Watery Discharge: Is It Normal and When to Worry

Every woman experiences it, and it is most likely the very reason you are browsing this article. If you are here because you are worried, then let your worries be dispelled as the clear watery discharge is normal for women and this begins when a female hits puberty.

Watery discharge is a secretion that comes out of one’s vagina. It is composed of bacteria and fluids and its appearance varies based on hormonal changes. In this article, you would know what normal watery vaginal discharge is like, what kinds of discharge you should worry about, and what to do about it.

Normal Vaginal Discharge

The fluids that you secrete is your vagina’s way of keeping itself clean. This helps your vagina keep a perfect pH balance between good bacteria and bad bacteria. Dead cells are also cleared out in this process, so if you are worried about the clear watery discharge you see in your undies, you should not be. On the contrary, you should think that this is healthy.

Normal discharge appears clear or white, watery, stretchy, like egg whites. Normal discharge should have a mild odor to it, which is not unpleasant.

How Much Vaginal Discharge Is Normal?

The amount of vaginal fluids that you secrete depends on what part of the hormonal cycle you are on, but it is normal to secrete 1-4 mL or ½ teaspoon of vaginal fluids every day.

Usual Causes of Watery Vaginal Discharge

There are many reasons why women experience watery vaginal discharge, and each cause serves a different purpose. Consequently, they may have different consistencies, colors, and amounts.

Puberty

Once a woman enters the reproductive age, she also starts secreting a clear water discharge. This begins around 10-12 years old as a girl enters puberty. A girl’s body may begin to discharge some fluids six months to one year prior to her first period, which is called menarche.

Ovulation

The appearance, amount, and consistency of one’s vaginal discharge are mostly based on her menstrual cycle. This is because watery discharge changes in line with the changes in one’s hormonal balance.

  • At the End of Your Period

Your discharge at the end of your period will appear brownish, as your body is cleaning out the last bit of blood from your period.

  • Watery Discharge after Period

At the beginning of your hormonal cycle, your discharge tends to be dry or sticky. This is described as a period of dryness. It will once again thicken as you approach ovulation.

  • Watery Discharge before Ovulation

Just before you ovulate, your body releases up to 30 times more than the usual amount of vaginal discharge because your body is producing more estrogen. The texture and appearance of your discharge will be thick and white. If you are trying to get pregnant, this would not be the best time to try as this condition is most unfriendly to sperm cells.

  • Watery Discharge during Ovulation

Your vaginal discharge during this time would be clear, wet, and stretchy. This is the best time to get pregnant as the pH levels and texture is best for sperm cells.

  • Watery Discharge after Ovulation (Watery Discharge Before Period)

Right after ovulation and before having your period, you will have a lesser discharge which may also be thicker, whiter or cloudier. As you approach your period once more, you will begin to have more discharge. This mucus will appear watery and clear.

Exercising

You might also experience more clear watery discharge right after working out. This discharge may also be whitish, but this should not be a cause of worry unless you experience burning, itching, or discomfort.

Sexual Arousal

The wetness that women experience during sexual arousal is more than just a discharge. First, blood flows in the vulva, vagina, and clitoris, which causes them to swell. There are two glands above the vagina that produce the clear watery discharge. This serves as a lubricant to facilitate penetration.

Birth Control Pills

Since the vaginal discharge is mostly influenced by hormonal changes, it is normal to experience changes in discharge when you start taking birth control pills. This may appear white, sticky, and thick. As long as you are not experiencing itch, pain, or burning, this should not be a cause of worry.

Dietary Changes

Aside from hormonal changes, the food that you eat also affects your vagina’s pH balance, therefore also influencing not just your discharge, but also the odor. This is another reason for you to eat a healthy, balanced diet. Avoid eating too much sugar is this makes you more prone to yeast infection. On the other hand, increase your consumption of fruits, vegetables. Yogurt is also good at helping you maintain a good pH balance.

Breastfeeding

Did you know that breastfeeding also affects your discharge? With an increased production of prolactin comes a decrease in estrogen levels, making you have a lesser amount of discharge. This also means that you are not likely to return to your regular hormonal cycle as you breastfeed. Moreover, this also means that your vagina is more prone to itching and infection since there is not much discharge.

