Highlights from this article: 

  • Vaginal discharge is normal and healthy. 
  • Vaginal discharge changes with your menstrual cycle.
  • Keep an eye on differences in color, consistency, odor, and quantity, compared to what’s normal for you. 
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge may be a symptom of dysbiosis, an infection, or an STI. In rare cases, it may indicate something more serious.

What is vaginal discharge? 

Vaginal discharge (leukorrhea, as it's called in the medical world) is the fluid made by your cervix and vagina. Discharge is a mix of cervical mucus, bacteria, dead cells from the lining of the vagina (epithelium), and vaginal fluid. Practically any fluid leaving the vagina (including cervical mucus and sexual arousal fluid) can be characterized as vaginal discharge.

Although many of us grew up believing discharge is gross or a sign that your vagina is "dirty", it's actually a signal of good reproductive health. Vaginal discharge helps to clear out old cells and unwanted bacteria, and not only does it keep your vagina and reproductive tract clean and lubricated, but it can also be an important indicator of your overall vaginal health and ability to prevent vaginal infections.

What does normal discharge look like? 

When it comes to the human body, the word “normal” is hard to define. What’s normal for you might be atypical for your sister or friend. But many factors can influence the quantity, consistency, and color of your vaginal discharge, and there are a few things you can keep in mind as you figure out your “normal.”

Healthy discharge will consist primarily of the mucus produced by the cells of the cervix (also known as cervical mucus, or CM for short). Vaginal discharge changes throughout your cycle in response to hormonal fluctuations. 

It’s common for vaginal fluid to increase in volume the closer you are to ovulation, which makes monitoring the consistency and quantity of your discharge on an ongoing basis a good way to keep track of general fertility. Note that if you take hormonal birth control, you might not be able to see these changes. 

Typically speaking, healthy vaginal discharge will follow a monthly pattern. Normal vaginal discharge types include:  

  • Dry  discharge: after your period, there may be little to no cervical mucus or discharge present.
  • Sticky and white: as estrogen levels start to rise, CM becomes sticky and pasty (often crumbly and white when dried). 
  • Creamy vaginal discharge: as the water content increases throughout your cycle, discharge can start to look milky white, similar to lotion.
  • Clear sticky vaginal discharge :  just before ovulation, CM becomes clear and resembles the consistency of raw egg whites. After ovulation, CM returns to dry and sticky until your next period and the cycle continues.
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What amount of vaginal discharge is normal?

As we explained above, "normal" is a tricky term when it comes to discharge. The amount and consistency of vaginal discharge may vary from person to person but, on average, a premenopausal woman has one-half to one teaspoon (2 to 5 mL) of discharge daily. 

It's pretty normal to notice that the amount of vaginal discharge you make changes throughout the month, too. This is because the glands in the cervix produce and release cervical mucus, which can change in volume and texture in response to hormonal fluctuations during your menstrual cycle. 

You may notice an increase in the amount of discharge in the days leading up to ovulation (about halfway through your cycle), early pregnancy, and when you start taking a new form of hormonal birth control. Some infections can also increase the quantity of vaginal discharge, but in most cases, you'll experience vaginal symptoms like itching, a burning sensation, or a foul odor, too. 

Why does my vaginal discharge smell?

When it comes to smell, normal vaginal discharge should be unique but not strong, ranging from tangy to musky. Remember, it’s a bodily function, so it’s ok for it to have a mild odor. That said, any sudden or significant changes in odor (especially if it’s fishy or “rotten”) could indicate an imbalanced microbiome  —  and may indicate an untreated infection.

Abnormal vaginal discharge

In addition to smell, it’s important to look out for any big changes in the color of your vaginal discharge.

Gray discharge

Gray-ish discharge accompanied by a fishy odor, and with or without the presence of vaginal pain, itching, and burning, can be a sign that something down there is “off.” Most commonly, these symptoms are caused by a vaginal infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). BV happens when an overgrowth of "bad" bacteria throws off your microbiome's normal balance.

