Vaginal discharge is perfectly normal. Yet, for many women, there’s still a lot of uncertainty around it.
To clear things up, we spoke to a gynaecologist about what colour discharge should be, how much you should see in your underwear on a daily basis and what its smell can tell you about your health.
What does discharge do?
Discharge is secreted by glands in the body. The fluid helps carry away dead cells and bacteria to help keep the vagina clean and prevent infection.
What does the colour mean?
Dr Virginia Beckett, spokesperson for the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), told HuffPost UK that normal and healthy discharge is “clear or white” in colour. It is also thick and sticky.
If it gets in your underwear and is exposed to air, it may become a little crusty - however this is perfectly normal.
How much discharge is too much?
“The amount of vaginal discharge varies throughout a women’s menstrual cycle, and most pregnant women will get a pregnancy discharge,” added Dr Beckett.
“Healthy discharge doesn’t have a strong smell or colour, but women may feel an uncomfortable wetness.”
Ob-gyn Jen Gunter said she’s noticed an increase in the number of women who are worried about the amount of discharge they see in their underwear.
She wrote in a blog post: “From my experience and reading the literature it seems that 1-3 ml [of discharge] is the average range and it will vary day-to-day.
“The 3-4 ml range might be worth checking out if you are irritated, but sometimes there can just be a lot especially around ovulation or if a woman is taking oestrogen.”
What if it smells?
Healthy discharge doesn’t have a strong smell or colour. According to Always, it has “a very slight smell that can be described as sweet or soapy”.
Strong-smelling discharge may be a sign of an infection. For example, if your discharge smells fishy, it could be due to bacterial vaginosis.
How can I tell if I have an infection?
“Any sudden change in a woman’s discharge may indicate a vaginal infection,” explained Dr Beckett.
“Women should be aware of how their discharge naturally varies throughout their cycles and what isn’t normal.
“The warning signs of infection include a change in colour or consistency, a sudden bad smell, an unusually large amount of discharge, itching outside the vagina, pain in the pelvis or tummy, or unexpected bleeding from the vagina.”
Infections are often caused by something that upsets the natural balance of bacteria or yeast in the vagina, such as washing inside the vagina or a sexually transmitted infection.
“The most common causes are thrush, bacterial vaginosis, trichomoniasis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia, or genital herpes,” she added.
If you aren’t sure whether your discharge is normal, visit your GP.