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7 Vaginal discharge colors explained

Have you ever wondered about the different types of vaginal discharge? From cervical mucus to menstrual blood, there’s plenty going on down there every cycle. There are many normal discharge types, as well as some fluids that can be a cause for concern. We’re here to help you understand what the color of your discharge may mean with our very own guide to vaginal discharge! Read on to find out more…

This article is also available in Spanish

What is vaginal discharge?

This is a type of fluid or mucus that flows out of the vagina. It has an important role in protecting the vagina and keeping it clean (that’s right the vagina is self-cleaning). There are many types of vaginal discharge and while it’s perfectly normal to experience different discharge at different types of the cycle, it’s important to look out for any changes.

Identifying patterns in our cycles helps us get to know our bodies better, and is a great way to stay on top of our reproductive health. Now.. let’s take a look at some different types of vaginal discharge!

1. White or clear discharge

Experiencing white discharge or clear discharge is very normal. It’s common for us to see cervical mucus in our underwear at various points in the cycle. This mucus is most abundant in the days immediately before ovulation, and it can change color and consistency from creamy to watery discharge. Read our cervical mucus guide to find out more! As well as indicating fertility, clear fluid around the vagina can act as a healthy lubrication if it’s a sign of sexual arousal.

White discharge can also be a symptom of an infection, particularly when it’s thick and clumpy. This can be a sign of a yeast infection such as candida or thrush. While uncomfortable, this is usually easily treated with medication you can get from your doctor, sexual health clinic or pharmacist.

2. Gray vaginal discharge

If your discharge takes on a grayer tinge, it might be a sign something isn’t quite right. Gray discharge is a symptom of bacterial vaginosis (BV). This is a bacterial imbalance that can be treated with a course of antibiotics. Other symptoms include a strong odor (particularly after sex), and a burning sensation when you pee.

If you notice any change in your discharge or experience any other unusual symptoms alongside unexplained vaginal discharge, we recommend you talk to a healthcare professional to find out more.

3. Red discharge

This is a very normal kind of vaginal discharge and is most commonly associated with menstruation. Menstrual blood can vary in amount and consistency from person to person with some of us experiencing a light, bright red bleed and some having heavier dark red bleed with period clotting

Besides menstruation, there are a number of other things that can cause red discharge, including withdrawal bleeding (the bleed you get after you stop taking hormonal birth control or are in-between pill packets), spotting (vaginal bleeding between periods). As well as being a healthy discharge, it can also be a sign of something more serious such as a cervical infection. 

This type of discharge can also be a sign of miscarriage. Keep in mind that not all early pregnancy bleeding leads to pregnancy loss, but it’s a good idea to get to know the signs and talk to your healthcare provider, if you have any concerns or experience any unexplained bleeding.

4. Brown vaginal discharge

As blood gets older it turns from red to brown - this can cause a darker vaginal discharge than the bright red blood we might be used to on our periods. Brown discharge is usually nothing to worry about and may just be due to a late period or spotting caused by hormonal contraceptives.

In late pregnancy, you may experience what’s known as a show or a bloody show. This is another type of normal vaginal discharge. A blood-tinged mucus plug that blocks the cervix during pregnancy, it may come out in one go or in several pieces. This brown or pink vaginal discharge is a sign your body is getting ready to give birth but it can happen several days before you actually go into labor!

5. Pink vaginal discharge 

While discharge that’s rusty brown signifies blood that’s a bit older, pink vaginal discharge can happen when bleeding is light and fresh such as at the beginning of your period, or if you experience spotting around ovulation. You may also get pink discharge after sex if there’s irritation to the cervix or the vagina. 

For those planning a pregnancy, it’s worth knowing that implantation bleeding can also appear pinkish in color. This is one of the earliest signs of pregnancy, as implantation bleeding usually occurs eight or nine days after ovulation. Implantation bleeding isn’t all that common, but it can explain pink vaginal discharge that’s not a period.

6. Green vaginal discharge

Keep an eye out for discharge that’s greenish as this can be a sign of an infection. If you notice there’s more vaginal discharge than usual, or that it has a different odor, this can also indicate something may not be quite right. 

