Author's opinion

Yellow Discharge During Pregnancy: Is It Normal In 2024?

Sara Chatfield, RDN

Published at 09:06

Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

Medical reviewer

Your normal vaginal discharge may increase beginning in early pregnancy and again in the later stages. Photo: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock

Pregnancy leads to many changes in your body as it works to accommodate your growing baby. These changes also affect your vagina. Your normal vaginal discharge may increase beginning in early pregnancy and again in the later stages. 

While not all changes in the color or consistency of vaginal discharge are signs of concern, some changes can indicate infection or other problems that may require treatment.

Key Takeaways

  • Vaginal discharge indicates the vagina is clean and healthy, but changes in hormone levels cause fluctuations in the amount and consistency of discharge during the menstrual cycle.
  • While yellowish vaginal discharge can be normal, changes to a darker yellow discharge or other darker color or changes in consistency may signify an infection.
  • Normal pregnancy discharge is important and doesn’t need treatment. If you’re bothered by increased vaginal discharge, you can wear an unscented panty liner. Avoid scented products and deodorants that can irritate the vagina. 

What Is Yellow Discharge During Pregnancy?

Vaginal discharge[1] starts in puberty and continues until menopause. It’s usually clear to milky white or yellowish with a mild odor. This discharge indicates the vagina is clean and healthy — removing dead cells and preventing infection. Changing hormone levels cause fluctuations in the amount and consistency of discharge during the menstrual cycle.

It’s important to note the difference between a strong odor and a bad odor. During pregnancy, the amount of vaginal discharge typically increases due to hormonal changes, which can alter its odor, as can dehydration. However, a change in the color or consistency of your discharge or an unpleasant odor may signal a problem such as infection.[2] 

Normal Discharge

An increase in clear, white, or light yellow discharge may be an early sign of pregnancy,[3] particularly if accompanied by other symptoms, like a missed period, fatigue, frequent urination, tender, swollen breasts, and nausea. 

The higher estrogen levels in pregnancy lead to increased turnover of vaginal cells, creating a pool of cell debris collectively referred to as leukorrhea.[4] This clear, milky-white or yellowish, mild-smelling discharge tends to increase further in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy.[5] 

However, with yellow discharge – pregnancy third trimester and second trimester can increase in inflammatory white blood cells due to infection can also lead to greater amounts of leukorrhea. If you have other concerning symptoms, your increased discharge may be due to infection rather than normal pregnancy-related changes. 

Causes Of Yellowish Discharge During Pregnancy

yellow discharge during pregnancy
Normal vaginal discharge continues and usually increases during pregnancy. Photo: Nitcharee/Shutterstock

The vagina has many glands that contribute natural secretions to what is called a physiologic discharge. This discharge continues and usually increases during pregnancy. 

While yellowish vaginal discharge can be normal, changes to a darker yellow discharge or other darker color or changes in consistency may signify an infection. The hormonal and anatomical changes[6] in pregnancy can alter the balance of good bacteria in your vagina, making you more susceptible to vaginal infections from bad bacteria or yeast.

Variations from your usual discharge can indicate a problem, especially when they’re accompanied by other symptoms of infection, such as vaginal itching, redness, or swelling.[7] If you’re concerned about yellow discharge during pregnancy, whether you’re in your first, second, or third trimester, you should contact your healthcare provider.

Infections

Symptoms such as vaginal pain or discomfort can indicate an infection, as can alterations from your normal vaginal discharge. If you have any signs of infection, consult with your healthcare provider for a diagnosis. Various types of infections can occur during pregnancy, requiring different treatments.

Yeast Infections

Changes in the consistency of your discharge may indicate a problem. If your discharge has a chunky or watery consistency and is white or yellowish, particularly if it’s accompanied by redness, itching, or burning in the genital area, you may have a yeast infection.[8] 

Yeast infections, also known as vulvovaginal candidiasis, are quite common and tend to happen more frequently during pregnancy. Estrogen raises the sugar in your vaginal cells, and yeast can feed on this. Additionally, the increase in estrogen levels during pregnancy can disrupt the balance[9] of beneficial bacteria in the vagina that keep yeast in check, allowing them to overgrow. Yeast infections are typically caused by the common yeast Candida albicans. 

Bacterial Infections

The higher estrogen levels in pregnancy and associated changes in beneficial bacteria can also increase your susceptibility to vaginal bacterial infections.[10] Bacterial infections can cause changes in the color, consistency, or odor of vaginal discharge. 

Yellow, yellow-green, or bright yellow discharge – early pregnancy can indicate an infection. An unpleasant smell can also be a sign of infection, as can pain or discomfort in the genital area. Remember, however, that just looking and smelling can be misleading, and the surest way of determining trouble is by examination by your healthcare provider.

