Watery vaginal discharge is a common occurrence, and you may be wondering if it's a sign of pregnancy. We connected with experts to learn more about watery discharge and what it means.

Medically reviewed by Alyssa Dweck, MS, MD, FACOG

Whether you're trying to get pregnant, using family planning, or simply noticing the changes in your body, you may be paying attention to your vaginal discharge. And if you're experiencing watery vaginal discharge, you might have some confusion. But rest assured, you are not alone. Questions and concerns about vaginal discharge account for approximately 10 million primary care visits per year in the U.S., and are the most common gynecological complaint.

It can be challenging to distinguish the different types of vaginal discharge that occur before and after your period, along with the changes that come with early pregnancy. So, if you are wondering if your watery discharge is normal, a sign of pregnancy, or something else, we’ve got you covered.

Keep reading to learn more about watery vaginal discharge and what it might mean for you. 

What Is Vaginal Discharge?

The glands inside your vagina and cervix make small amounts of fluid known as vaginal discharge. Flowing out of your vagina daily, it's designed to carry old cells that once lined the vagina out of your body. In simple terms, discharge keeps your vagina clean and healthy. Most people with vaginas have a "normal" physiologic discharge, though the amount may vary by individual.

“Vaginal discharge serves an important housekeeping function in the female reproductive system,” says Darren Salinger, M.D., a board-certified OB-GYN with KIDZ Medical Services, a network of physicians that provides obstetrical, neonatal, and pediatric care. “Fluid made by glands inside the vagina and cervix carries away dead cells and bacteria. This keeps the vagina clean and can help prevent infection.”

Related: 4 Annoying Symptoms That Are Signs of a Healthy Pregnancy

What Should Vaginal Discharge Look Like?

Normal vaginal discharge—sometimes called physiological discharge—is usually clear and odorless, though it also can have a slight smell. Normal discharge can also have a mucus-like texture, and appear whitish or yellowish, depending on what hormonal shifts are taking place in your body. You excrete about 1 to 4 milliliters of discharge every day during your reproductive years. 

“Your vaginal discharge may change according to different hormone levels,” says Lauren Demosthenes, M.D., an OB-GYN and senior medical director of Babyscripts, a virtual care platform for managing obstetrics. “For example, right before and during ovulation it can be clear and more watery, and then it can become stickier and thicker after ovulation when progesterone rises. A mild odor is also very common and normal.”

Your discharge also may be more noticeable at certain times. For instance, ovulation, menstrual flow, sexual activity, and birth control influence how much vaginal discharge you have, as well as its consistency and color.

What Causes Watery Vaginal Discharge?

Watery vaginal discharge is usually normal and can be due to natural hormonal fluctuations during your body’s reproductive processes, like ovulation and pregnancy. It also can happen during sexual arousal or menopause. But changes in your discharge can take place when the normal balance of healthy bacteria in your vagina is upset in some way. 

Factors that can upset the balance in your vagina include douching, feminine sprays, and certain soaps or bubble baths. Your vagina’s healthy bacteria also can be impacted by taking antibiotics, getting an infection, or having diabetes.

“Watery discharge is usually not a cause for concern and is a sign of a healthy vagina,” says Dr. Salinger. “It can be an indication the vagina is cleaning itself, and can also be an indication of ovulation. If accompanied by other symptoms like itchiness or a sore vagina, it may be caused by an infection or other condition.”

That said, in older people, watery vaginal discharge can sometimes—though rarely—be a sign of cancer, adds Dr. Salinger. If you are in menopause or post-menopausal, you may want to be evaluated by a health care provider to rule out the possibility—especially if your discharge has changed in some way.

Could Watery Discharge Indicate Pregnancy? 

Normal vaginal discharge in pregnancy—also known as leukorrhea—is thin, clear, or milky white fluid with a mild odor. According to researchers, it's one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, and it progressively increases in amount and continues throughout the three trimesters.

