Leukorrhea is the vaginal discharge that you’ll likely experience during pregnancy. Find out what causes it, how to cope, and when to see a health care provider.
During pregnancy, your body goes through a plethora of changes. From your growing abdomen and unique cravings to peeing more frequently, there is a lot to adjust to! But one physiological change that may catch you off guard is leukorrhea, or the mild, odorless vaginal discharge that seems to increase as your pregnancy progresses.
Most of the time, leukorrhea becomes noticeable at the start of your pregnancy, but it may increase in volume as you get closer to your due date. Typically, this type of discharge is normal and healthy, but some people may worry that it could be a sign of a vaginal infection.
If you have noticed a vaginal discharge during your pregnancy and you are wondering what it means, or if you should call a health care provider, below you will find the 411. From the cause to how to cope as it increases, here’s everything that you need to know about leukorrhea.
Leukorrhea: Quick Facts
Under normal circumstances, the glands in your vagina and cervix make small amounts of fluid known as vaginal discharge. The purpose of this discharge is to carry old cells that once lined your vagina out of your body.1
“Leukorrhea is the medical term for vaginal discharge—a clear white odorless secretion that is normal,” says Meleen Chuang, M.D., an OB-GYN, medical director of Women’s Health at NYU Langone Family Health Center, and clinical associate professor at NYU Grossman School of Medicine. “Leukorrhea is a mechanism for the vagina to clear the body of any infections and continues to create a protective barrier of the mucosa of the vaginal wall.”
While leukorrhea is common in both pregnant and non-pregnant people, the amount of leukorrhea present will vary from person to person. It also can be influenced by ovulation or by increases in estrogen—such as during pregnancy or while taking certain birth control pills, says Kristin Mallon, C.N.M., M.S., RNC-OB, a board certified nurse midwife, certified obstetrical nurse, and co-founder and CEO of FemGevity Health.
What Causes Leukorrhea?
Normal vaginal secretions, like leukorrhea, are caused by the physiological processes taking place in your vagina, says Dr. Chuang. In fact, you excrete about 1 to 4 milliliters of discharge every day during your reproductive years.2
Leukorrhea also can occur in response to the good bacteria called lactobacilli, commonly found in yogurt and probiotics, adds Dr. Chuang. “This allows for production of lactic acid, which keeps the vagina healthy and free from infections such as bacterial vaginosis.”
Hormonal changes caused by diet, sleep, sexual activity, arousal, and stress also can contribute to leukorrhea, adds Mallon. “[Leukorrhea] also can be associated with the menstrual cycle as well as rises in estrogen seen with pregnancy.”
How Does Leukorrhea Change During Pregnancy?
When you’re pregnant, you may notice that the amount of leukorrhea increases. This alteration, along with slight changes in the consistency of your vaginal discharge, may occur because of increasing pregnancy hormones and blood flow.3
“The vagina is getting ready to have the baby by increasing production of vaginal secretions to keep the area free of infections before childbirth,” says Dr. Chuang.
As your pregnancy progresses, the leukorrhea will continue to increase—particularly in the early third trimester, notes Mallon. “This, in combination with loss of the mucous plug near the end of pregnancy, can be quite significant, often leading pregnant people to wonder if they are leaking amniotic fluid.”
What Does Normal Vaginal Discharge Look Like During Pregnancy?
When pregnant, it is normal to have more vaginal discharge than usual, especially discharge that appears watery, clear, or whitish. In fact, leukorrhea is sometimes one of the earliest signs of pregnancy and it progressively increases in amount and continues throughout the three trimesters. But if you experience anything out of the ordinary—like a change in color, smell, or consistency—it is important to see a health care provider.3
“There should be no odor, itching, or burning,” adds Dr. Chaung. “Yellow, thick, clumpy, green, fishy, malodorous discharge may be more concerning for infections that need to be treated.”
How to Cope With Leukorrhea During Pregnancy
Experiencing wetness or chalky stains in your underwear due to leukorrhea can be annoying, but it is usually nothing to worry about. If you find it bothersome, you can try changing your underwear more often, wearing cotton underwear, or using a panty liner to keep the area dry.
“Increased leukorrhea is a normal phenomenon and no actions typically need to be taken,” says Dr. Chuang. “If you want to improve vaginal health, you can try yogurt, Kombucha, and probiotics.”
You also should avoid douching. Even though you may feel cleaner afterward, you are removing healthy bacteria that line your vagina, which can aid in warding off infection. That said, if a health care provider agrees, you could use a spray water bottle to rinse off after urination. Just be sure to wipe from front to back and dry the area thoroughly.4
If you are not pregnant and experiencing leukorrhea that is bothersome, Mallon suggests switching methods of birth control if possible, avoiding irritants such as perfumes and fragrances, and steering clear of synthetic underwear.
“Often, thong underwear or underwear that is too tight also can trigger discharge as it stimulates more friction in the area,” she adds. “Leukorrhea also may be due to a latex allergy and, therefore, switching to non-latex condoms or another method of birth control may work.”
When to Contact a Health Care Provider
Make sure you are aware of the signs of infection and reach out to a health care provider if you notice any of the following:4
- Have a fever
- Experience pain in your pelvis or abdomen
- Display a sudden change in the color, odor, or consistency of your discharge
- Notice itching, redness, or swelling in your genital area
- Believe your symptoms could be related to one of your medications
- Have blisters or sores on your vagina or vulva
- Experience burning with urination
- Were exposed to STIs or are concerned you may have one
While a leukorrhea is usually nothing to worry about, you should contact a health care provider if there is a change in your discharge color, consistency, or smell. “A fishy-smelling odor may be suggestive of bacterial vaginosis; clumpy white discharge may be concerning for a possible yeast infection; and yellow green mucopurulent discharge is concerning for potential sexually transmitted diseases,” notes Dr. Chuang.
Similarly, if you suspect any type of sexually transmitted disease, it’s important to contact a health care provider. “An untreated STD from chlamydia or gonorrhea may cause infertility from pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which is an ascending genital tract infection,” adds Dr. Chuang. “Likewise, PID may cause infertility from fallopian tube occlusion and may increase the risk of pregnancies in the fallopian tubes (ectopic pregnancy) which may require emergency surgery to treat with removal of the fallopian tubes.”
Keep in mind, though, leukorrhea is a typical experience and rarely a cause for concern. As long as you know what is normal for you and you keep tabs on what is happening down there, you should be fine. If you notice any changes or anything that is concerning for you, reach out to a health care provider. Otherwise, you can chalk it up to just another pregnancy change.