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Health & safety

Pregnancy Discharge: What Does It Mean and When To See a Doctor

Pregnancy discharge can provoke some anxiety or worry: could it potentially be a sign of miscarriage? Should you see your doctor? Or, maybe it’s just regular vaginal discharge?

These worries are understandable because while most instances of pregnancy discharge are normal, there are also cases when it is a red flag and warrants a doctor’s appointment. This post will cover common types of pregnancy discharge, what they mean, and what you should do, including when you need to see a doctor immediately.

Spotting during Pregnancy

Symptoms: varies from light bleeding to heavy clots

What it means: Spotting during pregnancy is fairly common. It can happen because the cervix is more sensitive during pregnancy and is more easily irritated, which can lead to bleeding. It can also happen for no reason at all, which is frustrating.

There is also a slight chance that it could be a miscarriage sign. According to the American Pregnancy Association, about 25% of women experience bleeding early in pregnancy, and half of them go on to have healthy pregnancies but half experience miscarriages. One study found that 1 – 2 days of spotting was less likely to be related to miscarriage, while heavy bleeding accompanied with severe pain was more likely to be related to miscarriage.

What to do: There isn’t a definitive way to tell when spotting is indicative of miscarriage, but know that there is a slight chance of it being miscarriage symptoms . If you experience pain specifically on one side or any dizziness, then bleeding may be a sign of an ectopic pregnancy, a serious medical complication and you should contact your doctor or health care provider immediately.

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Yeast Infection

Symptoms: thick, white discharge along with itching

What it means: Major hormone changes can cause imbalance in vaginal bacteria and yeast growth, leading to a yeast infection. Pregnancy hormones increase the likelihood of yeast infections.

What to do: Many women experience yeast infections during pregnancy, but if you’re not sure if it’s a yeast infection or if you’ve never had one before, check with your doctor to confirm. Sometimes the symptoms can be confused with bacterial vaginosis (described below), and it’s important to accurately determine what the problem is in order to treat it. If it’s a yeast infection, anti-fugal suppositories and creams can be used, and you can ask your doctor for recommendations about which ones are best or if a prescription treatment is necessary.

Bacterial Vaginosis

What it looks like: white-grey discharge, can have a foul or fish-like smell, sometimes can present with itching and burning

What it means: This can be a sign of bacterial vaginosis, or when bacterial overgrowth leads to infection. These symptoms can be easily confused with yeast infection symptoms, so talk to your doctor to confirm whether it is bacterial vaginosis or a yeast infection.

What Should You Do: See your doctor immediately. Bacterial vaginosis can travel to the uterus and can increase chances of preterm labor. Your doctor may prescribe oral or topical antibiotics to treat the infection.

Amniotic Fluid

What it looks like: usually clear, but can have a tint of yellow, green, or pink, and will not have an odor.

What it means: This can be a sign of problems with the amniotic sac, such as a rupture.

What Should You Do: See a doctor immediately. Amniotic fluid should only be released during labor. If amniotic fluid leaks before then, it can lead to serious birth complications.

Here’s a test you can do to know if you’re leaking amniotic fluid: empty your bladder, place a sanitary pad in your underwear, and lay down for about 30 – 60 minutes. When you get up, if you feel a rush of fluid releasing or if the sanitary pad is wet with clear, odorless liquid, see a doctor immediately about amniotic fluid leakage.

Normal pregnancy discharge

What it looks like: thin, white, milky discharge

What it means: It means that your pregnancy hormones are rising, particularly estrogens.

What to do: It’s perfectly normal to observe this form of discharge as it simply means there are major hormone changes happening (as to be expected with pregnancy). So you don’t need to do anything!

Aarthi Gobinath, PhD

Aarthi Gobinath earned her PhD in neuroscience from the University of British Columbia. Her research covers the ways that stress affects the male and female brain differently.

She tackled the issue of sex bias in research by looking at why standard treatments for depression don't always work in the case of postpartum depression. Her work has been covered by Vice and Massive Science.

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