Bacterial vaginosis  is an incredibly common bacterial infection and the number one culprit of abnormal vaginal discharge — one in three people with vaginas in the U.S. will experience BV this year.

White and thick discharge

Vaginal itching and white discharge that looks like cottage cheese may indicate a yeast infection, especially if it's accompanied by swelling and redness (particularly around the vaginal opening). One of the main symptomatic differences between a yeast infection and bacterial vaginosis is the kind of smell: BV is often fishy, while a yeast infection is usually odorless or has a slightly sour smell (like beer or bread).

Caused by an overgrowth of the Candida fungus, yeast infections affect up to 50% of healthy women at one point or another during their lifetime, so rest assured that you’re not alone. 

Thick, white discharge can also indicate a condition called cytolytic vaginosis (CV), also known as Lactobacillus overgrowth syndrome (or Doderlein’s cytolysis). CV is a condition that arises when the healthy bacteria (lactobacilli) over-multiply in your vaginal microbiome and cause vaginal discomfort.

Frothy yellow or green discharge, genital itching, burning, soreness, and a foul smell are all symptoms of a treatable sexually transmitted infection (STI) called trichomoniasis. However, many individuals with trichomoniasis are completely asymptomatic. 

Aerobic vaginitis (AV) is a condition that causes vaginal discomfort and inflammation. It was only identified in research as distinctly separate from bacterial vaginosis in 2002. However, a key distinction is the symptom of sticky, yellow vaginal discharge that is associated with aerobic vaginitis, but not BV.

Pink or brown  discharge

Brown discharge is usually nothing more than the result of old blood becoming oxidized, most commonly at the beginning or end of the menstrual cycle. This is completely normal and also can differ between cycles. 

That said, experiencing any pink or brown discharge that is abnormal for you and your body can be indicative of an irregular cycle, or a sign of something more serious — in any case, talking to a doctor can help. 

Infographic about the different colors of vaginal discharge including yellow, white, clear, pink, brown, gray, and green

How to prevent abnormal vaginal discharge 

Your discharge is often related to how well-balanced your vaginal microbiome is, so one way to normalize your discharge is to take better care of your microbiome (and overall reproductive health). A general guide to best practices includes:

We know you’ve probably heard these strategies before, and that they don’t always help — it can be frustrating to get the same advice without different results. 

Get care with Evvy  

This is why Evvy exists! By testing and retesting your microbiome over time, you can see how the changes you make in your diet, lifestyle, and self-care routine are impacting your vaginal microbiome’s defense against infections. 

Built with leading OB-GYNs, Evvy is the first-ever platform for vaginal healthcare that combines state-of-the-art testing, prescription treatment, and 1:1 coaching to create personalized care as unique as your vaginal microbiome.* For eligible testers, we offer first-of-its-kind clinical care, including an Rx treatment program developed by a care provider, supportive coaching, and much more. Start your vaginal health journey with Evvy today.


What is abnormal vaginal discharge?

Any drastic change in the color, smell, consistency, and quantity of your vaginal discharge could be a sign of an infection. Some types of abnormal discharge to look out for are green, gray, or yellow discharge that is thin or foamy, thick and chunky white discharge (like cottage cheese), and any type of discharge that has a foul or fishy smell. 

Is it normal to have vaginal discharge every day?

Yes, it's perfectly normal! Vaginal discharge is your vagina’s way of self-cleaning, and it’s a sign that your vagina is healthy. The amount of vaginal discharge you have every day varies from person to person, and it can even change throughout the month based on your menstrual cycle. On average though, it’s normal to have around one teaspoon of discharge daily. 

Why do I have so much discharge all of a sudden?

You might notice more discharge than usual in the days leading up to ovulation (around halfway through your cycle). As your body prepares to release an egg, the hormone estrogen rises and tells the glands in your cervix to produce more cervical fluid. You might notice higher amounts of thick, stretchy, and slippery discharge (similar to raw egg whites). More discharge can also be a temporary side effect of birth control. In some cases, a higher quantity of discharge could also be a sign of an infection — especially if it’s accompanied by a change in color, smell, and other symptoms like pain or itching.