All women should be concerned about their vaginal health, but what constitutes a healthy vagina? Is it normal to have vaginal discharge? While it depends somewhat on a woman’s age, the vagina generally has an acidic pH, contains rich quantities of beneficial bacteria that help fend off infections, and is naturally lubricated. That’s a long-winded answer to say, yes, vaginal discharge is normal and good (most of the time.)
A healthy vagina secretes small amounts of discharge. While some women might not even be aware of it, others “can notice anywhere up to a teaspoon or tablespoon of discharge a day,” says Leah Millheiser, MD director of the female sexual medicine program at Stanford University Medical Center in Palo Alto, California. “Discharge is a normal physiologic reaction — it’s essentially shedding of cervical and vaginal cells.” It’s important to realize that discharge can and will change in appearance and consistency throughout a single menstrual cycle:
The days immediately after your period:
Expect little to no discharge. Some women report “dryness” during this time, but over the next several days, the discharge will likely increase and appear yellow, cloudy, or white in color, and may be sticky.
Days approaching ovulation:
Before an egg is released, up to 30 times more mucus is produced than after ovulation! It is also more watery and elastic and may be cream-like in appearance
Ovulation (Around day 14):
Discharge can be at its highest in the days around ovulation, with an egg-white color and consistency—this is sometimes called ovulation discharge.
Days after ovulation and before you menstruate:
Less discharge may be present and it may have a thicker consistency.
So what are signs that vaginal discharge is not normal?
- White and clumpy (like cottage cheese)
- Grayish, greenish, yellowish, or blood-tinged
- Foul- or fishy-smelling
- Accompanied by itching, burning, a rash, or soreness
If you experience any of the above symptoms, I recommend that you schedule an appointment for a physical exam. We are able to take a detailed history of your symptoms, check your pH and collect a vaginal culture to send to the lab to help get your body back in balance quickly.
Hope Placher, PA-C