Changes in your vaginal discharge during early pregnancy are 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 changes in your hormones. An increase in the production 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.
Clear Discharge (Ovulation)
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.
Jelly-Like Pregnancy Discharge
A jelly-like white discharge shows the normal effects of increased estrogen on the glands of the cervix. A big increase in production of cervical mucus appears as a gelatinous vaginal discharge. This can start soon after fertilization of the egg after ovulation and increase as estrogen levels rise further.
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.
White Discharge During Early Pregnancy (Leukorrhea)
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 (eversion) and exposure of the endocervical glands of the cervix to the vaginal environment. This causes them to produce more mucous secretions, which contain 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, 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, 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 mucus 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 of the cervix (endocervix) to turn inside out (the 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 by a sexually transmitted infection (STI), which can also get into the uterine cavity. It can also be from an abnormal pregnancy, which includes a chemical pregnancy, an early miscarriage, or an ectopic pregnancy.
A yellow vaginal discharge can be a sign of cervical infection or inflammation or a vaginal infection. The yellow color means there are white blood cells and other inflammatory cells in the discharge. This discharge is present in two infections:
- An STI infection: A thick yellow vaginal discharge that looks like pus is usually caused by a cervical sexually transmitted infection, such as chlamydia or gonorrhea. These STIs can cause pelvic and abdominal pain and fever. It is important to treat an infection immediately to prevent uterine infection and miscarriage or fetal birth defects.
- Bacterial vaginosis: A thin yellowish or grayish discharge with a fishy odor is present with bacterial vaginosis (BV). Vaginal itching and burning are common symptoms. Other facts about BV include:
- It is caused is caused by an overgrowth of adverse bacteria that secrete substances that smell like fish.
- The infection happens when the normal, healthy balance of the vagina changes and cause a decrease in the level of the good bacteria, lactobacillus. A change in hormones and diet or douching can cause this.
- BV can cause preterm delivery and low birth weight babies later in pregnancy. The infection can be treated with antibiotics.
Pale-Green Discharge During Pregnancy
The usual cause of a pale-green, yellowish-green, or gray, frothy discharge is a vaginal infection by a parasite called Trichomonas. The discharge has a fishy odor, and some people also have vaginal itching, burning, and pain on urination.
Trichomonas is sexually transmitted and is sometimes present with other STIs. It does not cause adverse health effects on the mother but can cause preterm delivery later in pregnancy. The infection can recur if both partners are not treated at the same time. Your doctor can easily diagnose and treat this problem.
Brown vaginal discharge can be an early sign of pregnancy. The discharge is brown because the bleeding is light and slow. By the time you see it, the hemoglobin pigment that gives blood its red color is already absorbed. Causes include:
- The normal process of implantation of the embryo between days six to twelve after ovulation
- Bleeding from eversion of the cervix caused by increased estrogen production starting early in pregnancy
- A chemical pregnancy or other nonviable intrauterine early embryo or an ectopic pregnancy
- The onset of an early miscarriage
The brown discharge can progress to bright red blood depending of the cause.
Sweet Smelling Discharge
Like the color, the odor of vaginal discharge can help to diagnose its cause. Normal vaginal discharge has minimal or a slightly sweet smell. A stronger sweet smelling discharge indicates the overgrowth of the lactobacilli bacteria - the same bacteria in yogurt. A vaginal yeast infection can also cause a sweet smelling discharge.
In the normal vagina, lactobacilli help maintain a healthy environment and keep other organisms from overgrowing and causing an infection. When the normal balance of the vagina shifts, such as through douching, changes in diet, or an increase in hormones in or out of pregnancy, lactobacilli bacteria or yeast can overgrow. Symptoms also include vaginal itching and burning.
Rectal Discharge in Early Pregnancy
The lower intestines, including the rectum and anus, have mucus-secreting glands. The mucus is lubricating and aids the passage of food. Normally, you don't see this mucus but if you notice a mucus discharge in early or later pregnancy, the following might be the cause:
- Changes in your bowel function because of the effects of the increase in hormones during pregnancy
- Changes in your diet or use of laxatives to treat constipation
- New onset or flare up of old bowel disease, such as irritable bowel syndrome and ulcerative colitis
- If you have anal sex, you might have a sexually transmitted infection
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms so you can have the appropriate evaluation, especially if you have rectal/anal pain.
What to Do
If you have a change in your vaginal discharge, pay attention to the following signs that indicate you need to see your doctor:
- 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 appear 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.