When you’re not pregnant, yellow discharge can be pretty normal. If the texture is not chunky and there’s no “off” scent, this color is often a result of supplements or certain foods. (And uh, isn’t that supplement life kind of the norm when pregnant?)
But it’s valid to be concerned when a color that wasn’t there yesterday is today. Is your body (or baby?) using the discharge to tell you something you should know — ASAP??
It could be nothing to sweat about but if there are other symptoms, yellow discharge might be a sign of infection, which could impact your pregnancy.
Your best move? Have your doctor check you out. Tell them your symptoms and they’ll run tests to determine the cause of your yellow discharge and if it’s a cause for concern.
Healthy discharge might be clear, white, or a slightly off-white or beige color. If you notice a bright yellow (like some dandelions got in your undies) or if there was an obvious change in the texture, smell, or color of your discharge, you should check in with your doc.
Here are some common conditions behind yellow discharge and how they can be treated.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV) can happen when you have more “bad” than “good” bacteria. Think of it like an upset microbiome in the vagina.
It’s a pretty common condition (in fact the most common vaginal condition for vagina owners between the ages of 15 to 44) for those who have sex. In fact, you might not even have symptoms.
It’s not clear why BV happens, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that douching and frequent sex increases the risk. BV also appears to be more common in the second and third trimester.
BV doesn’t always cause symptoms — and your discharge may not always be yellow (it could be white or grey). But when serious, you might also feel:
- vaginal pain or discomfort
- itching or burning in or around your vagina
- fishy vaginal odor (especially post-sex)
- burning or pain when peeing
Treating BV during your pregnancy
During a pregnancy, BV can be safely treated with antibiotics in the form of a pill, gel, or cream.
If you’re sexually active, you’ll definitely want to see the doc as treatment can help reduce your risk for STIs. Partners with a vulva may also transfer the bacteria back and forth.
Vaginal yeast infection (aka vaginal candidiasis), caused by a fungus, is the second most common vaginal infection in the U.S.. And it appears to be more common in the third and second trimester than first.
Raging pregnancy hormones can muck up the pH balance in your vagina. This, in turn, makes you more likely to get a yeast infection if you’re pregnant.
Yeast infection symptoms
- red, swollen vulva
- burning or itching
- painful or uncomfortable urination
- thick, cottage cheese-like discharge
Treating yeast infection during pregnancy
Treatment for yeast infections depends a bit upon your symptoms. Your doctor will recommend the proper — pregnancy-safe — antifungal meds, like topical nystatin, suited to your needs. The med you’ll want to avoid, especially during your first trimester, is fluconazole.
While there’s emerging evidence that untreated vaginal yeast infections may increase the risk of several pregnancy complications, research notes that more studies are needed to determine a definitive causation.
Chlamydia is the most common treatable sexually transmitted bacterial infection worldwide. It’s cured with antibiotics. If you test positive for chlamydia, you should get a cure that works in 3 to 4 weeks.
After that you should be retested after 3 months (and in your third trimester) to make sure you’ve recovered.
Chlamydia can be a silent menace — many people are symptom-free and unaware that they have it. But, some women experience:
- unusual, strong-smelling often-yellow vaginal discharge
- frequent need to pee
- discomfort when peeing
- abdominal pain
- painful sex
Treating chlamydia during pregnancy
Treatment will depend on which trimester you’re in as some medications (like doxycycline) shouldn’t be taken during your second and third trimester. Safe antibiotics for pregnancy include azithromycin, erythromycin, or amoxicillin.
Gonorrhea is another common STI. It, too, is treated with antibiotics. But as it’s slowly becoming drug-resistant, it can make the infection harder to cure.
A gonorrhea infection is associated with a 40 to 60 percent chance of a low birth weight, so it’s recommended to be screened during your first and third trimester, if you’re at high risk. It’s also associated with risk of preterm delivery.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record here: Symptoms aren’t common (which is also why doctors screen you regardless). But if you do have them, you might also notice:
- vaginal discharge, frequently yellow
- discomfort when peeing
- abdominal pain
- painful sex
Treating gonorrhea during pregnancy
The good news is that treating gonorrhea during pregnancy is possible. Antibiotic treatments, like ceftriaxone and azithromycin, improve birth outcomes.
Untreated gonorrhea has also been linked to:
Trichomoniasis (aka TV or Trich) is the most common non-viral STI. It’s caused by a pesky little parasite and treated with antibiotics. If you’re in a high-risk situation (history of STIs/STDs, multiple sex partners), you’ll want to be screened for TV frequently.
According to the CDC, symptoms are not always present and can also vary from person to person. Among the possible symptoms are:
- increased vaginal discharge, often greenish-yellow and possibly “frothy”
- pain when peeing
- painful sex
Treating trichomoniasis during pregnancy
Needless to say, trich and pregnancy are not a match made in natal heaven. Trichomoniasis can do a lot to your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections, including HIV and preterm birth. Thankfully, treatment is simple and safe for pregnancy.
You only need a single dose of prescription mediation. You’ll want to make sure your partners get treated too as 1 in 5 people get re-infected within 3 months (luckily the same medication works!).
Generally, discharge is nothing to worry about. It’s a natural, healthy part of your body’s adjustment to pregnancy. A slight change in color, odor, texture, and taste is a common first experience in pregnancy. This change can start in the first trimester and lasts the entire pregnancy.
Normal pregnancy discharge is usually mucusy, somewhere on the whitish-to-yellowish spectrum, and doesn’t smell much.
If you’re not sure you’re pregnant and are just going off by discharge (because you haven’t had time to go buy a pee-stick), yellow discharge may be a sign of early pregnancy. In this scenario, implantation bleeding can cause a color change in your discharge.
As fun as intuition is, we recommend buying a pregnancy test to confirm.
If your discharge is accompanied by any of the following additional symptoms, you should beeline it to your OB/GYN. These are typical signs of infection (which should be attended to, pregnant or not):
- drastic change in the amount of discharge
- sudden change in the color, especially if it becomes greenish or grayish
- changes in the consistency, especially if it becomes watery or thick/curd-like
- bad odor
The primary concern in all of the potential scenarios listed above is if you let it go untreated.
For a recap, here’s what risks could come true if yellow discharge *is* a sign of infection and it’s not treated:
Sometimes yellowy vaginal discharge during pregnancy is no big deal — or it’s a sign of pregnancy in itself. Other times, it’s a red flag, your body’s warning. Especially if your discharge is accompanied by a foul odor or any kind of itching, burning, or pain.
To find out what’s what, visit your doctor. As mentioned, many of these conditions can be safely and effectively treated. Getting immediate care is key to keeping you — and your baby — healthy and maintaining a storybook (or at least textbook) pregnancy.