Vaginal discharge is a fluid secreted from the vagina. It’s made up primarily of water, mucus, and a balance of healthy bacteria and yeast, and its job is to maintain the pH of the vagina, lubricate the vagina, and prevent infections. Vaginal discharge is perfectly normal, and it’s also normal for the amount of discharge to ebb and flow throughout the month. If you’re seeing an increase in vaginal discharge before your period or if you are noticing changes in discharge texture, you aren’t alone. It’s common for vaginal discharge to change before periods, at various points in your menstrual cycle, and during pregnancy.
Here, we’ll take a closer look at vaginal discharge before periods, including what discharge looks like before a period, what causes cervical mucus to change before a period, and when vaginal discharge changes might be a reason to visit a healthcare provider.
What does discharge look like before a period?
White discharge and clear discharge without a noticeable smell are considered normal, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). “Before menstruation, the discharge may change in texture and appearance,” says Rakhee Patel, MD, an OB-GYN with Pinewood Family Care in Jersey City, New Jersey. “Typically, the discharge can be white or creamy in color and might feel sticky to the touch.”
What happens to discharge before a period is unique to each woman. “It’s usually clear to white, with a creamy or thick texture like lotion,” says Shandra Scruggs, RN, a labor and delivery nurse and founder of Simply Birthed. “Some people notice a small to moderate amount of vaginal discharge, which might get slightly thicker as their period approaches.” It’s also normal to notice an increase in thin, white, milky, and mild-smelling discharge, Scruggs says.
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Does discharge increase before a period?
“It’s common for vaginal discharge to increase before your period,” Scruggs says. “As your body gets ready for menstruation, hormone levels change, affecting the amount and texture of vaginal discharge.”
Women secrete about 2 ml to 5 ml of vaginal discharge every day, though the amount and texture change throughout the menstrual cycle and a woman’s lifetime. Some women experience quite a bit of discharge during the luteal phase before their periods, but it will usually be less than their regular menstrual flow.
“The increase in discharge typically lasts 10 or more days and helps to lubricate the vagina in preparation for a potential pregnancy,” Scruggs says. Most women tend to experience lower levels of vaginal discharge after menopause due to decreasing estrogen levels.
What causes discharge?
As soon as women hit puberty, they begin to have vaginal discharge. Having vaginal discharge is normal and is nothing to be concerned about. Vaginal discharge keeps your vagina healthy, balanced, and clean.
“Various factors can affect discharge differences before your period, including hormonal factors, pregnancy, and hormonal birth control,” explains Michael Green, MD, an OB-GYN and co-founder of Winona. These are some of the most common causes of vaginal discharge before your period.
By far, the most common cause of vaginal discharge before your period is hormonal changes. Throughout your menstrual cycle, your hormones fluctuate. For example, at the beginning of your cycle, both estrogen and progesterone are low. Toward the middle of your cycle, as your ovaries prepare to release an egg, estrogen levels rise, along with follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone. After ovulation, both estrogen and progesterone dominate, and both drop right before your period begins.
“In the days leading up to your period, estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuate,” Dr. Green says. “These hormonal changes can stimulate the glands in the cervix to produce more mucus, leading to increased discharge.”
Estrogen causes an increase in cervical mucus that is thinner while progesterone causes an increase in thicker cervical mucus. Cervical mucus is part of vaginal discharge.
Hormonal birth control
Hormonal contraception, which includes birth control pills, injections, patches, implants, and hormonal IUDs, can have various side effects, including nausea, breast tenderness, headaches, mood changes, and spotting. Changes in vaginal discharge is a lesser-known, but common side effect of hormonal birth control, according to Dr. Patel. For example, birth control pills can “impact the consistency and volume of the discharge,” Dr. Patel says.
“Pregnancy often results in an increased volume of discharge because of more blood flow to the pelvic area and increased hormone production,” Dr. Patel says. This increased discharge lasts throughout your pregnancy and is called leukorrhea. “This type of discharge is thin, white, milky, and has a mild odor,” Dr. Patel says.
