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Dr David Nunns, Consultant Gynaecologist
Vaginal discharge. Did you cringe a little as soon as you read that?
Most people do still feel uncomfortable thinking or talking about discharge, despite the fact that all women experience it, whether it makes an occasional light appearance, or rears its head on a daily basis!
That being said – how are you supposed to know if you have abnormal discharge if you don’t know what ‘normal’ is in the first place?!
Like so many other things that our bodies go through, if you don’t talk about it and share information, it can feel like something you are going through alone, that no one else in this world is experiencing but you. It becomes a taboo topic, and your brain fills in the gaps when you have questions, and inevitably imagines the worst.
Now, let’s break the silence and talk about what ‘normal’ is, so you can stop wondering once and for all.
‘Normal’ discharge will be very different for different women. As with so many bodily changes and functions that the female body goes through, the experience is unique to everyone. Just as there is no ‘normal’ when it comes to boobs and their growth rate / size / shape / etc., no two girls have the exact same experience of discharge either.
But while normal discharge will be unique to everyone, there is a spectrum that it should fit within, if it is to be deemed healthy and hygienic. To give you an idea, here are some common questions about normal discharge, with a quick guide to when you can relax, and when you should consider seeing a doctor to get checked out.
Absolutely normal. In fact, it would be abnormal not to have it! Discharge is the body’s way of keeping the vagina clean and clear of infection by washing away dead cells and bacteria. It also serves other purposes such as aiding in sex and helping the sperm out during reproduction.
Perfectly normal. Some women have a little from time to time, others will experience it every day. It depends a lot on where you are within your menstrual cycle, as well as your hormone levels.
Wearing an Always Dailies Panty Liner is a good idea if your flow is at the heavier end of the spectrum, to keep you feeling dry and comfortable.
The amount of discharge you see in your underwear varies from person to person. Some may only notice the occasional spot, others may find it is a daily occurrence. The general rule of thumb, though, is that four millilitres a day should be the max that leaks out.
If you are unsure what that looks like, have a google, as there are internet videos that will give you a rough idea. Be aware that the amount will increase if you are ovulating, sexually aroused, pregnant, or breastfeeding.
Again, if you are aware that your discharge is heavier at certain times, wear an Always panty liner to get you through those days, or pop a liner in your handbag so you have one to hand at all times.
Colour can vary throughout the month and from person to person, but generally clear or white are the most common, healthy colours.
Creamy yellow, and spots of red ‘may’ also be ok, but do look at other symptoms to check that there is no potential problem behind it.
Pink or brown can be perfectly fine, particularly just before or after your period, thanks to spots of blood appearing in your discharge, but if it continues long term it is worth checking with your doctor that there are no other underlying causes for it.
On-going bright yellow, green or pink discharge, however, might be a sign that things aren’t so great. Take these colours as a sign that you potentially have an infection and should see a doctor to find the cause.
Depending on where you are in your cycle, you may find that your discharge can be quite thick and creamy at points, watery at others, and even take on a jelly-like egg-white consistency around the time you are ovulating.
The one time the texture is an inevitable sign of abnormal discharge is if it is lumpy, a bit like cottage cheese. If this is the case, you should book a doctor’s appointment.
The most important thing to remember, though, is that everyone has a different ‘normal’ and the best thing you can do is find out your version of that.
Discharge smell can vary from person to person but is usually inoffensive and mild. If it is a stronger, foul smell, that can be a sign of unusual discharge. Fishy or yeast-like are the two most likely odours to suggest you may need to nip down to the doctors or sexual health clinic.
The ultimate point to take on board when asking yourself ‘what is abnormal discharge’, though, is how does it compare to your own healthy discharge.
If you are not certain what that is, keep a diary of changes in your discharge colour and texture over a couple of cycles. Pay attention to how long each phase lasts and whether there are any other symptoms like an unusual smell or itching in the area. Wearing an Always Dailies Panty Liner might be useful, as its white backdrop might help you notice discharge changes more easily.
Noticing any changes or complications on that front is the best way to spot when there is anything abnormal on the horizon.