Vaginal discharge

Vaginal discharge is normal and helps keep your vagina moist and healthy.

Key points

  1. Vaginal discharge is fluid or mucus that keeps your vagina clean and moist, and protects it from infection.
  2. It is normally white or clear and has minimal smell.
  3. It can vary in thickness and amount over your menstrual cycle, becoming clear and slippery near ovulation and thicker and tacky after ovulation.
  4. If your discharge changes – eg, in smell, colour or texture – it might be a sign of an infection.
  5. During pregnancy, vaginal discharge is thicker and white-cream colour.

Is my vaginal discharge normal? 

Normal vaginal discharge is clear or white. It has a slight but not unpleasant smell.

For most women discharge:

  • becomes more obvious near ovulation, when it is clear, slippery and stretchy (similar to raw egg white) for 1 to 4 days
  • becomes thicker and tacky after ovulation
  • is not noticeable once menstruation begins
  • is light after menstruation, and then as ovulation approaches, the amount increases again.

During pregnancy, vaginal discharge is thicker and white-cream in colour.

When can vaginal discharge be a sign of an infection?

If your discharge changes – eg, in smell, colour or texture – it might be a sign of an infection.

Symptom

 Possible cause

Smells fishy

Bacterial vaginosis

Thick and white, like cottage cheese with itching skin, irritation and pain with sex

Thrush

Green, yellow or frothy with itching, skin irritation and pain or bleeding with sex

Trichomoniasis

Often no discharge but can have pelvic pain or bleeding

Chlamydia or gonorrhoea

Generally, no discharge but can get blisters or sores

Genital herpes

Note: This is not an exhaustive list of causes of vaginal discharge.

When should I see a doctor about vaginal discharge?

See your GP if:

  • your discharge changes colour, smell or texture
  • you produce more discharge than usual
  • you feel itchy or sore
  • you bleed between periods or after sex
  • you get pain when peeing or with sex
  • you get pain in your lower belly (pelvic pain)
  • you have redness, pain, or swelling around the vulva (the area of skin around the outside of your vagina)
  • you are feeling unwell with a fever.


Image: Family Planning, NZ

Family Planning and sexual health clinics can also help with abnormal vaginal discharge

Family Planning and sexual health clinics have doctors and nurses who can treat problems with your genitals and urine system.

Most clinics offer a walk-in service, where you don't need an appointment. You may need to wait for a while.

Find a clinic near me:

Family Planning clinic 
Sexual health clinic

How can I keep my vagina healthy?

To help prevent irritation, soreness, or dryness:

Do:

  • wash your vulva (the area of skin around the outside of the vagina) gently every day – is easily cleaned by running water over it in the shower
  • use water only to clean your vulva – avoid soaps and other 'hygiene' products
  • wipe from front to back after a bowel motion and urination (peeing)
  • pat your vulva dry rather than rubbing it after a shower or bath
  • change your tampons/pads regularly when menstruating
  • use a pH neutral water-based product, if a lubricant is needed for sex.

Don’t:

  • do not use soaps, gels, scented bath products, or bubble baths
  • do not use deodorants or scented hygiene wipes (ie, 'baby wipes')
  • do not douche (wash the inside of your vagina)
  • do not use scented panty liners and avoid using panty liners when you do not have your period
  • do not use spermicides or scented lubricants
  • do not waste your money on unproven products marketed to improve vaginal health, like probiotics
  • do not use antiseptics.

Learn more

Vaginal discharge Family Planning, NZ
Your body – do all genitals look the same? Family Planning, NZ

Reference

Vulvovaginal health in premenopausal women BPAC, NZ, 2011

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team . Reviewed By: Jeremy Steinberg, GP Registrar, RNZCGP Last reviewed: 29 Aug 2019