There's a lot that happens "down there" when you're pregnant. Let's be honest, you can have tons of discharge, you might pee when you laugh, you could bleed after sex, and then there's the amniotic fluid that can sometimes show up when you're nearing the end of your pregnancy. With all that going on, how can you tell the difference in what you're seeing in your underwear when you go to the bathroom? Fluids are normal, but it can be panic-inducing to wonder if you're leaking amniotic fluid or discharge.
It can be pretty difficult to determine whether you're experiencing regular vaginal discharge, also known as leukorrhea, leaking urine, or if you have a leak in your amniotic sac, causing fluid to drain from the area around your baby. According to obstetrician and gynecologist Eric Grossman, MD, the major difference is in the color and the amount of the fluid that you notice in your underwear. He wrote for Virtua that "if you experience a gush or continuous trickle of watery and clear or light yellow fluid during pregnancy, it may be either urine or amniotic fluid." But if you find that you can't tell the difference between the two, call your OB-GYN immediately, as it's not something to leave to chance.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I noticed around 35 weeks that I was experiencing more discharge than what was normal. OK, by "experiencing more discharge," I mean that it felt like I could've drowned. When I called my obstetrician, understandably in a bit of a panic, she had me come in right away. As it turns out, I was beginning to leak what she referred to as "a small amount of amniotic fluid" and she placed me on bedrest. I had to come in every few days for monitoring, but eventually delivered a healthy baby at 38 weeks.
On the phone with me, she was very specific in her questioning. She asked me for color (light yellowish), smell (almost none), and if I had filled a pantyliner, and how fast that happened. Since I had soaked through a pantyliner after about four hours, it was determined that I needed to be seen. When I got to her office, I was measuring smaller than I should, and upon ultrasound inspection, it was determined that my daughter was quite anxious to exit her happy home in my uterus and make her debut topside.
I spoke to registered maternity nurse and childbirth educator, Sun-lo Pak from Hawaii to get even more information about all that leaking and how to spot if something's wrong. She tells Romper, "Normal discharge during your pregnancy should be mild smelling, white or clear, and maybe a tad mucus-y, like sinus drainage when you come inside from a cold environment," adding that any derivation from this is abnormal. "If there's a lot of it, like if there's more than a teaspoon or so a day, or if it's chunky like curdled tofu, smells bad, or is tinged with blood, that's a problem." She says that amniotic fluid and urine closely mimic each other, but that amniotic fluid can sometimes have a green or brown tint to it, or it can be streaked with blood, which might be concerning.
Sun says that when it comes to discharge, if you notice a change from how it's been during your pregnancy, you need to put a call into your provider. You can definitely ask them if it's amniotic fluid or discharge, as they'll have a better idea of what's going on. They'll also want to know all of your symptoms in conjunction with what's going on in your underwear. Discharge and fluid are just a part of the daily reality of pregnant women, and while figuring out what it is may be panic-inducing, it's better to be safe than sorry.