Every woman has it, and yet it often causes confusion: the discharge. It is different for every woman and it even changes within a month. But why do women have discharge at all? Why does vaginal fluid change colour and consistency? When should you go to the doctor? We answer these and other questions together with the gynaecologist Prof. Dr. med. Werner Mendling from the German Centre for Infections in Gynaecology and Obstetrics in Wuppertal.
When does a woman have discharge?
Every now and then. And that’s a good thing. Because: vaginal fluid and its outflow are quite normal “It starts in girls at the beginning of puberty at the age of 10 to 12 years. The so-called ‘white flow’ starts about one year before the first period. Until menopause, when the vagina becomes dryer again, every woman has discharge,” explains our expert Werner Mendling.
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Why do women have more and less discharge?
I’m sure you’ve noticed: Sometimes you have more, sometimes less discharge. Sometimes it’s very watery, sometimes very viscous. That’s because the amount of discharge depends on your cycle. When you are ovulating, the discharge is different than on infertile days. A normal cycle has 28 days and starts on the first day after your period. In detail, this is how it works:
The outflow changes continuously with your cycle. © Goffkein.pro / Shutterstock.com
- Cycle center Around the middle of the cycle, i.e. after about 13 days, ovulation takes place. During this time you are fertile. The fertile days are accompanied by a somewhat stronger, relatively fluid, ‘spinnable’ discharge from the cervix,” explains Professor Mendling. Spinnable means that the vaginal secretion is dilatable. It can easily be stretched up to 5 centimetres before it tears. The ovarian hormones oestrogen and progestin stimulate the glands in the cervical canal to produce more secretion. The pH value of this cervical mucus is 7, just like that of sperm, which means that the sperm are “lured” to the cervical canal to a certain extent.
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- After the bleeding After menstruation, i.e. on the first day of the cycle, many women have little discharge and the vagina may even feel a little dry. Only a few days later is more vaginal secretion produced again.
- In the barren days: After the fertile days, i.e. after ovulation and until about 6 days before ovulation, a small amount of cervical mucus sticks in the cervical canal, is thicker, tougher and whitish. It can even become somewhat lumpy.
- With hormonal contraception: In women who use hormonal contraception, for example with the pill, the cycle-dependent changes do not occur. The outflow is formed by the hormones estrogen and progestin. As the pill regularly supplies the body with these hormones, the outflow usually remains the same. Women who use hormonal contraception often have no discharge at all.
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Good to know : As the cervical mucus gives information about your fertility, the consistency of the effluent can be used to determine your fertile and infertile days. If you also take your temperature daily, you can calculate with a lot of practice and conscientiousness when you should use additional contraception.
How much discharge is normal?
How much discharge a woman has can vary greatly and often causes confusion. But every woman is different, also in this respect. For example, you may have quite a lot of discharge while another woman is rather dry. On average, however, women have an outflow of about 5 millilitres per day.
What is the function of discharge?
The vaginal secretion certainly has an important purpose, because it protects the vagina from infections. Bacteria and other pathogens find it harder to enter the body through the discharge, which is a kind of barrier.
At the same time, the lactic acid bacteria naturally present in the vagina, technical term: lactobacilli, lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This creates the acidic environment of the vagina, in which bacteria do not feel comfortable at all, so that intestinal bacteria and many other species are only present in small numbers.
The acidic environment thus protects the vagina from excessive colonisation with bacteria. Without the vaginal fluid, there would be a high risk that the bacteria would reach the fallopian tubes and other organs through the vagina and cause infections there.
Also interesting Bacteria, such as the coli bacteria (the so-called intestinal bacteria), are also found in a healthy vagina. This is no problem at all as long as lactobacilli dominate! Therefore, bacteriological laboratory tests of the vagina are not recommended. The decisive factor is that the pH value is around 4 and the lactobacilli dominate, which can only be correctly assessed by examination with a microscope.
It’s only through the vaginal fluid that it ‘slips’ during sex. © Jacob Lund / Shutterstock.com
You probably know another important function of vaginal fluid, because it is only through vaginal fluid that sex becomes pleasant. During sexual arousal, the woman produces additional fluid from glands at the entrance to the vagina. This ensures that it is moister during sex and, simply put, that it ‘slips’ better. Dry sex is no fun for anyone.
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When should I see a doctor?
For many women the discharge is an unsolved mystery. It’s no wonder, after all it’s different for every woman. In addition, it changes regularly within a month. If it’s not complicated.
However, if you are worried about the health of your vagina, simply do an odour test (using your fingers). A healthy vagina smells unspecific and slightly acidic. If a pungent fish smell gets into your nose, it means: off to the doctor. Because then it is most likely a bacterial vaginosis.
“This is a disturbance in the balance of the vagina. There is a reduction in lactic acid bacteria and a proliferation of numerous other types of bacteria. Due to the bacterial mismatch it then smells very fishy,” emphasises Werner Mendling. The doctor will then prescribe an antibiotic or antiseptic to rebalance your vagina.
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Discharge is a perfectly normal phenomenon and nothing bad. On the contrary, it protects your vagina from infections and only through it sex is really fun. However, if you notice a fishy smell, consult a doctor, because then it is most likely a bacterial vaginosis.