Changes in your vaginal discharge during early pregnancy is the result of the normal hormonal pattern and progress of pregnancy. Abnormal changes can be signs of vaginal, cervical or uterine infections or an abnormal pregnancy. Look for additional symptoms and signs as well that are noticeable early signs of pregnancy.
Normal Changes in Pregnancy
Cervical discharge increases at ovulation, at fertilization of the egg, at implantation, and later during pregnancy because of normal hormonal changes. An increase in the production and secretion of ovarian hormones is the normal course after ovulation and pregnancy. This progression of events affects the uterine lining and the cervical secretions you see as a vaginal discharge.
At the time of ovulation the level of estrogen produced by the ovary is high. This increases the mucus secretion from the glands lining the canal of the cervix (endocervical glands). Progesterone hormone increases right after ovulation to prepare the uterine lining for a pregnancy.
If the egg gets fertilized, the ovary continues to secrete more estrogen and progesterone. The progesterone causes the increased estrogen mucus to get thicker.
During the two weeks before your first missed period you may notice this thicker mucus as a heavier, tacky or gummy discharge. This discharge is a remnant of what will become the mucus plug in the cervix for the rest of the pregnancy.
Leukorrhea is an increased thin, milky white or creamy, usually odorless discharge from the cervix and is common in early pregnancy. It is caused by the ectropion and exposure of the endocervical glands of the cervix to the vaginal environment. This causes them to produce more mucous secretions which contains more white blood cells.
Sometimes the leukorrhea can be heavy and cause vaginal or vulvar itching. The exposed cervix can become inflamed (cervicitis) and produce more mucus.
Some women may be concerned that the thickened discharge in early pregnancy looks like fetal tissue. Before five weeks if you have an abnormal pregnancy it would be highly unlikely to see any white fetal tissue passed. There is not enough fetal tissue to be visible so what you see is most likely mucus from your cervix.
If you think you are further along in your pregnancy and you notice white tissue and you start bleeding or have pain, consult your doctor to make sure you don't have an abnormal pregnancy.
Stringy Red Blood Discharge
Stringy red blood discharge in pregnancy is the heavier mucus discharge mixed with blood. The normal events of pregnancy such as implantation of the embryo in the uterus or the normal changes in the cervix can cause this bleeding. This stringy, bloody discharge could also come from an abnormal pregnancy or a cervical infection,
At about three days after ovulation, the early embryo (blastocyst stage) begins to implant in the lining of the uterus. Some women may notice some small amount of stringy, red, or brownish, or pinkish mucus discharge shortly after.
This discharge is usually a sign of "implantation bleeding" as the inner lining of the uterus responds to implantation of the early embryo. The blood-tinged mucous normally lasts a few days but can continue up to the time you expect your next period. Consult your doctor if it continues longer.
The increase in estrogen during pregnancy causes some of the glands lining the inner canal (endocervix) near the end of the cervix to turn inside out (ectropion) to become visible in the vagina. The glands lining the inner cervix have a lot of blood vessels which bleed easily when they are exposed in the vagina.
You may notice more of this bloody stringy discharge after intercourse if this is the cause. The exposed glands can become inflamed (cervicitis) and bleed even more easily.
Abnormal discharge in early pregnancy can be caused by an infection in the vagina such as yeast, or in the cervix, such as a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which can also ascend to the uterine cavity. It can also be from an abnormal pregnancy which includes a chemical pregnancy, an early miscarriage or an ectopic pregnancy. Pay attention for the following signs:
- The mucus discharge looks like pus
- The discharge begins to get heavier
- You smell an odor
- You have a fever
- You have vaginal or vulvar itching
- Your partner complains of symptoms of an infection
- You have abdominal pain or cramps
- The stringy red blood discharge lasts more than two weeks beyond mid-cycle or becomes bright red blood or gets heavier
- White flecks that look like fetal tissue if you are five weeks pregnant or more
What Not to Do
If you know or think you are pregnant and an increase in your discharge concerns you, do not:
- Douche or put a finger in your vagina; this could cause a vaginal infection or interfere with your pregnancy
- Use tampons, which could introduce bacteria in your vagina
- Use vaginal creams or suppositories
- Take over-the-counter (OTCs) or herbal medicines before consulting your doctor
- Have intercourse before seeing your doctor
Consult Your Doctor
Heavier discharge is common and normal in early pregnancy. To decrease your anxiety about the changes you will see, learn to recognize the signs of what is normal or abnormal.
Don't hesitate to consult your doctor if you have any cause for concern about an abnormal pregnancy or infection, especially if you have a history of STIs or early pregnancy losses.