Excess vaginal discharge is most commonly caused by the hormonal spike that accompanies ovulation, and is also a regular part of pregnancy, particularly in the early stages. Women who have a progesterone imbalance or who are taking birth control pills with high doses of this particular hormone may also see more discharge than they’re used to. Yeast infections could also be to blame, particularly if the discharge is accompanied by pain or itching, though in many cases there’s no specific cause at all. Medical experts typically agree that it’s pretty normal to see temporary increases in discharge as a routine part of the female reproductive cycle. Discharge ebbs and flows with normal hormone fluctuations, and some days are almost certainly going to be wetter and moister than others. Women who are concerned about the amount of discharge they see are encouraged to get a medical check-up, though, particularly if the discharge is brown, rust-colored, or particularly foul smelling, as these could indicate a more serious medical condition.
One of the most common causes of excess vaginal discharge is ovulation, which is the moment a woman’s ovaries release an egg into the uterus for fertilization. The cervical glands secrete mucus to help sperm find that egg and achieve pregnancy. Women who pay attention to their menstrual cycle often notice a sudden increase in vaginal discharge about two weeks after the first day of their period. This is when ovulation tends to occur in women of childbearing age, and the main sign of this event is extra discharge known as cervical mucus.
The increase in the sex hormone progesterone during ovulation frequently also leads to extra vaginal lubrication. Most women produce some natural lubrication at all times, though in many it’s the thickest and richest right around ovulation since this will make sexual intercourse go smoothly, thus making pregnancy more likely. An additional cause of excess discharge during this time is sexual excitement, though this can happen at any time in the cycle.
Heavy discharge is also very common during the early weeks of pregnancy. The increased blood flow to the vagina during these first weeks combines with increased progesterone to make extra secretions to not only protect the fertilized egg but also create a moist place for it to grow and develop.
Sometimes things return to normal once the pregnancy really takes root, but not always. Depending on the woman, there can sometimes be a lot of discharge that basically never lets up as the body adjusts to the growing fetus. This can last through delivery and even beyond. Pregnant women are frequently advised not to wear tampons, usually to avoid the risk of infection, but panty liners and light pads are often suggested to keep the underwear dry and the woman more comfortable as the pregnancy progresses. Pregnant women should also know that, while clear or white discharge is considered normal, anything that appears streaked with pink or red should be evaluated by a healthcare professional right away.
Where both ovulation and pregnancy are concerned, the main driver behind the increase in discharge is the hormone progesterone — but a woman doesn’t have to be either ovulating or pregnant to see spikes in this chemical that can lead to increased wetness. Birth control that contains this hormone, for instance, can cause excess vaginal discharge because it may trick the body into assuming it is pregnant. Women who are bothered by this problem may want to consider switching to a different formula.
More Serious Conditions
In some cases, excess vaginal discharge is not a normal occurrence; instead, it may signal an infection or even vaginal or cervical cancer. This is especially true when the discharge is pink or brown, because that can be a sign that it may contain blood. A yeast infection can cause increased discharge that is thicker than usual and leads to itching and irritation. Those with cancer may notice their discharge smells foul or is particularly watery. Women with these symptoms are advised to consult their doctor to determine the specific cause.