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Vaginal Discharge During Pregnancy: How To Deal With The Smell and Discharge Quickly

Pregnancy and vaginal discharge

Pregnancy and vaginal odor may happen concurrently.

Sometime, it brings along a host of odor and discharge issues that is enough to send any pregnant woman over the edge!

With so many changes within the body, it is no wonder a pregnant woman can sometimes be overwhelmed with the adaptations that the body needs to make to hold the precious bundle of joy safely to term.

These hormonal changes and extra stress that the body undergoes during pregnancy can result in a few conditions that can potentially up the smell factor.

But having a ‘new’ smell to your vagina is perfectly normal.

As M.D. Miriam Greene, clinical assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology, told Fit Pregnancy, pregnancy results an increase in blood supply to many parts of your body (including the vagina).

This causes your vagina’s pH balance to be altered.

As Greene put it, “This can mean your lady parts have a “sweet, doughy, or gluey scent.”

That being said, if you notice any other smells, it may be a valid concern for you to approach your gynecologist.

Which is why this article will share with you a list of common types of vaginal odor and discharge, as well as a few suggestions that can help relieve the symptoms.

So sit back and relax. 

Stages of Pregnancy and Common Vaginal Discharge

Stages of pregnancy and vaginal discharge

In the first trimester, before you know that you are even pregnant, some women can experience pink, brownish discharge.

This is known as spotting, which can be due to implantation bleeding.

About 20-30% of women experience implantation bleeding during the time right before their periods.

Implantation bleeding occurs when the fertilized egg attaches itself to the cervix, resulting in a bit of bleeding.

If the discharge is very bloody, it is important to see your doctor ASAP.

In the last trimester, usually from 36 weeks onward, women may experience thick mucus like discharge (can be white, streaked with pink or brownish stains, even yellowish).

This discharge is known as mucus plug.

It is formed at the end of the first month of pregnancy, and seals up the cervix to protect the fetus from any infection from the vagina to the cervix. 

The mucus plug will drop off in the final weeks of pregnancy to prepare for baby's arrival.

It can come off in small pieces over time, or can drop off in its entirety at once.

A whole mucus plug is rather small, about 4-5 cm, and looks gelatinous. It can be a sign of impending birth, but is really person dependent. 

Smelly Discharges During Pregnancy

Most pregnant women report increase in vaginal discharge volume due to hormonal changes and increased blood flow to the vagina.  

Typically, it can be white or clear in color without odor. This discharge during pregnancy is known as leukorrhea and has mild scent but are typically not strong smelling. 

Most women are worried that leukorrhea means bacteria infection. Leukorrhea itself does not meant BV. In fact, having leukorrhea is good as it helps to protect the birth canal from infection.

Bread-like Or Yeasty Smelling Discharge During Pregnancy

Yeast infection is pretty common in pregnant women with all the changes in the body as well as lowered immunity.

You can suspect you have yeast infection if the consistency of the discharge becomes cottage cheese-like and starts smelling bread/beer-like. 

Of course, there are women who have yeast infection and who remain odor-free. 

Because of the pregnancy, women need to be careful about the over the counter medications that they would usually use.

It is really best to check with your obstetrician or the pharmacist before you partake in any medical intervention for the yeast infection. 

Discharge Smells Like Onion During Pregnancy

The mixture of sweat and vagina fluid can emit unpleasant odor.

How it smells though, depends on individual. For some, it smell like kitty litter and others, they smell like onion.

Being pregnant (especially at the later stages) can cause moisture and sweat to be trapped more easily. To avoid the odor, bath frequently, change your clothes regularly and also remember to wear more breathable materials for your choice of clothing.

Many women complains of smelling like onions after eating or cutting them. They believe that heightened sense of smell (due to increased level of hormone estradiol) is one of the cause of this phenomenon. Thankfully, the smell goes away quickly when you stay away from onions. 

If the smell persists, and you felt irritation and the discharge is milky, check with the doctor immediately as you may have bacterial vaginosis.

Metallic Smelling Discharge During Pregnancy

Firstly, check if you are bleeding.

Dr. Carol Douglas of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, shared that it is common to for pregnant woman to smell irony after sex due to spotting even if they did not notice any blood. 

Women are more sensitive to smell when they are pregnant and it can be distracting.