There are several sexually transmitted infections (STIs) that can cause green discharge, including gonorrhea, chlamydia or trichomoniasis. This type of discharge can also be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Your doctor will be able to ask questions and do tests that can confirm the cause of green discharge.

7. Yellow vaginal discharge

This type of discharge is often harmless and may just be caused by blood mixing with cervical mucus. You may notice it before you get your period or if your menstrual cycle is shorter than usual. You may experience a brighter yellow or light yellow discharge.

In some cases, this color of discharge can also be a sign of other conditions such as pelvic inflammatory disease or can be caused by an allergic reaction. Look out for other symptoms such as pelvic pain or discomfort during sex. If your yellow vaginal discharge has a greenish tint, keep in mind that it may also be caused by an STI or another type of infection.

Why does my vagina smell?

It’s normal for your vagina to have a smell, this is because it contains a natural level of bacteria that’s there to keep your vagina’s pH levels balanced and healthy. The smell of a vagina can vary from person to person and you may also notice that the smell of your vagina changes at different points in the menstrual cycle. None of this is cause for concern. However, if you notice a sudden change in smell or a strong odor, it might be a sign that something isn’t quite right. 

Discharge with a strong, fishy odor can be a sign of BV or a sexually transmitted infection, whereas if you notice a foul odor when you urinate it could be caused by a UTI. A sweeter odor can be caused by a yeast infection such as thrush. Talk to your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about any changes in vaginal discharge smell or abnormal vaginal discharge along with any other symptoms you’ve noticed.

If you forget to remove a tampon you may experience some smelly vaginal discharge, as well as other symptoms such as pelvic pain and a high temperature. If this happens it’s important to contact your healthcare professional - do not try to remove the tampon yourself. 

Tampons should be changed regularly (usually every four to eight hours), but always check the instructions on the pack. Using tampons longer than directed puts you at risk of toxic shock syndrome (TTS), which is a very rare but serious condition. 

It’s important to remember that a light but distinct smell is normal when it comes to your vagina and vulva. Whether you choose to use any products to keep your vagina ‘clean’ is up to you, but keep please in mind that your vagina is not dirty, and using even mild soap or douching can upset the natural pH balance and cause infections. In the end, these may actually make the smell of your vagina stronger.

Why don’t I have discharge anymore?

There are several things that can lead to a lack of discharge. Vaginal dryness can be more common at certain life phases, such as during menopause or if we’re breastfeeding or were recently pregnant. Taking hormonal contraception can also reduce or stop vaginal discharge (including menstrual blood), and some other types of medications can do this too.

Vaginal dryness can be uncomfortable and may lead to pain during sex. You might want to try using a water-based lubricant before penetrative intercourse and avoid using perfumed soaps and washes in or near the vagina.

Get to know your body better

Thanks for reading up on vaginal discharge. Every body is different, and when it comes to our menstrual cycles we’re also all unique. At Natural Cycles we know that learning about our bodies can be a powerful journey. That’s why our app is designed so you can track and follow changes throughout your cycle - you can even track discharge changes and consistency - so you can learn all about your unique cycle and take control of your fertility.

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Written By

Jennifer Gray

Jennifer Gray is an award-winning writer with more than five years’ experience covering reproductive topics ranging from birth control to planning pregnancy. She is passionate about providing women with accurate information grounded in science they can use to take charge of their own health - while also dispelling myths that exist within the field of women’s health. She holds a Master of Science from the University of Edinburgh and currently lives in Ireland.

Jack in a suit and tie holding a microphone and giving a presentation.

Scientifically Reviewed

Jack Pearson

Dr. Jack Pearson is a previously HCPC registered Embryologist with a PhD in reproductive medicine. Prior to joining Natural Cycles leading Medical Affairs, he worked for more than 10 years in a clinical setting working at some of the busiest fertility clinics in the UK. Today he spends most of his time working with experts at the world’s leading institutions to carry out important research with the vision to further the field of female health. He earned his PhD from the University of Sheffield specializing in Sperm Metabolism and currently lives in London.

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