Every woman has some vaginal discharge. It is completely normal and serves a good purpose. Not only does it act as a lubricant for sexual intercourse, it also acts as a protective shield to keep infections away. This is because normal vaginal discharge is slightly acidic, which germs don’t like.
The normal discharge you get is mainly a combination of dead cells and vaginal bacteria. Normal discharge will change in appearance throughout your cycle.
Typical vaginal discharge does not have an offensive smell and does not cause any irritation. It’s quite likely that you won’t even know you have any discharge until you see some in your underwear.
It is usually clear or creamy in colour. Sometimes there may be a slight yellow tint to it.
Discharge also increases during pregnancy and when you’re sexually aroused.
What’s not normal?
Unusual discharge is often a sign of infection or inflammation, such as thrush or vaginosis. The signs of an abnormal vaginal discharge are:
- if it's thick and white, like cottage cheese
- if it smells fishy
- if it's greenish and smells very bad
- if it’s pink or brown
- if it’s irritating or causes your vaginal area to itch
- if you notice any genital sores or ulcers as well
- if you start having pain in your abdomen or sex becomes painful
- if you have had unprotected sex with someone who may have a sexually transmitted infection (STI).
Discharge and your menstrual cycle
Vaginal discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle. Everyone will experience different amounts of discharge.
In the first week after your period a discharge is not usually present; although if some is visible will probably be quite thick.
In the middle of your cycle discharge is normally thin and clear around this time. It may look slightly yellow or brownish if it has been in your underwear for a length of time.
Discharge after menopause
The vagina tends to lose its moisture after the menopause. This is caused by the lower oestrogen levels. You will still produce small amounts of discharge after menopause though.
However, if you are experiencing yellow-white discharge, it is possible you have an infection. Infection after menopause is common, as the vagina doesn’t produce so much anti-bacterial mucus.
If you are concerned about your vaginal discharge please consult your doctor.
Not sure what to do next?
If you are still concerned about your vaginal discharge, why not use healthdirect’s online Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.
The Symptom Checker guides you to the next appropriate healthcare steps, whether it’s self care, talking to a health professional, going to a hospital or calling triple zero (000).
Last reviewed: October 2017