You might also experience pinkish or brownish discharge, which could be your period blood which would not look the same as your usual period during this phase.

Perimenopause and Menopause

Watery discharge varies regularly during particular phases of your hormonal cycle. However, as you approach the end of your reproductive years, your vaginal discharge will also change.

Your period will now begin to be erratic. During your perimenopausal phase, your vaginal discharge will appear brownish. Its texture may vary from thin and watery to thick and clumpy. Your estrogen will also rise and fall during this time so these changes are expected.

Menopause is reached when you no longer experience periods for a full year. Your vagina would be drier at this time, but it is still normal to experience discharge. However, if you experience spotting or brownish discharge, this should be a cause of concern.

Clear Watery Discharge as a Sign of Pregnancy

A clear watery discharge could also be an early sign of pregnancy. As you carry your baby in your womb, your vagina and cervix secrete a liquid, which will develop into a mucus plug. This mucus plug will be inside your cervix, and it will serve to protect the fetus. It will prevent infection from traveling to your womb, placenta, or baby.

On the other hand, while watery discharge could be an early sign of pregnancy, this is not a completely reliable way of determining whether you are pregnant or not. Remember that there are a lot of other possible causes of a watery discharge. Moreover, there are other more reliable signs of pregnancy.

The following are other common signs of pregnancy listed by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD):

  • Missing a Period

The most telltale sign of pregnancy among most women is missing a period or two. However, this is not entirely an accurate sign as there are other causes of missing a period, such as hormonal imbalance.

  • Spottings

Spottings are usually seen days after conception and are believed to be a sign of the implantation of the embryon on the uterine lining. This appears lighter than period blood.

  • Tender, Swollen Breasts

According to NICHD, hormonal changes cause a pregnant woman to have swollen, tender breasts, which may be noticed in the first couple of weeks of pregnancy.

  • Fatigue

Your body begins to support another human life and so more nutrient-rich blood is directed by your body toward your fetus. Moreover, your body also produces more progesterone as it prepares you to produce milk. Hence, you feel more tired than usual.

  • Headache, Nausea, Vomiting

Headaches, nausea, and vomiting early in the pregnancy are also caused by your fluctuating hormones. Morning sickness can mostly be felt during the first trimester of the pregnancy.

  • Food Cravings / Aversions

Food cravings or aversions are one of the early signs of pregnancy but it can come and go and last the whole pregnancy.

  • Mood Swings

Another effect of sudden changes in hormonal levels is also a sudden change in a pregnant woman’s mood.

  • Frequent Urination

During pregnancy, a woman may feel the need to urinate more often than usual as more blood flows toward their pelvic region.

Pregnancy Discharge or Leukorrhea

Leukorrhea is the medical term for the thin white vaginal discharge with a mild odor that happens to women depending on the phase of the hormonal cycle. This is most commonly seen around the ovulation phase. On the other hand, this is also experienced by women early in the pregnancy.

Similar to different appearances and textures of the discharge throughout one’s hormonal cycle, pregnant women also experience different kinds of discharge throughout their pregnancy. Some of the following have already been briefly touched in the prior section.

Spotting

Spottings are experienced by pregnant women several days after conception. Although there is not conclusive evidence, it is commonly accepted that this is caused by the embryo being implanted in the woman’s uterine walls.

It is also normal to experience spottings during different phases of pregnancy. This is commonly observed after having sex or after pelvic examinations. Spottings should appear lighter and pinker compared to period blood. There should also not be too much of it. Otherwise, it could be a sign of miscarriage or placental problem.

Mucus Plug

To protect your fetus from infection, your cervix and vagina secrete a fluid that later forms into a mucus plug up your cervix. It has been mentioned that forming the mucus plug makes you secrete a clear, thin, watery discharge. Late into your pregnancy or around 36 weeks, your body will start releasing the mucus plug.

The mucus plug can be released in bits that you would not notice, in long slimy pieces, or all at once. This can be a sign that you are nearing your labor but then again your body can simply make another mucus plug.