However, if the smell persist, metallic smelling discharge may indicate that you are having infection. Do check out with your doctor for assurance. 

Sweet Smelling Discharge During Pregnancy

Does your urine that smell sweet? Sweet smelling urine may be a result of excess glucose. 

According to National Institutes of Health, around 10% of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes. While it is not permanent, it increases the risk of you getting type 2 diabetes in the future.

If your urine smells sweet, it is better to check with the doctor and take precautionary measure to keep your blood sugar in check.

If you are sure it is the discharge that smell sweet, it may mean that you are leaking amniotic fluid. However, you only need to be alarmed if there is a lot of fluid leaking as it seems common to have some leakage.

Call your doctor if you want peace of mind.

Tips To Combat Increased Vaginal Odor Associated With Infections

On the home front, you may want to reconsider the sugar intake in your current diet.

It is highlighted by M.Sara Rosenthal, M.D. in her book “The Gynecological Sourcebook” and authors of  “Our Bodies, Ourselves” that we should avoid sugar in the management of bacterial vaginosis. 

Sugar consumption can construct a vaginal environment which bacteria thrive in.

In addition, consider wearing breathable clean underwear (made from cotton, not those polyester blends) and loose clothing to allow airflow to reduce humidity and moisture in the lady bits.

Some women swear by taking yogurt, and I find taking a daily tablespoon of unsweetened plain yogurt works well for me.

I recommend to choose unsweetened, plain yogurt made from pasteurized milk.  

Personal Experience

During my second trimester, I noticed that for a while upon waking up in the morning, I tend to have yellowish thick discharge.

The color of the vaginal discharge as the day progresses would usually take on a more white/clear hue.

I was worried about potential infections so I checked in regularly with my obstetrician, who reassured me that as long as there is no itching or foul smells, there is no serious cause for concern.

One of the primary ways I help myself to reduce possibility of infection was by cutting down on processed sugars, and wearing breathable loose cotton boxers.

A confession: I had irrational cravings for watermelons (like 1 watermelon every 2 days, BY MYSELF) and mangoes throughout my pregnancy, so I am pretty sure the fruit sugars contributed a fair bit to the growth of my yeast colony.

Bacteria Vaginosis During Pregnancy

Another possible cause for smelly discharge could be Bacterial Vaginosis (BV).

When infected, discharge presents itself as yellow/green with fishy/salty/stale odor.

Medical treatment options for BV typically includes prescription oral antibiotics (e.g. metronidazole or tinidazole), vaginal gels (e.g clindamycin cream) or vaginal suppositories (nystatin based), usually for a period of 5 to 7 days.

There are concerns that BV can lead to preterm babies and pregnant women should definitely consult their doctors before taking any antibiotics for it.

There are certain antibiotics that pregnant women should avoid. Check with your doctor before proceeding.

Again, I stress the importance of wearing breathable clean underwear and loose clothing to improve airflow to discourage optimal environment for bacterial growth.

Changing your underwear regularly helps too.

I am not a fan of most commercial panty liners because of potential poor choice of raw material that can encourage leaching of undesirable chemicals such as pesticide and chlorine (commonly used in manufacturing and processing of cotton).

I also find that the design of most panty liners inhibits good airflow, which is a big no-no for me.

However, there are other options such as organic cloth panty liners, and some brands of commercial panty liners that has rather good design and made of organic cotton that you may like to consider.

 

How STDs Affects Pregnancy And Vaginal Odor

How STD affects pregnancy and vaginal odor

Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) such as gonorrhea and chlamydia tend to result in cloudy, yellow green fishy smelling discharge.

Treatment options for Chlamydia is prescription oral antibiotics.

The two most common antibiotics, as recommended by NHS, is azithromycin (2-4 tabs at once) and doxycycline (2 tabs a day for a week).

If you are pregnant or have allergy issues, doctors typically only prescribe either erythromycin, amoxicillin or azithromycin.

Treatment options for Gonorrhea is usually a combination of prescription antibiotics.

Antibiotics like ceftriaxone or cefixime is given in the form of injections, in conjunction with oral antibiotics such as azithromycin.

Another common form of STD is Trichomoniasis.

Trichomoniasis results in similarly colored and smelly discharge which tends to be more frothy. Recurrence rates are high and can affect foetus and maternal health.

