If you're anything like me, you don't think about your vaginal discharge unless there’s a problem. And despite the plethora of products marketed to make our vaginas smell "fresher," steam away toxins, or feel “drier," most of the time a vagina is fine just the way it is. Vaginal discharge is not only normal and natural, but it's the vagina's way of keeping itself clean and healthy. So, what are signs your vaginal discharge is normal and doing it's job?
To find out, Romper spoke with Certified Nurse Midwife and virtual vagina expert Anette Ferrell, MSN, ARNP, CNM, via email. Ferrell noted that it's totally normal for your discharge to change throughout the month. The most important sign of a healthy vaginal discharge is that it's "normal" for you, which means you should probably get familiar with how your vaginal discharge looks, smells, and feels. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) notes that sometimes changes in your vaginal discharge's smell, color, or consistency can indicate a problem, like an infection, especially if those changes are accompanied by other physical symptoms. Other times — like ovulation, pregnancy, or following childbirth — changes in consistency, quantity, smell, and even the feel of vaginal discharge are totally normal, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Population Affairs.
If your vaginal discharge doesn't seem right for you, smells, bad or is accompanied by other symptoms like burning, itching, or pain, you should absolutely not feel ashamed to consult an expert. After all, that's what doctors are for So with that in mind, here's how to know if your vaginal discharge is healthy, or if it’s time to schedule an appointment with your health care provider:
As Ferrell told Romper, healthy vaginal discharge should be white, clear, or light yellow in color. However, it's completely normal to experience some changes in your discharge's appearance at different points during your cycle, like ovulation and during pregnancy.
"Discharge changes during your cycle, becoming clear during ovulation. In pregnancy, your body produces an increased number of white cells in vaginal discharge, to protect from infection." Ferrell explains. "This can cause a large increase in volume, and the color to appear white or light yellow."
If you notice other changes in color, including grey or green discharge, or mid-cycle red or pink spotting not related to your period, you should absolutely get checked out by a health care provider, according to the HHS Office of Population Affairs.
It Smells As Usual
Contrary to popular belief, healthy vaginal discharge does smell. In fact, and according to ACOG, having some vaginal odor is completely normal. It's also normal for the smell to get more musky or stronger at times, like when you work out or have crotch sweat on a hot summer day.
However, the same site notes that if your discharge suddenly smells bad, or noticeably stronger, you might have an infection or another issue that needs treatment, like a forgotten tampon or vaginal irritation. For instance, a fishy smell might indicate a bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis. Other foul-smelling discharge might indicate a sexually transmitted infection like Trichomoniasis, notes the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). And a yeast infection might result in a yeasty or bread-like smell from your vagina.
While it might be tempting to try to cover up these smells with products designed to "clean" or deodorize your vajayjay, doing so actually make your vaginal discharge problem worse.
If There’s More Or Less Than Usual, There’s A Reason
According to the HHS Office of Population Affairs, when it comes to quantity of vaginal discharge, your mileage may vary; some people having a little and others having a lot. And according to Ferrell, it might change during pregnancy so you shouldn't be alarmed.
"Some women find the excess discharge distressing or embarrassing, but knowing this is a normal physiologic change is important, Ferrell tells Romper. "Wearing cotton undergarments, and changing them frequently can help. I do not recommend pantie liners, as these can irritate your vagina and make matters worse."
Everything Else Down There Seems A-OK
ACOG advises people with vaginas to consult their health care provider if they note any changes in their vaginal discharge that come with other symptoms, like itching, burning, pelvic pain, or pain during sex. While many vaginal issues are treatable with a prescription or over-the-counter medication, it's important to receive an accurate diagnosis so you can get your vagina back to it's healthy, self-cleaning state.
Ferrell notes that it's super important to get to know your body and what's normal for your vaginal discharge, too. "If it is clear, white or yellow and does not itch, burn or smell, it is not worrisome."