Amniotic Fluid

Amniotic fluid is the fluid surrounding your baby that protects and cushion it. The 36th week of your pregnancy is when your amniotic fluid is at its highest level, and from then on, it may start to leak out of your body in preparation for labor.

It is hard to determine whether you are leaking urine, vaginal discharge, or amniotic fluid when you are pregnant. To help you out, amniotic fluid should be clear or white-specked or tinged with a little bit of blood. It may trickle out in small amounts or continuously, or it may gush out of your body. You will notice that you do not have control with amniotic fluid leakage, unlike your urine. Hence, it can easily soak your underwear or pads.

Leaking amniotic fluid can be dangerous prior to your 37th week of pregnancy. If you suspect that you are leaking amniotic fluid, immediately consult your healthcare provider.

Water breaking

Once your amniotic fluid gushes or trickles out of your body, this means that your water is breaking. In rare cases, some babies are born with their amniotic fluid still intact. Expect that in around 24 hours, your body will begin entering into labor and you will soon meet your little one!

Preterm Labor (Clear Watery Discharge and Cramps)

If you are having labor before 37 weeks into your pregnancy, this means that you are having a preterm labor. This may cause serious and lasting events for both you and your little one.

Your discharge changes as you approach labor. It may appear to be watery, or mucus-like, or bloody, or there may be more discharge than usual. A gush or continuous trickle of water out of your vagina also indicates your water breaking.

Other preterm labor signs include belly cramps, regular or frequent contractions, backache, and pressure in your pelvis and lower back area.

Kinds of Vaginal Discharge You Should Worry About

So far, we have discussed what normal clear watery discharge should look, feel, and smell like. We have also looked into various causes of these watery discharges.

On the other hand, you should also be aware of other forms of discharge that may be a sign of hormonal imbalance or infection. There are over-the-counter remedies for many of these infections, but if the symptoms are persistent, you should consult your healthcare provider.

Watery Discharge Instead of Period

Women get a watery discharge for many reasons throughout their cycles, but getting a watery discharge instead of a period may be a cause of concern. There are many possible underlying conditions for this, so it is best to consult your doctor to have yourself tested.

On one hand, it may be a sign of pregnancy. On the other hand, other possible causes include hormonal imbalance, Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, Endometriosis, SID, stress, and birth control. Getting a discharge instead of a period may also be a perimenopausal symptom. There is no definite way of knowing what the cause may be so again, see your healthcare provider.

Vaginitis

Vaginitis is the umbrella term for inflammation of the vagina or vulva that causes discomfort, irritation, itching, burning, or pain, along with abnormal vaginal discharge. Vaginitis is commonly caused by infections or hormonal changes. There are different types of causes of vaginitis: bacterial, yeast, viral, protozoal, or even allergic reactions. The succeeding subsections will talk about some of the kinds of vaginitis.

Yeast Infection

A yeast infection happens when there is an imbalance of bacteria and yeast cells in your vagina such that yeast cells multiply. This could happen to anyone, but it is more common for women experiencing hormonal changes, like pregnancy. Taking antibiotics also decreases lactobacillus in your vagina, hence making you prone to yeast infection. Other causes are diabetes, eating a lot of sugary foods, and stress.

Vaginal discharge appears clumpy and yellowish or greenish when you have a yeast infection or candidiasis. The consistency of this discharge is most commonly compared to cottage cheese. If you have candidiasis, you would feel a persistent itch, some swelling around your vagina, burning when peeing, or pain during sex.

Bacterial Vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a bacterial infection that occurs when there is an imbalance between good and bad bacteria in the vagina. BV, like candidiasis, can also happen to anyone. However, there are women who are more prone to it, like those who smoke or those who practice douching. One may also be vulnerable to it after having a different sex partner or having multiple sex partners.

Discharge, when you have BV, is thin, watery, and gray or green. It will also smell fishy, which is more noticeable after sexual intercourse. Peeing will also cause you to feel a burning sensation.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) also cause inflammation on the vagina as well as abnormal discharge. STIs are detected via laboratory tests, using urine samples or swabs from the vagina or endocervical canal. Curing STIs usually involves taking oral antibiotics or injections. Treatment length or type is dependent on how bad the infection is, if the patient is allergic to certain types of medications, or if the patient’s special condition would put them at risk under certain types of treatment.

