Glands inside the vagina and cervix produce small amounts of fluid each day that help keep the vulva clean, lubricated, and protected against infection. This normal discharge is clear or milky white and doesn’t smell bad. It contains some bacteria, skin cells, and mucus from the cervix. It also carries away old cells that line the vulva. The amount of discharge varies throughout the month and during periods, pregnancy, and sexual arousal. The color and thickness of your discharge may change as well, depending on these factors.
It’s important to know what your normal amount of discharge is so you can be aware of when there might be a problem. If your discharge is different from usual, you should call your healthcare provider. They can tell you if the increase in white discharge is a sign of something that needs treatment, such as a yeast or bacterial infection.
Typically, a healthy vagina produces about a teaspoon of discharge each day. This helps the vulva stay clean and lubricated, prevents infections, and removes old cells. The amount of white discharge can increase during the menstrual cycle, when a woman is ovulating or having sexual arousal, or when she’s breastfeeding. The amount of discharge can also change with hormonal fluctuations or changes to birth control pills.
Most of the time, changes in the appearance and consistency of vaginal discharge don’t need to be treated by a medical professional. But, if the discharge has a strong or foul odor, is chunky, or is accompanied by symptoms like fever, it’s best to see a doctor.
A yeast or bacterial infection that isn’t being treated with antibiotics can cause an increased amount of white, yellow, or green-looking discharge. These infections can cause itching or burning, and some women may have a swollen vulva or uterus.
Another common infection that can occur with a sudden increase in white discharge is bacterial vaginosis, or BV. BV happens when the natural balance of good and harmful bacteria in the vulva is disrupted. The harmful bacteria overgrow and take over the good ones. It’s the most common bacterial vaginal infection for women in their reproductive years. It’s also more likely to happen after unprotected sex or frequent vaginal douching.
A healthcare professional can swab your vulva to get a sample of the discharge and send it away for testing. This will determine the cause of your infection and determine the best course of action. This might include a prescription of antibiotics or, in some cases, removal of the vulva tissue. The healthcare professional will discuss your options with you and answer any questions you have about the change in the odor, consistency, or color of your vaginal discharge. The more information you provide, the better chance they’ll be able to treat your underlying condition.