Your essential guide to vaginal discharge
Vaginal discharge might not get talked about all that much, but it’s likely something you’re familiar with. And whether you’re experiencing smelly, watery, white or yellow discharge, we’ve got everything you need to know about each type and what it means.
Have you ever felt sudden dampness in your underwear and thought that you’ve started your period, only to realise that it’s something else entirely? Well, most of us have been there! But just what is this fluid and when should you worry about it?
In a nutshell, we’re talking about vaginal discharge, which is made by little glands located inside of the vagina and cervix.  While it may catch us off guard from time to time, vaginal discharge is completely natural – in fact, it plays a really important role in our health. This is because it helps keep the vagina clean and moist, while also protecting it from infection by flushing out old cells and bacteria.
Discharge changes throughout the menstrual cycle in texture, amount, smell and colour – our bodies are amazing at adapting to what they need at different times! However, it can also be a warning that something upset our vagina.
So, what’s normal and what’s not? Time to take a further look!
Is white, clear, yellow or watery discharge before your period normal?
Healthy discharge is usually clear, pale yellow or milky white-ish, depending on the stage you’re at in your menstrual cycle. The amount and texture will also vary, but it does tend to be more abundant, transparent and jelly-like during ovulation. Around your period it’s usually more of a white-ish colour, although you may also experience brown discharge.
Other times of your cycle, discharge can be slippery like egg whites or slightly clumpier in texture. When it comes to smell, it is usual for it to be a little tangy – a bit like when you’ve left some milk or yoghurt out for too long.
Every V-Zone (the vagina, vulva and V-shaped front you can see) is unique so it’s important to pay attention and make note of what’s normal for you. This means you’ll be more likely to spot an unfamiliar change that may need medical attention.
What to do about your discharge
As long as you wash your vulva and change your underwear every day, you shouldn’t normally have to do anything special to deal with your discharge. Some people don’t feel comfortable with that feeling of dampness in their pants, though, and prefer to use liners throughout the day.
Vaginas are self-cleaning, so there’s no need to wash inside (commonly known as ‘douching’). In fact, it’s a really bad idea, as douching can upset the natural vaginal pH and balance of bacteria, potentially leading to unpleasant conditions such as thrush or bacterial vaginosis.
Using perfumed soaps, bubble baths and shower gels can also cause abnormal vaginal discharge specially if you have a sensitive V-Zone. That is why some women+ prefer to go with intimate washes, which also help to support your vulva’s natural pH and keep you feeling fresh and comfy even after your shower.
What type of discharge is not normal?
While vaginas don’t talk, they have their ways of letting us know when something has gone wrong.
Strangely coloured or differently textured vaginal discharge
If you suddenly notice that your discharge changes in colour or texture outside of your normal, it could be a warning sign of an infection, so it’s best to get it checked out by your doctor. Common signs often include a change of colour to green, grey or yellow.
Similarly, if your vaginal discharge suddenly gets really thick (a bit like cottage cheese) or frothy in texture, then this could signal thrush or another type of vaginal infection.
Smelly vaginal discharge
If your discharge starts to smell noticeably foul or even fishy, it’s a good idea to go to a medical professional. This doesn’t mean that healthy discharge should smell like roses (because it most definitely doesn’t!), but if you suddenly get a whiff of something particularly awful smelling, it could mean your vagina is in trouble.
Learning to know your V-Zone takes time but eventually you’ll figure out what’s normal for you. Spotting any of these differences with your discharge can be worrying, but good news is that the majority of vaginal infections can easily be treated with the right medication. The best thing you can do is make an appointment to see your doctor as soon as you notice anything funky is going on. Though it could feel a bit embarrassing, remember that these things happen to many of us and doctors are used to treating infections – they’ve certainly seen it all before!
The medical information in this article is provided as an information resource only and is not to be used or relied on for any diagnostic or treatment purposes. Please consult your doctor for guidance about a specific medical condition.