Discharge is a normal function of vaginal health in menstruating women. It’s a mucus or mix of fluid and vaginal cells secreted from glands in the vagina, uterus, and cervix.
This discharge cleans the vagina and protects it from infection, lubricates it for sexual activity, and signals a change in body chemistry.
Most vaginal discharge is healthy, but changes to discharge can signal that something more may be going on .
In this article, we’ll look at what’s normal and what’s not when it comes to vaginal discharge and why the quality of discharge may change after a menstrual cycle.
We’ll also review why the color of discharge may vary, and discuss when to see a doctor.
Discharge After Period: Is it Normal?
Discharge before, during, and after your period can look different.
Once your period is over, discharge may still have a brown color due to leftover blood and tissue from the uterus.
This is the last stage of the normal shedding of built up tissue from the uterus and vagina.
Still, some people may not experience any vaginal discharge for 3-4 days after the end of their period.
Causes of Post Period Discharge
Vaginal discharge after a period is usually normal.
Reasons for discharge after your period may include:
- Expelling the last of the uterine lining
- Ovulation (if discharge occurs around 2 weeks after the period)
- Changes in hormones
But sometimes post-period vaginal discharge is a signal that something is amiss, including:
What The Color of Your Discharge May Mean
For a quick guide on what vaginal discharge may mean , look at what color it is.
- Clear discharge not accompanied by other symptoms and without smell is most often a healthy indicator. Discharge can be clear to white in color during the beginning or end of your menstrual cycle or during pregnancy. Clear and stringy discharge typically occurs during the ovulation period.
- White or opaque discharge is also an indication of healthy vaginal functioning. Regular discharge can vary in color from creamy to eggshell white to a pale yellow. Discharge that is very opaque and resembles cottage cheese, however, may be a sign of a yeast infection.
- Yellow or green discharge is often a warning sign of a sexually transmitted disease or infection. hin yellow or green discharge can be a symptom of a common infection known as trichomoniasis vaginalis, which is a sexually transmitted infection. Yellow discharge can also be a sign of bacterial vaginosis, an overgrowth of your vaginal flora that sometimes requires antibiotic treatment.
- Pink discharge, when not following a period, can signal spotting. It’s not unusual for there to be a little blood present in discharge just before a period. Spotting can be a sign of pregnancy or result from cervical bleeding or intrauterine device (IUD) irritation. In cases of people who have already gone through menopause, bleeding or spotting can be a rare sign of endometrial cancer.
- Brown discharge is often colored by blood from somewhere in the the vagina or cervix. Brown discharge is common during and immediately after a period, but if present at other times in your cycle may be due to the presence of old (oxidized) blood. Discharge that starts to look black can be a sign of heavy menstruation or if occurring outside of the time of menses, an indication of a more serious health concern.
- Gray discharge is rare, but a sign that your body needs attention. It may be a sign of bacterial vaginosis, which is an overgrowth of your vaginal flora and may need antibiotic treatment. It may also be a sign of a sexually transmitted disease. If you notice gray vaginal discharge, contact your healthcare provider or doctor.
What is Normal Discharge Like?
Minimal vaginal discharge may occur every day as old dead cells, bacteria, and other debris are shed from the vagina and labia.
Each person’s discharge varies slightly, and some experience more discharge than others.
It can also change with age and at different points in the menstrual cycle since hormones play a role in how your body produces vaginal discharge.
Here is the typical cycle of how discharge might change throughout each month:
- During menstruation, discharge is typically red or brown because it’s accompanied by blood and tissues from the uterus.
- Post-menstrual discharge can be brown from leftover blood and tissue and may become thinner, cloudy, white, yellow, or sticky. Brown discharge that doesn’t happen around the menstruation period can be an indication of another source of bleeding.
- Ovulation discharge is usually thicker, with a stringy or slippery consistency. The consistency of discharge changes during this time because of an increase in f cervical mucus in preparation for a possible pregnancy, if a egg is fertilized during the process of ovulation. The ovulation stage of the menstrual cycle is considered to be the most fertile period in the menstrual cycle and the chance of pregnancy increases with unprotected sex.
- Pre-menstrual discharge might become lighter in color and less noticeable. For the days leading up to your menstruation, you might notice very little vaginal discharge or none at all.
Only you and your healthcare provider will be able to evaluate what a regular discharge cycle looks like for you.
Some people try to track their menstrual cycle using fertility awareness-based methods, one of which is the cervical mucus method.
The cervical mucus method involves tracking the color, consistency, and smell of your discharge to learn at which point in your menstrual cycle you’re in.
This tracking method is commonly used for planning pregnancies.
By knowing what your own normal is, you will be more aware of your body and know what to expect from your menstrual cycle.
When to See a Doctor
Sudden changes to the color or smell of your vaginal discharge should be brought to your doctor’s attention.
Common concerns to be aware of include vaginitis, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and other conditions
Vaginitis is the general inflammation in and around the vagina and vulva.
Vaginitis is an umbrella term for any infections or inflammation involving the vagina and vulva before a diagnosis is determined.
Some factors can increase your risk of vaginitis, disrupt your hormones and vaginal pH balance, and also change your discharge volume.
- Extended tampon use
- Hormone-based medications or treatments
- Tight-fitting underwear
- Scented soaps and douches
- Not using condoms during intercourse OR your partner using condoms or flavored/scented lubricants that you may be allergic to
- Using sex toys that have not been cleaned properly
Bacterial vaginosis occurs when there is an overgrowth of a normal bacteria that is naturally present in the vagina.
Research hasn’t determined the cause of bacterial vaginosis but douching and not using condoms seem to be contributors.
Symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include:
- Thin white, yellow or gray discharge
- Strong foul odors or a fishy smell, especially following sex
- Infrequently irritation around the vagina and vulva may be present (however burning and pain may indicate a sexually transmitted disease or a more serious condition called pelvic inflammatory disease)
Yeast infections, also known as vaginal candidiasis, is caused by an excess of yeast called Candida.
This yeast is normally present in the body in the mouth, throat, gut, and vagina, but too much of it changes the environment inside a vagina and can turn into an infection.
Common symptoms of a yeast infection are:
- Irritation, itching, pain, or a burning sensation around the vagina and vulva
- Itching or burning sensations when urinating
- Discomfort during intercourse
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, or cottage-cheese-like discharge
Finally, the following symptoms can be an indication of a more serious health problem and should be discussed promptly with your healthcare provider.
- Foamy or frothy discharge
- Black discharge
- Discharge that includes or resembles pus
- Severe pain during sex
- Severe pelvic and abdominal pain
To diagnose issues in the pelvic area, vagina, and surrounding genitalia, your doctor will likely prescribe a urine test or ask to take a sample of discharge for testing during a pelvic exam.
Your doctor will ask you about your sexual history, hygiene practices, along with other questions to accompany testing in order to make a clear diagnosis.
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K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
About Menstruation (2017)
Bacterial Vaginosis – CDC Fact Sheet (2022)
Prepubertal and Adolescent Vulvovaginitis: What to Do When a Girl Reports Vaginal Discharge (2020)
Trichomoniasis – CDC Fact Sheet (2021)
Vaginal Candidiasis (2021
Vaginal Discharge (2019)
Vaginal Discharge (2020)
Vaginal Discharge (2021)
What Is the Cervical Mucus Method of FAMS? (2022)