There's no way around it. The fact of the matter is, vaginal discharge is weird. It's like the snot, but even weirder because it's coming out of your vagina. Also, there's no sneezing involved.
And I know for a fact that every woman is convinced something about her own vaginal discharge makes her super weird. Maybe she gets too much. Maybe she doesn't get enough. Maybe hers smells fishy. Maybe hers looks like cottage cheese.
Either way, one small thing or another has the power to send any otherwise perfectly sane human being into panic mode when it comes to vaginal discharge.
But since we all essentially have no idea what to look for, I decided to go to an expert and find out once and for all how you can tell if your discharge is normal.
First, I created a survey that I sent out to all of the ladies over at Elite Daily in which they could submit all of their anonymous discharge questions. I got many different specific questions, but they could all essentially be boiled down into these three overarching questions:
- What should my discharge smell like?
- How much discharge should I be having?
- What should my discharge look like?
Next, I took these questions to Head of Medical and Regulatory Affairs at Afaxys, Dr. Cheryl Gibson, an OB-GYN with three decades of experience in the field. And I have to say, Dr. Gibson delivered with the answers.
So, without further ado, it's time to figure out once and for all if your discharge is normal.
What should it smell like?
One of Dr. Gibson's overarching points was that we should really be paying attention to any changes with our vaginas, whether it be in color, amount or scent.
You are familiar with your own vaginal scent. If you notice a change in that, Dr. Gibson explains, "That's something to pay attention to."
But what are some particular "abnormal" scents to look out for?
One abnormal smell Dr. Gibson frequently comes across is a "fishy, bad, old fish" scent that usually can signify a bacterial overgrowth or bacterial vaginosis. Another is the scent of "baking bread," which usually signifies a yeast infection.
How much should you be having?
If you get way more discharge than your best friend, Rebecca, don't be too concerned. Dr. Gibson explains the amount of discharge varies a lot from woman to woman. It is also affected by the hormones she might be taking and where she is on her menstrual cycle.
For example, post-menopausal women have very little discharge. That being said, it is normal for women on hormonal birth controls and IUDs to experience some sort of change (either an increase or a decrease) to their normal amounts of discharge.
Women who are still menstruating but not taking any sort of hormone will find that the amount of discharge will vary for them during the course of their menstrual cycles.
Again, Dr. Gibson warns us to really pay attention to any changes:
You should be concerned about a change, primarily an increased amount.
When women first start their periods, most of them have discharge almost every day. Some may have a little bit, and some may have a lot. Abnormal amounts of discharge coupled with symptoms that include itching, burning or irritation on the vulva signal some sort of imbalance. That can either be a yeast or bacterial imbalance or some other sexually transmitted infection.
What should it look like?
For the most part, vaginal discharge tends to be clear to white. There are, of course, a few exceptions here. Dr. Gibson explains that sometimes, it can have a slight yellowish tint to it. Some light brown spotting a week before your period can also be totally normal. In fact, many women on hormonal birth control and hormonal IUDs experience spotting as an effect of these hormones.
A lot of women asked me about discharge that sort of resembles cottage cheese. Dr. Gibson explained that this can be normal, but it most commonly is a sign of a yeast infection (along with symptoms of itching, burning and pain during sex).
Again, the overarching message here is really just to pay attention to what's normal for your vagina. If you notice anything abnormal with your discharge, go to the gynecologist. It's easy for your doctor to take a sample and test it for anything out of the ordinary.