Discharge During Pregnancy: What's Safe, What's Not

Wondering if that unusual discharge is a natural part of pregnancy? Here's how to tell.

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Most expectant moms spring for new undies: not sexy ones, but practical "granny panties." They not only accommodate a growing belly, but they can also be good throwaways considering all the unexpected things that are going on down below during pregnancy.

Should you be concerned about what's coming out? "Some women have an increase in their vaginal discharge during pregnancy, and some don't have an increase at all," says Karen Nordahl, M.D., co- founder of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Fit to Deliver International and a Fit Pregnancy advisory board member. "A sudden increase should be investigated to make sure there is no infection."

Here, we look at some common "leaks" for which you might need your throwaway undies or a panty liner. Find out which are merely annoying and which could signal a problem requiring medical attention.

Yeast Infection

The symptoms: Pregnant or not, you'll experience the same signs, which can include itching, redness and soreness in the vaginal area, along with an odorless, white, cottage cheeselike discharge. Some women also have pain during intercourse and burning when they urinate.

Normal or not? Normal. because of hormonal and other changes, yeast infections are very common during pregnancy.

How to deal: Consult your doctor about prescription or over-the-counter vaginal creams or suppositories and, if deemed necessary, to rule out bacterial vaginosis or a sexually transmitted disease (see below). Probiotics may also help; try Udo's Choice Super 8 Hi-Potency Probiotic.

Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)

The symptoms: Bacterial vaginosis, an infection caused by an imbalance in the bacteria normally found in the vagina, is sometimes asymptomatic, but it can produce a fishy-smelling discharge that is most noticeable after sex. Itching and/or burning may accompany it.

Normal or not? Not. "Bacterial vaginosis starts out as a vaginal infection, but it can sometimes ascend into the uterus and cause premature rupture of the membranes and preterm birth," says April Sarvis, M.D., an OB-GYN in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

How to deal: See your doctor right away. Prescription medications can clear up symptoms without endangering the fetus and decrease the likelihood of preterm labor.

Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

The symptoms: Chlamydia may produce no discharge or one that is slightly odorous. The discharge that's sometimes a symptom of gonorrhea can be yellowish. And that caused by trichomoniasis ("trich") can be foamy yellow-greenish and often associated with itching. These three infections can cause painful intercourse or urination.

Normal or not? Not. Having a sexually transmitted disease during pregnancy can lead to preterm labor and a uterine infection after delivery. Some organisms that cause STDs can pass through the placenta and affect the fetus; others can be transmitted to the baby during delivery.

How to deal: Get tested by your doctor. Many STDs can be safely treated with antibiotics during pregnancy.

Urine

The symptoms: Other than seeing your doctor, the best way to tell if you're leaking urine (versus amniotic fluid; see below) is to note how often and when it occurs, says Sarvis. If you leak only occasionally, such as when you cough, sneeze or have a good belly laugh, it's likely urine. The smell and color are helpful indicators, too.

Normal or not? Normal. Leaking urine occurs due to pressure of the growing uterus on the bladder.

How to deal: Kegel exercises—contracting and releasing the muscles around the vagina—help some women control their bladders. You also can perform "prophylactic voiding"—going to the bathroom before you have the actual sensation of needing to go. Whatever you do, don't stop drinking lots of water in an attempt to avoid the problem.

Amniotic Fluid

The symptoms: Amniotic fluid (your "bag of waters") should be clear, but it can also be brown, green, pink-tinged or yellow. And, unlike urine, this leakage doesn't happen only sporadically; if your membranes are ruptured, you usually continue to leak fluid. If you're unsure whether it's amniotic fluid or urine, put on a pad and lie down for about 30 minutes. if you feel a small gush when you stand, it could be amniotic fluid.

Normal or not? Not. Until she goes into labor, a pregnant woman should never be leaking amniotic fluid.

How to deal: Call your doctor immediately.

Seeing Red

It's not unusual for some pregnant women to spot after intercourse or a pelvic exam. But if it doesn't stop shortly, have it checked out: Any bleeding during pregnancy is a red flag.

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