That said, not all clear watery discharge indicates pregnancy, notes Dr. Salinger. While your leukorrhea production does increase while expecting, it's usually not noticeable until around your eighth week—after you've already missed your period and show other signs of pregnancy. If you suspect that you're pregnant, or if you've had sex without birth control and have missed your period, take a pregnancy test.

Watery discharge could signal an issue when it appears later in pregnancy. “A watery discharge during pregnancy—especially after 20 weeks or so—could be a sign of leaking amniotic fluid,” says Dr. Demosthenes. If you're concerned, it never hurts to talk to a health care provider about your symptoms.

Other Types of Vaginal Discharge

There are various types and appearances of vaginal discharge; most of the time, alterations in these secretions are normal. But sometimes your vaginal discharge can change from underlying infection or disease. Usually, you can identify abnormal discharge by the color and smell. It also may be accompanied by itching, irritation, and sometimes pelvic pain.

“A discharge with itching and an unusual odor can be a sign of a vaginal infection, and a fishy odor with a greenish/gray color can be bacterial,” explains Dr. Demosthenes. “Yellow discharge with itching can sometimes be trichomonas, and white or greenish cottage cheese discharge can be yeast. And a discharge with blood in it can represent a pelvic infection, or even be a sign of cancer.”

Researchers indicate that abnormal vaginal discharge—or pathological discharge—is most often caused by infection, with about 70% of all cases consisting of bacterial vaginosis, vulvovaginal candidiasis (yeast infection), or trichomoniasis. Of these three causes, bacterial vaginosis is the most common cause and accounts for up to 50% of all infections.

Here's the specific types of vaginal discharge you may notice, including those that could be a sign that something is wrong:

  • White discharge: White discharge is common at the beginning and the end of your menstrual cycle. However, if you experience itching with thick white discharge, it could indicate a yeast infection.  
  • Clear and stretchy discharge: This type of discharge is considered fertile mucous and could be a sign of ovulation. 
  • Yellow or green discharge: Green or yellow discharge may signal an infection, especially if it's thick or clumpy like cottage cheese or has a bad odor. 
  • Brown discharge: Right after your period, you may notice brown discharge. This is typically a small amount of residual menstrual blood.
  • Red discharge or spotting blood: Sometimes you'll get spotting during the middle of your cycle or when you're ovulating. Also, early in pregnancy, you may have spotting or a brownish discharge around the time you normally have your period. Irregular spotting mid-cycle could suggest pregnancy, so if you suspect you might be pregnant, consider taking an at-home test or consulting with a health care provider.

“It's also important to note that you can still have an infection like gonorrhea or chlamydia with no discharge,” says Dr. Demosthenes. If you suspect that you have a sexually-transmitted infection (STI), talk to a health care provider about screening and testing.

Related: Signs of Ovulation to Know If You're Trying to Get Pregnant

When to Contact a Health Care Provider 

While watery discharge is usually nothing to worry about, contact a health care provider if certain symptoms accompany your discharge. For instance, see a provider if you experience itching, burning, or irritation, says Dr. Salinger. You also should have a conversation if there's a change in your discharge's appearance, a bad odor that lasts more than a day, or you find intercourse painful. 

Key Takeaway

Watery discharge is usually a normal part of your body's reproductive system, and it's often not a cause for concern. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should reach out to an OB-GYN or health care provider:

  • Have a fever or pain in your pelvis or abdomen
  • Were exposed to STIs or are concerned you may have one
  • Experience a sudden change in the amount, color, odor, or consistency of your discharge
  • Notice itching, redness, or swelling in your genital area
  • Believe your symptoms could be related to a medication you're taking
  • Experience worsening symptoms after one week of home care
  • Have blisters or sores on your vagina or vulva
  • Experience burning with urination

Keep in mind, watery discharge is a relatively common experience and rarely a cause for concern. Just pay attention to what's normal for you. If you notice that your discharge is starting to look or smell different, it may be time for a conversation with your health care provider. If you're pregnant and think you might be leaking amniotic fluid— or think your water is about to break—let a health care provider know right away.

Related: Do Cramps But No Period Mean You're Pregnant? Experts Explain

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2023-06-08T18:15:54Z dg43tfdfdgfd