Vaginal discharge (or fluid) is perhaps less talked about than periods, but it can surprise or even worry you if you are not prepared. Before your periods start you may notice a colourless or white fluid coming from your vagina (the opening between your legs). You may also notice the dried discharge in your pants at the end of the day. This is normal; the fluid is your body’s way of keeping the vagina healthy and free from infection.
Vaginal discharge is normally a sign that your periods are on their way, so you might want to start preparing yourself. Once your periods start, your vaginal discharge will change between periods – it may be colourless, white or pale yellow and may vary in thickness. All of these changes are quite normal, and you do not need to do anything about it.
To keep your vagina healthy:
- wear cotton pants that allow air to circulate
- wipe from front to back after using the toilet
- avoid heavily scented bath or shower gels and soaps
- wash with a plain, unscented soap or a soap alternative (aqueous cream) and water once a day (in the shower or bath) to keep the area clean.
You need to see a doctor or nurse practitioner if:
- your discharge gets smelly, feels itchy, looks very yellow, or even looks lumpy (a bit like cottage cheese). This might be an infection called thrush, which can also make your vagina feel quite sore and red, with maybe a little bit of swelling. You can buy over-the-counter medication to treat this but you should speak to your pharmacist or GP first if you suspect you have thrush. Your GP may prescribe medication.
- you have a grey-green discharge, which smells quite fishy. This could be bacterial vaginosis which occurs when the natural pH levels in the vagina have been altered. Your natural immune system usually clears this up but sometimes you may need a short course of antibiotics. See your GP if the symptoms last for more than a few days.
Do not confuse thrush and bacterial vaginosis with sexually transmitted infections (STI); they are not. You are only at risk of catching STIs if you are sexually active. Find out more here.
Do not feel embarrassed about seeing a doctor or nurse if you are worried about your vaginal health – they are used to dealing with this sort of issue.