Your guide to vaginal discharge: What's normal and what's not

There are still plenty of bodily things which, despite happening to around 50% of the population, don't get enough discussion time and are shrouded in mystery and shame. Vaginal discharge is one of them.

Last year, a survey by health insurer Vitality found that 58% of women would be too embarrassed to discuss vaginal discharge with friends or family, making it the most avoided health concern.

But, according to the NHS, most women get vaginal discharge - and it actually plays an important role in looking after our health.

What is vaginal discharge?

'Vaginal discharge is a fluid produced by the glands inside the vagina and cervix,' explains Dr Amit Shah, gynaecologist and co-founder of the Fertility Plus clinic.

You may notice vaginal discharge in your knickers or on tissue when you go to the toilet, but 'normal' discharge can vary from person to person and day to day.

'Normal discharge can vary in colour, from clear to white, and its consistency can range from thin and watery to thick and sticky. It typically has a mild, non-offensive odour. Normal discharge should not cause itching, burning or irritation,' explains Dr Shah.

Why do you get vaginal discharge?

A reminder: vaginal discharge is nothing to be embarrassed about. And if you're still feeling weird about it, know that it serves a very important purpose.

'Vaginal discharge is natural and essential function of the female reproductive system. It serves to clean and lubricate the vagina, removing dead cells and bacteria, which helps prevent infections,' says Dr Shah.

'Discharge also plays a role in fertility by facilitating the movement of sperm through the cervix to fertilise an egg.'

How does vaginal discharge change around the menstrual cycle?

Remember what we said about there not being a 'normal' discharge? That's because menstrual cycle hormones change the consistency, thickness and colour of your discharge. According to Dr Shah, changes include:

  • Menstruation: Vaginal discharge is hard to detect due to blood.

  • Follicular phase: Just after your period, you will likely have drier discharge. If you do have any, it will be thicker, creamier and white.

  • Before ovulation: Vaginal discharge can become more abundant and watery.

  • During ovulation: Discharge often becomes clear, stretchy and slippery, similar to egg whites. This texture improves sperm mobility and indicates peak fertility.

  • Luteal phase: After ovulation and before your period, your discharge may become drier and creamier again.

How much vaginal discharge is normal?

The amount of vaginal discharge can vary significantly between individuals, says Dr Shah.

'Factors such as hormonal levels, age, sexual activity, pregnancy and use of contraceptives can influence the amount and consistency of discharge. Generally, the amount of discharge can range from 1-4ml per day, but this can increase at certain times in the menstrual cycle, such as during ovulation. What’s considered “normal” varies for each person, and understanding one’s baseline helps in recognising any abnormal changes.'

If you're worried that you've started producing more or less vaginal discharge or that the amount of vaginal discharge you have isn't normal, always see your GP.

What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

Abnormal vaginal discharge is usually a sign of infection - and what you see, feel or smell could indicate different problems.

  • Change in colour: Yellow discharge, green or gray discharge may indicate an infection.

  • Strong or foul odour: If your discharge has an unpleasant smell, it can be a sign of bacterial vaginosis or other infections.

  • Change in consistency: Frothy or curd-like discharge may indicate conditions like trichomoniasis or yeast infections, respectively.

  • Associated symptoms: Itching, burning, irritation or discomfort during urination or sexual intercourse often accompany abnormal discharge and should prompt a medical evaluation.

'If you notice any of these changes, it’s important to consult a healthcare provider for an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment,' says Dr Shah.

More resources for a healthy vagina...

Cut through the noise and get practical, expert advice, home workouts, easy nutrition and more direct to your inbox. Sign up to the WOMEN'S HEALTH NEWSLETTER

You Might Also Like