Mysterious discharges during pregnancy can be annoyances or danger signs. How to tell what's normal and what's not.
Most expectant moms spring for new undies: not sexy ones, but "granny panties." They not only accommodate a growing belly, they're good "tossaways," too. With all the things going on (and coming out!) down below during pregnancy, that comes in handy. Although what Erin Connor's* husband termed "baby batter"—increased vaginal discharge—occurs in almost all pregnancies, many women don't expect it. "I obsessed over it," says the Miller Place, N.Y., mother of two. "I would analyze the discharge and convince myself something was horribly wrong."
She needn't have worried so. "An increase in your normal vaginal discharge actually can be a sign of a healthy pregnancy," says OB-GYN Adelaide Nardone, M.D., medical adviser for Vagisil Women's Health Center in White Plains, N.Y. "The difference between what's considered normal in pregnancy and when you're not pregnant is that you have more of it," she adds. Wearing pantiliners can make you more comfortable.
Here are some other "leaks" down below for which you might need your tossaway undies or a pad. Find out which are merely annoying and which could signal a problem that requires immediate medical attention.
Identify it: "There was a time when I felt constantly wet, so I went to the doctor because I thought my amniotic fluid was leaking," recalls Jessica Eginoire, a Des Moines, Iowa, mother who's pregnant with her second child. Fortunately, she found out that it was only urine.
Other than seeing your doctor, the way to tell if you're leaking urine or amniotic fluid is to note how often and when it occurs, says April Sarvis, M.D., an OB-GYN at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. 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 (see below for a description of amniotic fluid).
Normal or not: If it's urine, yes. Leaking 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 bladder. "You also can perform 'prophylactic voiding'--going to the bathroom before you have the actual sensation of needing to go," Nardone says. Whatever you do, don't stop drinking lots of water in an attempt to avoid the problem.
Identify it: Amniotic fluid (your "water") should be clear, but it also can be yellow, pink-tinged, brown or green. And, unlike urine, 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: No. Until she goes into labor, a woman should never leak amniotic fluid.
How to deal: Call your doctor immediately. "When in doubt, have it checked out," Nardone says.
Identify it: Pregnant or not, you'll experience the same symptoms, 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: Yes. Because of hormonal and other changes, yeast infections are very common during pregnancy. "In my first pregnancy, I had one almost the entire time," Eginoire says.
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).
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV)
Identify it: 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: No. "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," Sarvis says.
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)
Identify it: 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 a foamy yellow-greenish and often associated with itching. All three infections can cause painful intercourse or urination.
Normal or not: No. 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. STDs can be safely treated with antibiotics during pregnancy.
* Not her real name