light and slow. By the time you see it, the hemoglobin pigment that gives blood its red color is already absorbed. Causes of brown leukorrhea include:
- Cervical irritation
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Embryo implantation
- Onset of an early miscarriage
This brown discharge can progress to bright red blood depending on the cause, so be on the lookout for color changes.
Abnormal Discharge Before and During Pregnancy
Some types of leukorrhea or vaginal discharge can indicate an infection.
If you are wondering if yellow discharge is a sign of early pregnancy should know that yellow vaginal discharge can be a sign of cervical infection or inflammation, or a vaginal infection. This type of discharge is present in these infections:
- A sexually-transmitted infection (STI): A thick yellow vaginal discharge that looks like pus is usually caused by a cervical STI, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. These STIs can cause pelvic and abdominal pain and fever. It is important to treat an infection immediately to prevent uterine infection and miscarriage or fetal birth defects.
- Bacterial vaginosis: A thin yellow, pale green or gray discharge with a fishy odor is present with bacterial vaginosis (BV). Vaginal itching and burning are also common symptoms. Infection occurs when the normal, healthy balance of the vagina changes and causes a decrease in the level of the good bacteria, lactobacillus. A change in hormones and diet or douching can cause this.
Bacterial vaginosis can cause preterm delivery and low birth weight babies later in pregnancy. It is caused by an overgrowth of adverse bacteria and generally treated with antibiotics. The yellow color means there are white blood cells and other inflammatory cells in the discharge.
A pale-green, yellowish-green, or gray, frothy discharge can point to a vaginal infection by a parasite called trichomonas. The discharge also has a fishy odor, and some people experience vaginal itching, burning, and pain during urination.
Trichomoniasis is sexually transmitted and is sometimes present with other STIs. It does not cause adverse health effects on the mother but can cause preterm delivery later in pregnancy. The infection can recur if both partners are not treated at the same time. Your doctor can easily diagnose and treat this problem.
Like the color, the odor of vaginal discharge can help to diagnose its cause. Normal vaginal discharge has minimal or a slightly sweet smell. A stronger sweet-smelling discharge indicates the overgrowth of the lactobacilli bacteria - the same bacteria in yogurt. A vaginal yeast infection can also cause a sweet-smelling discharge.
Normally, lactobacilli help your vagina maintain a healthy environment and keep other organisms from overgrowing and causing an infection. When the normal balance of the vagina shifts, such as through douching, changes in diet, or an increase in hormones in or out of pregnancy, lactobacilli bacteria or yeast can overgrow. Symptoms also include vaginal itching and burning.
The increase in estrogen during pregnancy causes some of the glands lining the inner canal of the cervix (endocervix) to turn partially inside out (ectropion) and become visible in the vagina. The glands lining the inner cervix have a lot of blood vessels, which bleed easily when they are exposed. They also produce excess mucus.
You may notice a lot more discharge than usual of either white or yellow color. You may also see blood-tinged discharge after intercourse. The exposed glands can become inflamed and bleed more easily. This condition is considered benign and no treatment is usually recommended.
What to Do About Early Pregnancy Discharge
It is normal to have concerns about what your early pregnancy discharge looks like. There are some things you can do and things not to do in order to deal with the situation.
What Not to Do
If you know or think you are pregnant and an increase in your discharge concerns you, do not:
- Douche or put an unwashed finger in your vagina
- Take over-the-counter (OTCs) or herbal medicines before consulting your doctor
- Use tampons, which could introduce bacteria into your vagina
- Use vaginal creams or suppositories
Any of these things could add to the imbalance of bacteria in your vagina and could lead to infection and possibly harm the pregnancy. It's very important to speak with your doctor before you try any home remedies.
What to Do
Abnormal discharge in early pregnancy can be caused by an infection in the vagina (such as yeast), or the cervix by a sexually transmitted infection, which can also get into the uterine cavity. It can also be from an abnormal pregnancy, such as an ectopic pregnancy.
If you have a change in your vaginal discharge and would like help to relieve any discomfort, call your healthcare provider. But also pay attention to the following signs that indicate you may need to see your doctor more urgently:
- Abdominal pain or cramps
- Bright red bloody discharge
- Discharge looks like pus
- Overly sweet or fishy-smelling discharge
- Stringy red bloody discharge lasts more than two weeks
- Vaginal or vulvar itching
- Very large amount of discharge
- Your partner complains of symptoms of an infection
Heavier discharge is common and normal in early pregnancy. To decrease your anxiety about the changes you will see, learn to recognize the signs of what is normal or abnormal. Don't hesitate to consult your doctor if you have any cause for concern about an abnormal pregnancy or infection, especially if you have a history of STIs or early pregnancy losses.
Remember, normal leukorrhea can vary a lot! And most abnormal discharge can be easily fixed with help from your doctor. The important thing is to work as a team with your health professionals from the beginning. They can help you figure out what is normal, what is not and what to do about it.