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Dr David Nunns, Consultant Gynaecologist
Vaginal discharge is generally clear in colour for the majority of the month, but can become thick, white discharge at various points, caused by a number of different factors.
This is simply a way of our body letting us know what is going on, and sometimes the changed discharge can even turn out to be quite useful!
Thick discharge from the vagina is nothing to worry about on its own, and is merely the body going through one of several periods in its cycle.
The only time it might be cause for concern is if it becomes thick and clumpy, or if it is combined with another symptom such as a strong fishy smell, or a strange colour. If it is a healthy white, clear, or creamy colour, has a mild smell, and you otherwise feel well, there is nothing to be concerned about.
As you go through your menstrual cycle, different hormones dominate at different times to match up with what your body is up to, and these hormones influence the colour and texture.
At the start of your cycle, when you get a hit of oestrogen in preparation for the release of an egg, then once again, after ovulation, you may find you have thick, white discharge, this time thanks to an increase of progesterone in the blood stream.
Thick discharge before your period is completely normal. It happens for a few days at the end of your last cycle and at the beginning of the next, thanks to that trusty hormone, oestrogen.
Not to be underestimated, oestrogen is a powerful hormone, responsible for much of what goes on in the female body. From breast growth to skin quality, to periods, it has a big say in women’s lives.
At the start of a monthly cycle, around 30 follicles in the ovaries start to produce oestrogen. When these are at their highest level, a follicle will release an egg – known as ovulation. At the same time, discharge generally becomes thicker and whiter in colour, allowing you to see where you are at in your cycle.
Every single month once an egg is released, the body does what it can to prepare for a potential pregnancy. The first step in this (once the egg is in the fallopian tube) is to help the sperm actually meet the egg, and that is where the thick discharge comes in.
While you are ovulating, discharge becomes a sticky and stretchy, mucous-like substance, often described as being similar in appearance to an egg white. It is generally clear in colour, but varies from person to person, and for some people may be more of a creamy white at times.
Ovulating means that your body has released an egg, which is then waiting, ready to be fertilised. The stickiness in the discharge is the body’s way of helping out any sperm that is trying to make its way up the vagina and into the uterus to reach the egg. Clever stuff, eh?!
Progesterone tends to make your discharge turn white, milky, or cloudy. It peaks twice during your menstrual cycle: just before your period, when the discharge is full of cells that are being cleared out of your vagina. This kind of discharge can be reasonably heavy in amount, and is called leucorrhoea.
The other time you could spot thick cloudy discharge with an almost sticky feel might be a few days after your period (around day 7 or 8, if you have a 28-day cycle). This is when the egg is developing, but oestrogen soon takes over, changing the texture of your discharge.
Lots of clear discharge, particularly if it appears shortly after you were due to ovulate, can be a sign that you have succeeded in getting pregnant. It is often quite watery, and you may want to use an Always Dailies Panty Liner to get you through the day at this stage.
Of course, do not take this as a guarantee that you are pregnant – it is just one of many potential signals your body may give you, and you will need to take a proper pregnancy test.
If you begin taking a new contraceptive pill, you may notice an increase in your discharge, while your body adapts to the change in hormones, so lots of clear discharge may be down to that. This should only be temporary though, and will settle down again.
One type of change to keep an eye out for is if your discharge becomes white and clumpy, and almost looks like cottage cheese. This change in appearance may also be accompanied by pain, itchiness, or a horrible smell.
This is generally a sign that all is not right with the world down below, and you may be carrying an infection, or an STI. Another cause may be stress, as it is believed this can cause a hormonal imbalance, which in turn impacts on discharge.
At this stage, our advice is always to get it checked out by a doctor or other medical practitioner.
The most common, healthy, discharge that your body will produce for the majority of the month is white or clear discharge that fluctuates in amount and texture. That aspect can vary depending on where you are within your cycle, as well as any external lifestyle influences (for instance, when you are sexually aroused or after exercise).
Generally, clear white discharge can leave unsightly stains on your underwear, so it might be a good idea to wear a panty liner. You can choose from a whole range of Always Dailies Panty Liners, with different sizes and absorbency levels. Wear one throughout the day to get some relief and feel fresher – without anyone even knowing it is there.
If you are prone to discharge intensifying when you’re active, wear one during exercise. You will prevent any uncomfortable stains or leaks, and thanks to its thin and discreet design, it will remain well out of sight even under tight gym clothing. Because Always panty liners are dermatologically tested, they are safe to wear daily.
On its own, the answer is generally no: you can relax, everything is hunky dory. The only times you may want to investigate further are if you are experiencing any other symptoms that are concerning you, alongside your clear discharge. These can include: