Does the discharge before your period leave you wondering, “Is this normal?” If so, you’re not alone. Many women find themselves questioning their bodily secretions. Though the timing isn’t always the best, our bodies have a way of communicating with us. Most of the time our discharge is just letting us know things are functioning properly, but let’s take a closer look at what your discharge could be telling you.
Why do we have discharge?
In the moment, it can feel like discharge is only there as an inconvenience, but our bodies are just communicating with us (whether we like the method or not). Glands in your vagina and cervix produce fluid, helping to clean out old cells lining the vagina. This is excellent news! When we experience discharge, our bodies are usually telling us that our reproductive systems are functioning properly.
There aren’t many things in life that just clean themselves, but lucky for us, our vaginas are excellent self-cleaning machines. Taking out the trash, so to speak, our discharge sweeps up dead cells and bacteria in our reproductive system. We’re less likely to experience infections and other health issues because of this natural bodily function.
Cycle of discharge
Not everyone is educated about their bodies. On average, most girls get their first periods at age 12. If not prepared, this can leave them feeling scared or embarrassed. As we get older, we learn a little more here and there about what menstrual cycles are, what they do, and what they mean for our bodies. Learning about our periods is the bare minimum, so what about the other 3 weeks out of the month? There weren’t many discussions about the frequency and consistency of our discharge, leaving us to wonder if what we’re experiencing is normal.
“Normal” can vary from woman to woman, but there is a general pattern of discharge through our entire monthly cycle, allowing us to track ovulation and menstruation. Our hormones are responsible for the variation in color, consistency, and amount of discharge we experience. The first day of your cycle begins with the onset of your period when old blood and uterine tissue are shed, leaving the body through the vagina. The clean-out cycle continues until our next period through our discharge.
Following your period, you may experience a brief break and have little discharge for a few days. With rising estrogen levels, you’ll notice a thicker, white discharge that is a bit sticky, almost rubbery. As ovulation approaches, our bodies produce a runnier, cream-colored discharge that can be described as resembling egg whites. At this time you may notice an increase in the amount of wetness you experience. Following ovulation, your progesterone levels rise and inhibit the secretion of fluid, causing your discharge to become thicker once again. The discharge before your period may be drier and almost yellow-tinged in color. Then you enter the menstrual phase once again.
Getting comfortable with your body
We’ve gone over the cyclical changes of discharge and know that our bodies are working to keep us clean and healthy. Discharge is nothing to be embarrassed about or scared of - it’s natural and it’s your vagina doing the job it’s supposed to do. Getting comfortable with your body & understanding what it does can help you communicate more effectively to your healthcare provider so you can feel comfortable and confident.
What to do if something seems off
You know your body better than anyone, so if something seems not quite right, go with your gut. Let’s explore some examples of discharge that may be communicating a possible issue. Remember, don’t worry if something is off, there are solutions.
We’ve discussed the texture and consistency of discharge changes throughout your cycle. However, if you see or feel frothy, lumpy, or curdled discharge (like cottage cheese), this is a sign that something is off. Another indication that your discharge needs some attention is the presence of gray, green, or a drastic change in the white or yellowish discharge you typically experience. Though it’s completely normal to have a distinct smell, any discharge that smells fishy or putrid is cause for concern.
Let’s not get too stressed over any changes or concerns with vaginal discharge, and whatever you do, please don’t run to the store for a product that could potentially make things worse. Commercials would have us believe our vagina is supposed to smell like a bouquet of fresh flowers - this is false and any product that promises that result will probably have the opposite result. Products with these types of names should be avoided at all costs because they most certainly will not resolve the issue. Masking an odor with a strong scent does not solve the problem.
The best thing you can do for your body and mental health is to remain calm. We realize that is easier said than done when it comes to bodily functions and scenarios that may cause concern. If you’re experiencing the symptoms listed above, we advise speaking with your trusted health care practitioner. There’s no need to be embarrassed or ashamed. They are experienced with all of the body’s secretions and can help you determine the best plan of action for getting things back on track. The best thing to do is be open and honest so you can get the best care you need.
Support the Cycle
Discharge isn’t known for having the best timing and can seem like more of a messy situation than a necessary bodily function; but when we sit back and consider the natural cleaning abilities of our bodies, it’s really an incredible process. Let’s take a moment to appreciate one thing in life that just cleans itself!
So, what can you do to ensure your body keeps cleaning on? Maintain balance. This is best accomplished by keeping it simple. The choices you make about what you put on and in your body matter.
There’s no reason to complicate feminine hygiene products with overpowering scents and chemicals, so opt for natural soaps that aren’t harsh on your body, especially the sensitive parts. When choosing products, ask yourself if the ingredients were really intended for our bodies. When possible, choose products that are natural and will support our body flora.
Is it time to reevaluate your daily routine? From the amount of sleep we get to our daily movement and exercise to the food and supplements we nourish our bodies with, bodily processes thrive on healthy consistency. Investing in yourself with healthy habits, consistent sleep, and a well-balanced diet can prevent your body from burning out. Making sure your intake of nutrients can prevent both your body and your monthly cycle from getting out of sync.
Maintain a healthy balance by eating nutritious foods, while not diving too deep into restrictive diets. Choose supplements that are clean and scientifically formulated to support your system. Keep your body moving with a daily yoga practice, a walk through your neighborhood, or trips to the gym. You don’t have to commit to a fad workout challenge. Just be consistent in moving your body. And sleep. You need it!
Our bodies function best when we give them the support they need. If something seems off, don’t panic. Evaluate your lifestyle, implement practices that will support a healthy cycle, and consult with your healthcare practitioner if you have concerns. Listen to your body - it’s always communicating.
Opinions, content, and any information expressed in this article are intended to be general in nature and do not constitute medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek medical advice from your professional healthcare provider.