Discharge may not be the most glamorous of topics for discussion; you could say it is taboo. But it is something that most people with a vagina experience at some point, so it’s something we need to understand and know signs of when to seek medical help. In our recent Instagram Live with Dr Brooke Vandermolen, aka ‘The OBGYN Mum’ and WUKA Period Health Expert, we talked about vaginal discharge – so we’ll share some of our learnings in this blog post.
Firstly, vaginal discharge is creamy white or clear fluid that comes from the vagina, seen in underwear. If you wear underwear all day, and take them off in the evening, you may see a smear on the gusset or when you wipe yourself after going to the bathroom. It’s totally normal.
More than normal, vaginal discharge is really important. Dr. Brooke sheds light:
‘We always say that the vagina is self-cleaning and it can look after itself a lot. The vaginal discharge we make is a really important part of keeping our vagina healthy, clean and free of infections. One of the things we have inside our vagina is friendly bacteria, and this bacteria sheds every so often, so we need to get rid of “dead” bacteria and anything else that might be trying to invade us, like “bad” bacteria.’
As anyone going through the menopause or breastfeeding may know, when you don’t produce vaginal discharge and don’t have that ‘wetness’ down there, it can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful.
Discharge changes a lot when you go through puberty as a big part of discharge is hormonally dependent. When you start to produce oestrogen, the cervix produces more fluid and vaginal discharge tends to be watery and elastic, and may be creamy white in appearance.
When you have got fresh new bleeding, it’s red. Brown discharge is usually old period blood being mixed up with cervical mucus and other things coming out in your discharge. Blood gets darker when it spends time outside of your blood vessels and oxidises. Your vagina is simply cleaning itself.
Brown Discharge Before Period
When you ovulate in the middle of your menstrual cycle, just before your period, you can have a little spotting of blood.
‘I don’t want anyone thinking that bleeding randomly during your cycle is normal, but if light bleeding, or spotting, happens exactly when we expect ovulation to happen and it happens every month, that is the most likely cause.’
Dr. Brooke advises that if you’re getting bleeding or brown discharge randomly in the month (i.e. not when ovulating), get it checked by a healthcare provider.
Why Do I Have Brown Discharge Right Before My Period
If you see brown blood right before or at the beginning of your period, this is normal. It can be one of 4 signs your period is coming – old period blood dispelling from your uterus before menstruation. Aside from this, you can also experience breast pain, skin changes and anxiety or mood swings, other common signs that your period is approaching. The severity of these symptoms will vary from person to person.
Why Do I Have Brown Discharge But No Period
If you see brown discharge but no period, this isn’t usually cause for concern. This could simply mean that you are due for your period – that your period is coming. You could also be experiencing a very light period. Light periods can happen for various reasons, many of which will not require a visit to your healthcare provider. If you experience a significant change in your period flow, it is important that you seek medical advice.
Brown Discharge After Period
In most cases, brown discharge is old blood that is taking time to leave the uterus and the body. This is very likely if you are at the end of your menstrual period.
Dr. Brooke reassures us that having brown discharge after your period is normal: ‘If you’re at the end of your period, say day 5 or day 6, and you see some brown discharge, this is quite normal because the blood left over from your period is making its way out.’
In other words, once the flow of the period has stopped, it can take a few days for the last bits of blood to pass and work their way out.
Why Do I Have Brown Discharge Everyday?
Dr. Brooke answers this question for us:
‘If you’re seeing brown discharge at other points in your menstrual cycle, that isn’t normal. Even if it’s old blood, why is it there? This we would call intermenstrual bleeding, bleeding in between your periods. Don’t ignore that – get it checked out. Most of the time, it can be nothing. Sometimes, it could be a sign of cervical cancer. If you’ve got an abnormality in your cervix, that can randomly bleed and can be a sign of cancer in the uterus as well.’
Be sure to take note of any other symptoms you experience and let your healthcare provider know.
Why Do I Have Brown Discharge After Sex?
Seeing brown discharge after sex could be due to irritation of the cervix as a result of vigorous sex. Your partner’s penis or your sex toy may cause your cervix to bleed a bit, leading to light brown discharge as a consequence.
Sometimes, brown discharge after sex can be a sign of something else, like sexually transmitted infections, pelvic inflammatory disease, ovarian cysts or cervical polyps. If you are worried, please don’t hesitate to seek medical advice from your healthcare provider.
Why Do I Have Brown Discharge On Birth Control?
Everyone deals with hormonal birth control differently. For some, brown discharge while on birth control is an indicator that your body is still getting used to it. Until the birth control is in your system, you may find spotting, discharge or irregular periods occur.
If there is too little oestrogen in the body, your uterine wall may shed between periods. If this blood takes longer than is typical to leave the body, it may appear brown. If this spotting continues for more than 3 months, it is recommended that you seek advice from your healthcare provider about possibly changing methods. A hormonal contraceptive with more oestrogen might help to stop the spotting.
Choose Light Flow WUKA Period Pants
Light flow period pants can help you to feel comfortable when spotting with brown discharge in the days before or after your period or experiencing light periods. They also make for great back-up for leaks when doing low impact exercises or for increased vaginal discharge around ovulation.
They look and feel like normal underwear yet they have built-in leak-proof technology to make them both moisture-wicking and breathable. They hold at least 7ml of period flow, the equivalent to 1 tampons’ worth of blood. Plus, you can wash period pants at up to 40 degrees in the washing machine, so light flow WUKA period pants are the perfect, planet-friendly alternative to disposable pantyliners.
👉 Brown discharge is usually old period blood being mixed up with cervical mucus, and can be seen before and after your period and sometimes after sex.
👉 If you’re seeing brown discharge at other points in your menstrual cycle, call your healthcare provider.
👉 Add WUKA Light Flow Period Pants to your shopping list (useful for spotting, brown discharge and light leaks).
ABOUT DR. BROOKE VANDERMOLEN:
Dr. Brooke Vandermolen is an NHS doctor currently working and training as a Registrar in Obstetrics and Gynaecology and mother to 2 babies. Brooke founded her educational platform ‘The OBGYN Mum’ to share insights and tips around pregnancy, birth, fertility, menopause and more through social media and blog posts. Her research in the fields of maternal medicine and high-risk pregnancy has been presented at major international conferences and published in prominent medical journals.
Find out more about our WUKA Period Health Experts here.