White Discharge

What Does White Discharge Mean?

Vaginal discharge that is milky white or clear and without an unpleasant smell is a normal bodily fluid that plays an essential role in vaginal health. Changes in the consistency and smell of white discharge can indicate either a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis.

Read on to learn more about white vaginal discharge, it’s causes, what it means and how to make sure you’re looking after your vagina.

Dr Clair Grainger

Medically reviewed by

Dr Clair Grainger

Last reviewed: 27 Apr 2022

What is White Discharge?

White vaginal discharge is a normal part of life for most people with a vagina. It keeps the vagina clean and lubricated and protects it from infection.Healthy discharge:

is milky white or clear in colour

can be thick and sticky or wet and slippery

has no smell or a mild odour

The amount of discharge you have varies depending on the individual. It can be heavier if you are pregnant, using birth control, or sexually active.

However, if white vaginal discharge has a thick lumpy consistency (like cottage cheese), this can indicate that you have a yeast infection. Bacterial vaginosis can cause fishy-smelling white watery discharge.

Which Infections Can Cause White Discharge?

White discharge that is chunky and associated with an itchy vagina can mean you have a yeast infection.

White or grey discharge that is watery and smells fishy can be a sign of a bacterial vaginosis infection.

Chlamydia can cause white discharge in men, but the discharge is usually yellow-green in women.

Yeast infection (also known as candidiasis and thrush)

A yeast infection is a common condition that occurs when the balance of yeast and bacteria in the vagina changes, causing the yeast cells to increase. It is not a sexually transmitted infection (STI), although sex can trigger it.

Symptoms include:

  • white vaginal discharge that looks like cottage cheese (which does not usually smell)
  • discomfort during sex or when you pee
  • itching around the vagina

Bacterial vaginosis

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is another common condition that often does not have symptoms. It occurs when the balance of bacteria in your vagina changes. Like yeast infections, it is not an STI, but sex can trigger it and having BV can increase your chances of contracting an STI.

Symptoms include:

  • vaginal discharge that has a strong fishy smell, particularly after sex
  • discharge that is more watery and grey than normal

Can Periods Cause White Discharge?

Your period does not cause white discharge, but white discharge is a normal part of your menstrual cycle.

This discharge is called leucorrhoea and can be slippery and clear throughout your cycle or stickier at the start and end of your period.

Many women also notice that their discharge is stretchy and clear during ovulation, like the consistency of egg white.

White discharge before your period does not mean you are pregnant, although it is possible to get a white discharge at early stages of pregnancy. Knowing what your normal discharge is and when you get it is can help you spot anything unusual or any changes.

White Discharge and Pregnancy

It is normal to have heavier white discharge during pregnancy. Your cervix and internal walls of the vagina become softer during pregnancy which can make you more vulnerable to infection. The extra discharge created by your body helps to prevent infections.

As your pregnancy progresses, the amount of discharge you have often increases. In the last week of pregnancy, your white discharge may contain a jelly-like pink mucus called a ‘show’. A show is when the mucus stored in your cervix during pregnancy flows out of your vagina and is a sign that your body is preparing to give birth.

When is white discharge a cause for concern in pregnancy?

If your white discharge starts to smell strongly, changes consistency and becomes lumpy like cottage cheese, or changes colour, this can be a sign you have an infection. Infections can affect the baby you are carrying, so it is essential to get medical advice as soon as possible.

If your discharge becomes noticeably thicker and more jelly-like or starts to leak continuously, this can indicate an issue with the pregnancy. Seek medical advice immediately.

White Discharge and Sex

You may notice an increase in white discharge during sex. Two reasons can cause this:

  • sexual arousal can make white discharge thicker and heavier
  • if you have sex at the beginning or end of your period or during ovulation, you may notice the discharge more than usual as a result of having sex

If you notice your discharge being thicker, lumpy or smelling after having sex, this can mean you have an infection and should contact your doctor or a sexual health clinic to check for infections and rule out other more serious causes.

White Discharge and Menopause

The changes in hormones associated with menopause can impact the amount of vaginal discharge you have. It is common for women to experience vaginal dryness during the menopause, which means a reduction in discharge. However, many women also experience an increase in the amount of discharge.While changes in the amount of white discharge you have are normal in the menopause, changes in its consistency, colour or smell are not. These changes can indicate an infection in your body or a more serious underlying cause, and you should talk to your doctor.

How to Prevent White Discharge

Normal white discharge is milky white or clear, without a strong odour, and either wet and slippery or thick and sticky. This discharge is a natural and essential bodily function. It helps to lubricate the vagina and prevent infections.

Scented soaps, hygiene wipes and vaginal douches are all ways women prevent vaginal discharge. Medical experts do not recommend these as they interrupt your body’s natural processes.

White discharge with a consistency of cottage cheese is usually caused by a yeast infection. You can prevent a yeast infection by:

  • drying properly after washing
  • not using soap or shower gels when you wash or deodorants or douches on your genitals
  • wearing cotton underwear or tights

Watery white discharge with a fishy odour is usually caused by bacterial vaginosis (BV). It can be prevented by:

  • not using vaginal washes, deodorants or douches
  • avoiding strong-smelling soaps for your clothes and body
  • stopping smoking
  • reducing your stress levels

If you get yeast infections or BV regularly, it is helpful to understand your triggers to avoid them if possible. It’s also a good idea to contact your GP to confirm the diagnosis and rule out any other causes for your symptoms.

If you need to treat either a yeast infection or BV, our doctors at Superdrug Online Doctor can review your symptoms quickly and easily using our online service. They can then issue you with the appropriate treatment if this is suitable, which can be delivered discreetly to an address of your choice.

Is white discharge a cause for concern?

White discharge that is normal for your body is not something to worry about.

If you notice changes in the smell and consistency of your discharge, this can indicate you have an infection or rarely can be due to a more serious underlying condition such as a gynaecological cancer. You should talk to your doctor or a sexual health clinic about your symptoms.

The following symptoms occurring at the same time as a change in your white discharge can be a sign that something more serious is happening in your body. Seek medical advice if you also have:

  • fever
  • extreme tiredness
  • weight loss that you cannot explain
  • increased need to pee
  • abdomen or stomach pain
  • bleeding durig or after sex or between periods
  • pain during sex
  • post menopausal bleeding


Bacterial vaginosis (2018) NHS [accessed 24th February 2022]

Thrush in men and women (2020) NHS [accessed 24th February 2022]

Vaginal discharge (2021) NHS [accessed 24th February 2022]

Vaginal yeast infections (2019) Women’s Health [accessed 24th February 2022]

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