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What’s normal and not normal?

All women have some vaginal discharge (fluid or semisolid substance that flows out of the vaginal opening). It’s a way the body maintains a healthy vagina.

Vaginal discharge is part of the vagina’s inbuilt self-cleaning system. Bacteria that are normally found in the vagina create an acidic environment that makes it difficult for other bacteria to survive. The fluid, made by glands inside the vagina and cervix, helps to keep the vagina clean and reduce infections by carrying away dead cells and dead bacteria.

Most of the time vaginal discharge is perfectly normal.

Normal vaginal discharge is typically clear or milky white in colour and doesn’t have an unpleasant smell.

The amount and type of vaginal discharge vary among women and will change during their menstrual cycle. Changes in normal vaginal discharge can occur for many reasons, including ovulation, pregnancy, breastfeeding, stress, diet, medications like contraception, and sexual arousal.

Vaginal discharge may also be different colours:

White: Thick white discharge is common at the beginning and end of your period

Clear and stretchy: Is like egg white and means that you’re ovulating and at a higher chance of pregnancy

Clear and watery: Occurs at different times through your cycle and can increase with exercise

Brown: May happen just after a period, and is old blood being “cleaned out” of your vagina

Spotting blood/Brown discharge: This may occur during ovulation, just before your period starts, or during early pregnancy at the time your period would normally come.

A change in vaginal discharge (very different in colour, smell, consistency [thickness], or amount from what you’re used to), or the presence of vaginal discharge accompanied with irritation or other uncomfortable symptoms, may be a sign of infection.

It’s possible to get infections like Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) or Candidiasis (thrush) even if you’re not sexually active.

BV (caused by an imbalance of normal vaginal bacteria) may cause an increase in thin watery grey/white vaginal discharge with a fishy smell. Thrush (overgrowth of yeast in the vagina) symptoms include increased white cottage cheese-like discharge with itching, redness, and burning in the vaginal area.

Some STIs also cause change in vaginal discharge. If the vaginal discharge is different to what you’re used to, it’s worth seeing a doctor or nurse to get it checked out.

If you’re not sure and would just like some info, reassurance, or help finding a doctor in your area, ring 1800 451 624 between 9:00am and 5:00pm Monday to Friday to talk with a sexual health nurse. It’s confidential and free if you call from a landline.