Medical intervention is necessary (usually prescription oral antibiotics such as metronidazole or tinidazole).

Please consult your doctors for the most appropriate management.

Sexual abstinence (during treatment and at least a week after treatment) and getting your partner treated is highly recommended to manage the disease, or for any STDs.

 

Stress Incontinence

Stress incontinence is another common symptom among pregnant women as our bladder size becomes smaller, compressing into half of what it is when the baby becomes bigger.

What that means realistically is that

  1. We start scanning for the nearest bathroom whenever we go out because of the need to go a toilet is ever so often;
  2. It becomes common for us to leak little amounts of urine when we sneeze, cough or laugh.

Most pregnant women find an increase in the frequency of urination due to the hormonal changes and smaller bladder size.

Not finding a toilet in time can be troublesome. 😐

Other than scanning for nearest available bathroom, I also recommend bringing extra pairs of clean underwear when going out and advocate for regular changes of underwear to remain fresh and reduce potential infection risks.

Some people use incontinence pads but I am not a fan of it for the same reasons as not using panty liners.

However, not everyone has the luxury to have ready access to bathrooms. You may like to consider these safer panty liner options for some support.

Personally, I find that regular pelvic floor exercises to be helpful in managing stress incontinence, and also have additional benefits for our sexual health!

Check here for the top three exercises we can incorporate into our routine to strengthen our pelvic muscles.

 

Constipation During Pregnancy

Pregnancy and constipation

Progesterone is one of the main hormones active during pregnancy.

The progesterone level increases during pregnancy and has the effect of slowing down our digestive systems and intestinal movements.

This is done, so that the fetus can obtain nutrition from the mother more effectively.

Ah, the wonders of our body wisdom!

The downside of it, however, is that it can also result in constipation.

Antenatal supplements usually contain iron and iron has been known to worsen constipation.

As a result, many women complain of constipation issues during the course of their pregnancy.

TMI warning: I remember feeling so constipated in my first trimester that I had to resort to manual evacuation.

The pain and discomfort of having something lodged in the middle of nowhere is literal hell.

After that incident, I become very solicitous with drinking lots of water and eating copious amounts of fruits and vegetables to keep’em moving.

 

Constipation And Hemorrhoids
Hemorrhoids

Having constipation can potentially result in hemorrhoids because of the difficulty and strain that occurs during bowel movements.

In addition to hormonal changes, increased abdominal pressure from the swelling belly can also contribute to the development of hemorrhoids.

Having hemorrhoids technically do not smell because the swollen veins are within the rectum membranes.

The odor that accompanies people with hemorrhoids usually comes from the fecal matter remnants that get stuck around the hemorrhoid, or when there is anal leakage.

Often, the area may not be cleaned thoroughly, especially when there is pain or bleeding.

Consider water cleaning (gentle sprays are helpful) or wet wipes after bowel movements as part of the management to help with more thorough cleaning.

Like the same for stress incontinence, I recommend bring extra pairs of underwear for freshness.

Increasing dietary fiber as well as remaining hydrated (drinking enough water that your pee comes out pale yellow or clear) can help improve the symptoms of constipation and hopefully relieve the development of hemorrhoids.

Constipation symptoms typically improve after delivery.

 

Afterword

Pregnancy is a precious time in our lives.

Sure there may be various challenges that we need to adapt to that can easily overwhelm us when there is just so much going on!

It is important to remember that nobody stays pregnant forever, and it helps to know that most of the conditions and the smells associated with them usually resolve by themselves after delivery!

 

Photo Credits:
References:
  • National Institute Of Health
  • De Seta F, Restaino S, De Santo D, Stabile G, Banco R, Busetti M, Barbati G, Guaschino S. Contraception. 2012 Nov;86(5):526-9. Effects of hormonal contraception on vaginal flora.doi: 10.1016/j.contraception.2012.02.012. Epub 2012 Apr 20. 
  • Obstetrics: Normal and Problem Pregnancies. Gabbe, S, Niebyl, J, Simpson, JL. Sixth Edition.
  • Hakakha MM, Davis J, Korst LM, Silverman NS. Obstet Gynecol. 2002 Oct;100(4):808-12. Leukorrhea and bacterial vaginosis as in-office predictors of cervical infection in high-risk women.

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