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Period 101 Part 3: Vaginal Discharge and What it Means for Your Health

period

This blog is the last installment of our series on menstrual and period 101  cycle health.

You likely have not given this much thought but vaginal discharge is a good indicator of your vaginal health and your hormonal cycle.  Vaginal discharge keep things moist to keep your vaginal tissue healthy.  Moist vaginal tissue can help prevent infection, keeps sex from being painful, and decreases your likelihood for STD’s. 

Vaginal discharge is the product of vaginal cells sloughing off and getting replaced each day.  It appears as a white or yellow mucus that is found in your underwear.  Discharge also helps to maintain vaginal pH.  If you have irritation in the vaginal canal, your discharge will also increase to protect your tissue.  Because it’s dependent on estrogen, a woman’s cervical mucus is certainly an indicator of a female vital sign.  Its presence gives an indication of how a woman’s hormones are functioning.  

How do you know what is normal and what’s not when it comes to vaginal discharge? 

Increased vaginal discharge is not always a sign of infection.  Cervical mucus is be normal and vaginal sloughing happens each month/cycle as mentioned above.  Knowing the differences between what is abnormal and what is normal can spare you unnecessary worry and medical management.  

Where does it come from?  

Cervical mucus is produced in cervical crypts.  Cervical mucus can change in color, texture, and amount, and is usually predictable in your menstrual cycle.  Cervical mucus can also be a good sign of where you are in your cycle and if you are ovulating.  

Cervical Mucus and Your Period

What happens in your cycle with cervical mucus can be observed right after your period.  These are general time frames and they can vary from person to person:

Menstruation (days 1-6 of the menstrual cycle)

Follicular Phase (days 1-13 of the menstrual cycle)

There is little discharge after your period.  Then, starting in the middle of the follicular phase (1-13 days after the first day of your period), estrogen starts to increase.  The cervical mucus can become thicker, creamy, whitish or yellowish, and not stretchy or elastic.  As you get to the end of the follicular phase, the mucus becomes thinner and cloudy and you may begin to feel a little damp in your underwear.  

Ovulation (days 14-16)

One to two days before ovulation, when estrogen is at its peak, during and right after ovulation, the mucus of the cervix is abundant, clear, slippery, wet, stretchy, and even elastic.  The secretions may also have a reddish tinge in some women but that is not always the case.  This type of cervical mucus indicates your peak fertility and the best time for conception. 

The amount is different for every woman but it’s usually more plentiful here than other times of your cycle.  After you ovulate, progesterone causes cervical mucus to get thicker and drier to create a mucus plug in the cervix. The plug acts as a physical barrier which prevents sperm from making their way in. 

Luteal Phase 

As your period approaches, your discharge may become more paste like and drier.  In this case, conception is less likely.  If you get pregnant, the discharge may continue to increase.  

Discharge and Sexual Function

Vaginal discharge changes with sexual arousal.  When sexually aroused, women produce more abundant, clear or creamy mucus that aids in lubrication during sex.  This discharge is based on sexual arousal and is not based on your cycle. How much discharge produced can vary from woman to woman but most women produce anywhere from a small amount up to 2 tablespoons a day.  

In women’s fifties and beyond, cervical mucus production naturally declines, reducing vaginal lubrication but the good news is, the more that you use it, the less you lose it.  One more reason to stay sexually active!

Signs of Dysfunction

Signs that there could be a problem include persistent watery vaginal discharge that presents through the month.  This could be a sign of cervical dysplasia or abnormal cervical cell changes.  

Other signs of a problem could be:

  • odor
  • itching
  • burning
  • irritation 
  • pain with sex
  • frequent urination   

These could indicate signs of a yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, or trichomoniasis.  If you are experiencing any of these signs, you should contact your doctor to rule out infection or more serious health conditions.  

This information is a guide to consider your vaginal health.  It’s best to take some notes and speak with your doctor about any concern that you have. 

If you are noticing signs of infection, speak to your doctor immediately but otherwise, it’s a good idea to observe your cycle over a few months to see patterns. From it, you can get some great insight into your hormone health.   Special thanks to Aviva Romm and Hormone Intelligence (2021) for this wealth of information.  

Contact us today if you have more questions regarding your cycle!

Written by Stephanie Muntzer, MPT, PYT, RYT200, CPI, SFMA, FMSc

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