Decoding the Clues of Early Pregnancy Discharge

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When we are trying to conceive (TTC), we can become like Sherlock Holmes as we search for clues about the status of our menstrual cycle, ovulation, and whether or not this might be the month we get pregnant.  Many of us turn to our vaginal discharge to tell us about our fertile window, that time when we have the best chances of getting pregnant. Others use fertility awareness methods like tracking their discharge to help them avoid getting pregnant. Regardless of your reason for looking more closely at your underwear, it can be tricky trying to decode the difference between ovulation discharge and the discharge of early pregnancy.

What does ovulation discharge look like?

  • Stretchy
  • Clear
  • Like egg whites

Before ovulation, your cervix secretes increased amounts of stretchy, stringy mucus to act like a slip-and-slide for sperm, transporting them efficiently through your vagina and cervix and up into your fallopian tubes. If you touch some of your discharge and place it between your thumb and forefinger, it will feel slippery and stretchy.

What does discharge in early pregnancy look like?

  • Watery
  • White
  • Can have a more mild odor or be odorless
  • Milk-like

When you are pregnant, the cervix starts releasing more white blood cells to help keep your womb healthy and infection-free. These special infection-fighting cells give your discharge a whiter color.  Even in early pregnancy, your body’s production of estrogen increases. This hormonal increase, combined with more blood flowing to your uterus, cervix, and vagina causing an increase in discharge.

Can Changes in Discharge Be Used to Detect an Early Pregnancy?

Not reliably, no. Changes in vaginal discharge do not usually happen to a degree noticed by most women in the first one-two weeks after conception. Instead, more common early pregnancy symptoms such as feeling tired and sore or aching breasts are better pregnancy clues.

That is why, if you suspect you might be pregnant, it is better to take a pregnancy test around the time you would expect your period to put your mind at ease and stop having to play detective.

 What does brown discharge mean?

It is common for women to have some light spotting or bleeding when the fertilized egg implants into their uterus or womb wall. This bleeding is called implantation bleeding.

It is also possible for women to have some spotting around the time that they ovulate. So, looking for brown blood or discharge cannot reliably be used as a clue for pregnancy and implantation bleeding. In most cases, brown blood during your menstrual cycle is normal.

If you have taken a pregnancy test to confirm that you are pregnant but continue to have brown discharge or spotting, you should check in with your ob-gyn or midwife to make sure your pregnancy is healthy. Sometimes spotting in early pregnancy may be a sign of a miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy.

When should you ask for help decoding your early pregnancy discharge?

It is usual for your discharge to change throughout your menstrual cycle and over your pregnancy. These changes can make decoding vaginal discharge tricky, so it is best to take a pregnancy test to confirm you are pregnant or see a health care provider if you have any suspicions that you might have a vaginal infection.

Your discharge will change if you have sex without a condom or if you have an infection, such as one caused by yeast, bacteria, or a sexually transmitted infection. It is important to screen for sexually transmitted infections while TTC or during pregnancy if you have a change in partner.

Some of the symptoms you might want to run by your ob-gyn or midwife are itching, a change in odor, spotting or irregular bleeding, pain with intercourse, redness or obvious sores, or a yellow-greenish discharge.

Learning To Live With Pregnancy Discharge

There is not really anything you can do to stop pregnancy discharge. It can be helpful to remind yourself that your discharge shows that your hormone levels are at normal, healthy levels. Just because you have more discharge does not mean anything is wrong.

Some women choose to wear pantyliners during pregnancy, but these can actually trap more moisture close to the outside of your vagina (vulva). This moisture can be irritating and put you at risk for infections. Avoid using scented pantyliners to reduce the chance of irritating your sensitive vulvar skin. You should not use tampons during pregnancy. You should also stay away from any vaginal hygiene products and do not douche during pregnancy. The increased amount of discharge does not mean that you are dirty or need to clean your vulvar area any differently. You can keep your genital area healthy and happy by wiping front to back, changing out of wet bathing suits or exercise clothing right away, and steering clear of scented toilet paper, soaps, and bubble baths.

Wearing cotton underwear and changing them during the day if they become damp can help you feel comfortable. Some women also choose to sleep without underwear at night to give their vulvas a breath of fresh air, especially if you tend to get sweaty at night while pregnant.

Early Pregnancy Discharge Can’t Always Solve Your Pregnancy Mystery

Because many different factors can cause changes in your vaginal discharge, it is not the most helpful clue for decoding whether or not you are pregnant. You are better off waiting until when you expect your period and then taking a urine pregnancy test.

Tracking your vaginal discharge, combined with your basal body temperature, can help you time your TTC efforts. It should not be used alone as a reliable method of birth control, however. That does not mean you should ignore your discharge altogether, however. Your vaginal discharge can provide important information about your vaginal and vulvar health, as well as your menstrual cycle and fertile window.

Amy Harris
Amy Harris is a certified nurse-midwife with a Master's Degree in Maternal and Child Health from Harvard Chan School of Public Health. Her passions are health literacy and women's reproductive health. A recent two-year sabbatical with her family in Spain was the impetus for becoming a freelance women's health writer. An exercise nut, she is happiest outdoors and on adventures abroad.

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