There are some beauty issues that we could sit around and chat about for hours, with pretty much anyone, anywhere, anytime. But then there are some things that no matter how close we are with our friends, we don’t realltalk about – like vaginal discharge. But just because it’s such a personal body issue, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t know what’s normal, as well as the common problems that can occur – it’s pretty important. So, we spoke to one of the world’s leading gynecologists and professor at the Yale University School of Medicine, Dr. Mary Jane Minkin. We asked her everything you need to know about vaginal discharge, and here’s what she told us:
What’s ‘normal’ when it comes to vaginal discharge?
Most women have a small amount of moisture: it’s usually odorless and can fluctuate during the month. During ovulation, it can increase and often you’ll have more ‘sticky’ discharge. Although, Dr. Minkin said, “if you’re soaking through your undies, that’s too much, so do check in with your doctor or gynecologist.”
What factors can change your discharge?
Other than your period, the two biggest factors that’ll change the amount of discharge you produce is pregnancy, and if you’re on any birth control. Here’s how it’ll change:
Pregnancy: According to Dr. Minkin, “Many women have a heavier discharge during pregnancy, which is usually nothing to worry about. If again you’re soaking through and needing a pad, do check in with your doctor as you could have a leak of amniotic fluid from around the baby, which needs to be examined.”
Birth Control: Dr. Minkin confirms that “Women on low dose birth control pills, do tend to be a bit drier. Because these contraceptive pills have a relatively low dose of estrogen, which is what’s responsible for moisture, but a higher amount of progestin, it tends to make women drier.”
The time of the month: Usually a few days before you get your period, you will have a slightly thicker, creamier discharge.
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How can your discharge indicate that something isn’t right?
If your discharge changes and it has a strong smell, it could be an indication that there’s an infection. Dr. Minkin explained that the most common types of vaginal infections are yeast infections, vaginal bacterial infections, and trichomonas infections. Here’s how they differ:
Yeast Infections: “Yeast infections are usually associated with a cottage cheese sort of discharge, and itching on the vulva (what we usually call vulvovaginitis). Sometimes women may think they have a yeast infection, but actually, they have a bacterial overgrowth,” Dr. Minkin says. “If your vagina is irritated it could be a result of an allergic reaction to a soap or bath oil rather than a yeast infection. Yeast infections can be treated relatively quickly with an over-the-counter antifungal pessary or tablet, like Caneston, combined with a cream.” However, if this happens repeatedly, you should talk to your doctor.
Trich Infections: Dr. Minkin notes that “Trich infections usually have a yellow-greenish discharge and are associated with a fishy smell, but they can have similar symptoms to thrush.”
Vaginal Bacterial Infections: Dr. Minkin explains that vaginal bacteria infections are “Usually a result of an imbalance of good bacteria and bad bacteria in the vagina. You’ll have a kind of frothy discharge and a bit of a fishy odor, but it won’t be as strong as with a Trich infection. It can easily be treated with antibiotics from your doctor.”
It can be difficult to self-diagnose, so it’s best to go to your gyno and get checked. Typically, any type of yellow, green, chunky or foul-smelling discharge is not normal and is a sign of an infection. This should be checked immediately by your gyno.
How to keep your vagina healthy
Dr. Minkin told us that the easiest way to keeping your vagina happy and healthy is to “Avoid irritative soaps and bath oils, so always look for fragrance-free soaps. Keep it simple and stick to a Dove Beauty Bar, $4, or a Neutrogena Hypoallergenic Cleansing Bar, $2.” Dr. Minkin also recommends “Cleansing gels that help maintain a healthy pH level, like the products from the repHresh line.” This will help increase acid levels in your vagina, which is a good thing as the healthy pH of a vagina is anywhere between 3.8 and 4.5 (well into the acidic range).
Let us know if you guys have any questions in the comments below, and don’t be afraid to ask your gyno if you feel like something isn’t right – it’s always a goods idea to get an expert opinion.