Bacterial Vaginosis

This is a very common infection caused by an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina. It can cause vaginal discharge[11] that is thin and white or gray with a strong fishy odor.[12] Other symptoms include vaginal pain, itching, or burning. However, bacterial vaginosis may also be present with no symptoms at all.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Yellow vaginal discharge is a symptom of some common sexually transmitted infections, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, and trichomoniasis. Chlamydia can cause a yellowish vaginal discharge with a strong odor. Other symptoms include pain during sex and a burning sensation when urinating.[13] 

Gonorrhea can cause yellow vaginal discharge, pain during sex, and frequent or painful urination.[14]   Trichomoniasis is caused by a protozoan, a tiny parasite. Trichomoniasis, or trich, can cause thin, yellow-green, fishy-smelling vaginal discharge,[15] along with vaginal redness, soreness, itching or burning, and discomfort when urinating. 

Signs Of Bleeding

Very light bleeding or pink or brown spotting is quite common during very early pregnancy. It may signal implantation bleeding, which can happen after a fertilized egg implants in the wall of the uterus, typically about a week or two after fertilization.[16] Brown spotting during pregnancy usually indicates old blood rather than active bleeding. 

More significant bleeding in pregnancy can indicate a problem, such as ectopic pregnancy or miscarriage in the first trimester. Bleeding in the later stages of pregnancy can indicate problems with the cervix or placenta, or preterm labor.

Toward the end of your pregnancy, you may notice a small amount of blood or a sticky, pink vaginal discharge[17] from the clearance of the mucus plug protecting the cervix. The mucus plug typically falls out around the onset of labor when softening and dilation of the cervix can no longer hold it in. While the cervical glands create another mucus plug, as the cervix continues to soften and thin, it can also fall out. 

Contact your healthcare provider with any concerns about vaginal bleeding during pregnancy.

Leaking Fluid

At the end of pregnancy, often at the onset of or during, labor, your water breaks, meaning that the amniotic sac surrounding the baby in your womb breaks and causes its amniotic fluid to leak or gush from the vagina.[18] At any time other than labor at term, leaking amniotic fluid is abnormal and should be reported immediately.

Leaking urine, called urinary stress incontinence, increases in frequency as pregnancy progresses.[19] Swelling of vaginal tissue that is normal in pregnancy can alter the support under the bladder sphincter, making it less water-tight. Sometimes leaking of urine can be confused with amniotic fluid loss — it’s impossible to tell the difference by the odor and appearance of the fluid, although the loss of a large amount of amniotic fluid[20] usually is clear and slightly sweet-smelling.

Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you suspect you’re leaking amniotic fluid. Loss of amniotic fluid too early, called premature rupture of membranes, can lead to serious complications for your pregnancy.

How To Treat Yellow Discharge – Pregnant

If you have concerning changes in your discharge or other symptoms, you should see your medical provider. Photo: Vita Sun/Shutterstock

Normal pregnancy discharge is important and doesn’t need treatment. If you’re bothered by increased vaginal discharge, you can wear an unscented panty liner. Avoid scented products and deodorants[21] that can irritate the vagina. 

Avoid douching, as it washes out the vagina’s natural defenses and creates just enough moisture for yeast overgrowth. Typically those who have never douched have the fewest problems with vaginal discharge. Further, douching can lead to pregnancy complications like premature birth.[22]

If the color, consistency, or odor of your vaginal discharge changes or if you have any pain, itching, or discomfort in the genital area, seek care from a medical professional.[23] It’s crucial to treat any vaginal infections promptly during pregnancy. Left untreated, they can increase the risk of medical problems for you and your baby. 

Bacterial infections during pregnancy can increase your risk of preterm birth and having a low birth weight baby and can also lead to other complications for you and your newborn, such as infections. Yeast infections during pregnancy have also been linked with a higher risk of pregnancy complications, including preterm labor.

If you have concerning changes in your discharge or other symptoms, you should see your medical provider. They may examine the genital area and use a swab to collect vaginal fluid to determine whether you have a vaginal infection. Treatment for an infection varies depending on its cause and can include oral or topical antifungal medications for a yeast infection and antibiotics for a bacterial infection.

The Bottom Line

There are various causes of yellow discharge during pregnancy. Starting in early pregnancy, you may notice an increase in the normally clear, white, or yellowish discharge during pregnancy that indicates the vagina is clean and healthy.

It’s also typical for the amount of this healthy discharge to increase further as your pregnancy progresses. However, changes in the color, consistency, or odor of your usual vaginal discharge may indicate an infection, particularly if you also have pain or discomfort.

Any signs of vaginal infection or other concerns, such as vaginal bleeding or suspected amniotic fluid loss, should be reported to your healthcare provider promptly to ensure the best outcome for you and your baby.

I’m a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist with a Master in Public Health in Human Nutrition from the University of Michigan. I’ve worked in both clinical and public health settings, providing nutrition care to patients and clients with various health concerns. As a freelance writer, I’ve created a variety of online content on nutrition and health, including nutrition courses for health professionals. My hope is to educate and inspire others to improve health through nutrition.

Resources

MANA adheres to strict sourcing guidelines, avoids most tertiary sources, and uses only professional resources updated to contain accurate and current information. We majorly rely on peer-reviewed studies, academic research from reputable medical associations. For more information regarding our editorial process, please refer to the provided resources.

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