You should be extra careful around STIs and if you suspect that you have contracted an STI, consult your healthcare provider as soon as you can. If you are pregnant, you may risk infecting your unborn baby, depending on the type of STI that you have. STIs may also cause an inflammation of the uterine lining, ruptured membranes, preterm delivery. Some infections travel up the cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes, which may lead to pelvic inflammatory disease. 

Some of these common STIs are:

  • Trichomoniasis

Trichomoniasis is caused by a parasite called Trichomonas vaginalis. Women with trichomoniasis feel a burning sensation when they pee, redness, and soreness around the genital area. Discharge also looks green, gray, or yellow and frothy when you have trichomoniasis.

  • Gonorrhea

Gonorrhea is another common STI caused by a bacteria called Neisseria gonorrhoeae.  Discharge looks watery and yellow or green when you have gonorrhea. You may also feel a burning sensation when you try to pee if you have gonorrhea.

  • Chlamydia

Chlamydia is also led on by a bacteria. This is called Chlamydia trachomatis. Discharge of those affected by chlamydia appears yellow or milky white. There is also pain or a burning sensation when urinating.

FAQs:

How Do I Keep My Vagina Healthy to Prevent Abnormal Discharge and Vaginitis?

Once again, clear watery discharge is not something that you should worry about as this is your vagina’s normal way of keeping itself clean. However, it can get quite icky and uncomfortable when you experience vaginal discharges. While you cannot stop having a watery discharge, the following are some ways you can do to keep your vagina healthy:

  • Practice Proper Hygiene

Everything basically falls under proper hygiene when it comes to preventing abnormal discharge. Manage the moisture around your groin area. Change your underwear at least twice a day, and if you are using pads or panty liners, change them regularly throughout the day. If you are traveling or away from the comfort of home, you may opt to use baby wipes to wipe away the extra moisture. Always wipe or clean your genitals from front to back, too. This way, you would avoid the overgrowth of certain bacteria.

  • Choose the Right Products

If you are using a new product on your genital area and experience a reaction, stop using it right away to avoid complications. In cleaning your genitals, you may use a non-allergenic soap. In general, avoid scented products with deodorants.

  • Eat Right

Eating healthy leads to good vaginal and reproductive health. Avoid food that is too sugary, and get a healthy balanced diet. Consuming yogurt also helps avoid or ease yeast infection. Vitamins A and C, and cranberry juice are also good for vaginal health.

  • Dress Comfortably

Avoid wearing tight clothing or materials such as spandex. Instead, dress comfortably in cotton. This way, you can avoid the overgrowth of bad bacteria around the genital area.

  • Practice Safe Sex

If you are sexually active, have yourself tested for STIs regularly. Always use a protective barrier when if you have multiple partners or if you have a new sex partner. If you are switching from anal to vaginal activity, use a fresh barrier.

What Does Watery Discharge with Cramps Mean?

If you have not had your period yet but you are experiencing a watery discharge with cramps, hormonal changes may have adjusted your cycle. Perhaps this might be due to stress, anxiety, birth control, or even strenuous activities.

On the other hand, it could be a sign that you are pregnant. Second, if you are having a watery discharge with cramps but with no period, it could be because of ectopic pregnancy. Ectopic pregnancy means that the embryo you are bearing is not implanted in the uterine wall. This is a very rare life-threatening phenomenon that happens to 1-2% of all pregnancies.

When Should I Worry about My Vaginal Discharge?

Clear, watery discharge with a mild odor is the normal kind of discharge. However, we have also learned that your discharge changes throughout pregnancy or your hormonal cycle.

Worry about vaginal discharge if it suddenly changes or if it is not consistent with your normal cycle. It may appear clumpy, and of a color different than usual, like green, yellow, brownish, or gray. Abnormal discharge also usually comes with a foul smell. Moreover, you may experience itchiness in your genital area, as well as swelling and pain when urinating.

What Does Excessive Watery Discharge Mean?