Most women don’t notice obvious changes in their vaginal discharge in very early pregnancy, such as right before a missed period. But for some women, increased discharge can be one of the early indicators of pregnancy, Dr. Patel explains. Another possible early sign of pregnancy is light spotting around the time you expect your period. This may be a sign of implantation spotting or bleeding, which occurs when your fertilized egg implants inside the uterine lining.
Abnormal causes of discharge before your period
Hormonal changes, birth control side effects, and pregnancy are all normal and common causes of vaginal discharge before your period. At times, though, infections and other health conditions may cause discharge changes before your period. These are not normal and may require a visit to your healthcare provider. Here’s what to know.
Yeast infections, known as Candida, occur because of an overgrowth of yeast or fungus in the vagina. This can cause all kinds of uncomfortable symptoms, such as itching and burning. It can also cause changes in your vaginal discharge, including before your period. “Yeast infections can cause thick, white, cottage cheese-like discharge,” Scruggs says. If you have these symptoms, it could be a sign of an infection and you should visit a healthcare provider for care.
Treatments for vaginal yeast infections include antifungal medications, such as:
- Fluconazole, an oral prescription antifungal medication
- Miconazole, Nystatin, boric acid, or, which are antifungal medications that are applied inside the vagina
A sexually transmitted infection (STI) may cause changes in your vaginal discharge before your period. STIs are caused by a number of different pathogens, including chlamydia, gonorrhea, genital herpes, mycoplasma, and trichomoniasis. STIs may cause abnormal vaginal discharge, abnormal bleeding, swelling, bumps, warts, sores, burning, itching, and pain during sex or urination
“Some STIs, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, can lead to discharge abnormalities in color, consistency, and odor compared to regular menstrual cycle-related discharge,” Scruggs says. You may also notice increased discharge and foul-smelling discharge, according to The Cleveland Clinic. If your discharge is yellow, green, extra thick, or foul-smelling, see your healthcare provider to check for STIs. Treatments for STIs depend on which STI you are diagnosed with, but options may include antibiotics and antiviral medication.
Bacterial vaginosis is the most common vaginal infection in adolescent girls and women during their reproductive years. It’s caused by the overgrowth of normal vaginal bacteria. One of its most common symptoms is changes in your vaginal discharge, which you may notice at any time during your cycle, including right before your period. “Bacterial vaginosis may result in a thin, grayish discharge with a fishy smell,” Scruggs explains.
When to see your healthcare provider
If you’ve noticed that you seem to have a lot of discharge—before your period or otherwise— you might be wondering if there’s any action you need to take. Most of the time, there’s nothing you need to do. “Having a substantial amount of discharge is quite common for many women and is often a natural and normal part of their monthly cycle,” Dr. Patel says.
Dr. Green agrees, and urges women not to compare themselves to others or what their idea of “normal” discharge is. “Discharge is unique from individual to individual, including in consistency and volume,” he says. It’s most important to recognize what’s usual for you.
At the same time, there are some vaginal discharge symptoms that may require you to visit a healthcare provider for medical advice or care. “The most telling signal to recognize a problem is a fast, drastic change, especially in smell, color, or texture of the vaginal discharge–or symptoms like pain or itching,” Dr. Green says. If your discharge is foul smelling, brown, green, or yellow, or causes pain or itching, you should see your healthcare provider.
Any of these symptoms could be an indicator of an infection or another underlying issue. “Generally speaking, any unexpected change in vaginal discharge or any symptom that causes concern should warrant a consultation with a healthcare provider,” Dr. Patel says.
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- Vulvovaginal Health, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (2022)
- Patient education: Vaginal discharge in adult women (Beyond the Basics), UpToDate (2023)
- Menstrual Cycle, Merck Manual (2022)
- What are the side effects of birth control pills?, BWell Health Promotion
- Vaginal discharge during pregnancy and associated adverse maternal and perinatal outcomes, Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences (2021)
- Implantation Bleeding, Cleveland Clinic (2022)
- Sexually Transmitted Infections, Cleveland Clinic (2023)
- Vaginal Candidiasis, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2022)
- Bacterial Vaginosis, StatPearls (2023)