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Discharge In Late Pregnancy Can Mean These 3 Things, According To Experts

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There’s a long list of bodily changes women go through when they get pregnant, and that includes their vaginal discharge. There are a few things discharge in late pregnancy can mean, but most of them aren’t negative. They’re just signs you’re getting closer to meeting your baby.

Before pregnancy and throughout, discharge isn’t just an inconvenience that forces some women to purchase bulk packages of pantyliners. It actually serves a purpose. “Vaginal discharge serves as a lubricant, and we tell people the vagina is a self-cleaning oven, and the discharge keeps your pH where it should be and decreases infection risk,” Danielle Jones, MD, an OB-GYN at Baylor Scott & White Health in College Station, Texas, tells Romper. “The most common change people notice during pregnancy is that discharge increases quite a bit. As long as it’s not associated with pain, itching, or bleeding, it’s typically an expected event.”

Deborah Cuadra, MD, obstetric hospitalist at Mease Countryside Hospital in Safety Harbor, Florida, tells Romper that most women experience an increase in discharge when they become pregnant. “When you get pregnant, there’s usually an increase in discharge. It’s usually milky white. In general, discharge increases during pregnancy because there’s a lot more blood flow to that area, so like a nose, you make more ‘snot.’”

As the third trimester wears on, expectant mamas may notice a few changes to their discharge. While some are expected, some aren’t, so it’s important to know the differences. Here’s when you should start packing your hospital bag, get to the delivery room now, or call your doctor for a checkup.

1. You Have An Infection

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While an increase in discharge is normal, Jones and Cuadro agree that if the increase is accompanied by any unusual symptoms, it's worth a visit to your doctor. This can signal an infection, which is more concerning when pregnant. "Discharge associated with other symptoms could indicate some kind of an infection, like a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or sexually transmitted infection, which can increase the risk of preterm labor or cause complications for the baby if they’re present at the time of birth," Jones explains.

Cuadra adds that it's crucial to visit a doctor for treatment. "See your doctor for itching, burning, or foul odor," she says. "There are over-the-counter testing kits for vaginal discharge, but even if you do one, then you don’t have the treatment, so you’ll still need to see a doctor."

2. Your Body Is Getting Closer To Labor

Ever heard of a mucous plug? Not every woman will have one, according to these experts, but being aware of your discharge becoming more mucous-like will tell you when your cervix is preparing for birth. "Towards the end of pregnancy when your cervix is becoming soft, it will make more discharge. Bloody discharge can mean cervical change, like dilation," Cuadra says. "This is a gross analogy, but it's the one I use with patients because they remember it. Your cervix is like your nose: it makes mucous, and mucous varies just like from your nose. It can be clear and runny, sticky, or blood-tinged."

Jones says expectant women should know seeing more mucous, or even a full-fledged mucous plug, is not a sign you're going into labor this second. However, it does mean your baby's birthday is getting closer. "There are some people who notice what actually looks like a mucous plug, but for a lot of women, they see an increase of cervical mucous rather than the discharge created by the vaginal wall," says Jones. "That mucous is a barrier between the outside world and the uterus. Medically that’s not a big event; there’s not a lot of association with you going into labor in the next week or two because you lost your plug, but it is something you notice during late pregnancy."

3. It's Time

Of course, perhaps the most famous "discharge" of any kind is when your water breaks. Both experts say when this happens, it's time to head to your hospital, midwife, or birth place.

"Of course, if your water breaks, it’s a very clear, thin, watery discharge, and we always want to make sure and check that out," says Jones. She adds that if your water breaks and is colorful, be sure to tell your providers as soon as possible. "Usually you would notice that as just clear fluid. A greenish-brown fluid, that is concerning for meconium, and we would always want to know if someone is having something like that in their discharge."

Experts:

Danielle Jones, MD OB-GYN at Baylor Scott & White Health

Deborah Cuadra, MD, obstetric hospitalist at Mease Countryside Hospital