If you are experiencing an excessive watery discharge there are a lot of possible reasons for this. Perhaps your body normally discharges more fluids than others. Remember that every woman is unique and has different experiences. It may be that you are ovulating, causing you to need more than one panty-liner than usual.

On the other hand, you might also be allergic to certain products or contraceptives. It may be that you have also left a condom or tampon inside your genitals, causing your body to react to this foreign object.

Your body might also be adjusting to a new birth control method you are using. Other reasons may be STIs, yeast infection or other infections. Some of these have already been discussed under abnormal discharges and usually, these come with other symptoms and discharges that look and smell different.

If you have left a tampon far too long, take it out immediately. Also, stop using new hygienic products or contraceptives if you notice that you are reacting to it. Moreover, consult your doctor if you are experiencing abnormal and foul discharges.

What Should I Do about Abnormal Vaginal Discharge?

There are different things you could do about abnormal vaginal discharge, depending on what it is and what causes it.

In mild cases, just do what you would normally do to keep your vagina healthy and it would usually go away in less than a week. If you have persistent symptoms, you may try over-the-counter medications like creams, pills, or suppositories.

For yeast infections, you may try antifungal medications like vaginal suppositories and creams. Cold pressing may also help relieve the itching. BV, on the other hand, may be cured by antibiotics prescribed by your healthcare provider.

When Should I See a Doctor?

While abnormal vaginal discharge may go away on its own on mild cases, you should not take them lightly. See a doctor if aside from vaginal discharge you are feeling abdominal or pelvic pain, fever, and tiredness or fatigue. Moreover, consult your healthcare provider if you are experiencing rashes, sores, or blisters. More telltale signs are pain when trying to urinate, and also pain during or after sexual intercourse.

You should be extra careful especially if you are pregnant. Be aware if you are experiencing more discharge than usual, as it may mean your amniotic fluid might be leaking. Also, see your doctor if you have a red or brownish discharge.

Should I Douche?

Avoid douching. Once more, your vagina has a natural way of keeping itself clean and a clear watery discharge is a sign that your vagina is doing its job. Douching strips away both good and bad bacteria in your vagina and it makes you vulnerable to infections and diseases.

To keep your vagina healthy, you only need to regularly clean your genital area with soap and water.

Conclusion

In this article, we learned that the vagina has a natural way of keeping itself clean and maintaining a good pH and bacterial balance. This is evident by the clear watery discharge that women experience throughout their reproductive years. We also learned that there are many different causes for a watery discharge, which also changes in appearance and texture depending on the hormonal cycle.

On the other hand, we also looked into abnormal vaginal discharges which may be caused by bacteria, yeast, hormonal imbalance, or protozoa. Therefore, one should be aware of practices to keep one’s vagina healthy.

Clear watery discharge should be no cause of concern. However, one should also be aware of how abnormal discharge looks and feels like to keep oneself healthy. One should also know how to avoid abnormal discharges and when to seek professional help. This is especially important for pregnant women.

References

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  2. Laboratory Corporation of America. Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Trichomoniasis [Brochure]. (2015). https://www.labcorp.com/file/chlamydia-gonorrhea-and-trichomoniasis-patient-brochure
  3. What is Bacterial Vaginosis?. (2018) https://www.webmd.com/women/guide/what-is-bacterial-vaginosis#1
  4. Pietrangelo, A. (2017). What Causes Brown Spotting After Menopause? https://www.healthline.com/health/menopause/brown-spotting-after-menopause
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  7. McWeeney, C. (2017). Getting wet: discharge vs. cervical fluid vs. arousal fluid. https://helloclue.com/articles/cycle-a-z/getting-wet-cervical-fluid-vs-arousal-fluid-vs-discharge
  8. Corforth, T. (2018). When to See a Doctor About Vaginal Discharge. https://www.verywellhealth.com/when-should-i-see-a-doctor-about-a-vaginal-discharge-3522664
  9. Fetter, K.A. (2014). How Your Food Impacts Your Vagina https://www.womenshealthmag.com/health/a19909408/vaginal-ph-levels-and-food/
  10. Severson, D. (2017). How Does Exercise Affect Vaginal Discharge? https://www.livestrong.com/article/426042-how-does-exercise-affect-vaginal-discharge/

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