Everything you need to know about vaginal discharge

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  • ...like that discharge is full of healthy bacteria

    You might already know about the bad kind of vaginal discharge (think thrush and bacterial vaginosis) but how about the other every day stuff? Yeah, we’re talking about the normal stuff you find in your pants at the end of the day. It’s not something to be grossed out by because it really is normal – and most of the time, it’s a sign your vagina is doing its job!

    And, just FYI, all vaginas have an odour so don’t feel too paranoid about yours. But obviously sometimes this can be stronger than others, depending on monthly hormonal changes or how much you’re sweating.

    Your vagina is a self-cleaning organ so actually keeping it too clean can disrupt the natural pH balance that keeps you infection-free. And, discharge is there to help clean – and lubricate – your vagina.

    It should normally be clear or white and be pretty much odourless, or at least, not smell unpleasant.

    If your discharge is coloured or has a strange smell, or if you’re feeling sore down there (or itchy), then you may have an infection. Everything else? Pretty damn normal.

    Normal vaginal discharge

    So, where does it come from? It’s basically mucus produced from your cervix (which is the lower part of your womb that leads to your vagina) and it does this to keep you lubricated and safe from infection.

    What is vaginal discharge?

    Vaginal discharge is a clear liquid secreted by the glands on the wall of your cervix, which, on its way out of your body, mixes with old cells and bacteria. Once outside of your body, it may dry white or slightly yellow in colour.

    It can be odourless or have a slight, non-unpleasant smell, and may change consistency with your menstrual cycle.

    Vaginal discharge before your period

    This is when you will often have the most discharge because of the hormone changes in your body.

    Vaginal discharge in pregnancy

    And almost all women experience having more vaginal discharge during pregnancy. It happens because the neck of your womb (your cervix) is getting softer, along with your vaginal walls, so you produce more discharge to make sure no infections can travel into the womb. (It’s quite clever when you think about it.)

    Vaginal discharge according to the experts

    And, we spoke to Helen Knox, Clinical Nurse Specialist in Contraception and Sexual Health, about what exactly it’s all about…

    ‘The vagina is a clever, self-cleansing passage and is a relatively acidic environment which keeps itself healthy in normal circumstances. It does this by producing different types of secretions, with women experiencing a normal cycle of vaginal discharge following the same pattern, menstrual cycle after menstrual cycle.

    A cycle starts with the first day of a period. Periods generally last for 4-5 days, after which there’s a slight dryness, followed by an increasing amount of vaginal discharge. This is usually white in colour, before changing to a clear, stretchy consistency. This is ‘fertile mucus’ (or ‘Spinnbarkeit’), and it is made within the crypts inside the cervical canal (neck of the womb).

    It is impossible to get pregnant without this clear stretchy mucus. Sperm wiggle their way in to it after ejaculation and they can live off it for up to seven days, waiting for ovulation (egg release) to happen. It gives them an access route to travel through the cervix in to the body of the uterus and off on their journey up to the fallopian tubes, in their hunt for an egg to fertilise.

    After ovulation the cervical mucus changes from clear and stretchy in to a dryer, thicker white or creamy type of mucus, through which sperm can’t swim. If fertilisation occurs, this thick mucus remains. If no fertilisation occurs, a period is triggered, the lining of the womb sheds away and the whole cycle starts over again a few days later and the first day of the next period, is the first day of the next menstrual cycle.

    Some women notice more moisture than others, depending on their ages, fertility, and other factors. It’s important not to upset the normal changes and healthy bacterial balance within the vaginal environment, Using products like bubble bath, scented soap, or douches, wearing thongs or tight clothing, or having unprotected sex, can disrupt the healthy bacterial balance, and the usual vaginal discharge can change. Sometimes it may itch and give you the cottage cheese like discharge associated with thrush (Candidiasis), or smell a bit unusual, too.

    If it smells (in a way that’s often described as ‘fishy’), you may have developed bacterial vaginosis, or ‘BV’ for short. BV is a vaginal imbalance, and because of the symptoms, women often wash excessively to try and get rid of them, especially after sex when the symptom may be more noticeable.

    But the more they wash, the worse it gets. There is a sexually transmitted infection called Trichomonias Vaginalis, or Trichomoniasis (TV for short), which presents in a similar way though, so it’s important to see a healthcare practitioner for tests before self-treating, just to be sure there’s nothing that needs antibiotic treatment to clear, and to make sure that your sexual partner doesn’t also require treatment. One such product that won’t do you any harm whilst waiting to get screened is Balance Active. This is a lactic acid gel that helps to rebalance the healthy bacterial conditions within the vagina, and gently treat the symptoms of BV by restoring normal pH and vaginal flora. For more information, check balanceactiv.com.’

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