Pregnancy and Bacterial Vaginosis
Vaginal Discharge & Odor During Pregnancy: What’s Normal?
Pregnancy can be as confusing as it is elating, and it’s not always easy to tell which changes are normal and which are cause for concern. One change is vaginal discharge, which can vary in consistency or thickness, frequency, and amount during pregnancy.
Normal vaginal discharge, is thin, clear, or milky white, and mild smelling. Changes in vaginal discharge can begin as early as one to two weeks after conception, even before you’ve missed your period. As your pregnancy progresses, this discharge usually becomes more noticeable, and it’s heaviest at the end of your pregnancy. You may want to wear an unscented panty liner. Avoid tampons in pregnancy.
In the last weeks of pregnancy, you may also notice that your discharge contains streaks of thick mucus with streaks of blood, called “show.” This is an early sign of labor and should not be cause for alarm.
Gray vaginal discharge is not healthy, and it can be a symptom of a common bacterial infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV). If you have a gray discharge, it is highly recommended you immediately consult your healthcare practitioner.
“Bacterial Vaginosis is found in about 25% of pregnant women. BV is usually not dangerous, however if left untreated it can increase the risk for other medical problems in pregnancy.”
Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most commonly diagnosed vaginal infection. It occurs when the protective peroxide-producing lactobacilli (good bacteria) of the vagina is eliminated, permitting an overgrowth of anaerobes (unfriendly bacteria) and other “un-friendly” pathogens, such as Gardnerella vaginalis and Mycoplasma hominis. While it's not technically a sexually transmitted disease, women who recently changed sex partners and those who have more than one partner tend to get BV more easily than other women.
Without proper treatment, having bacterial vaginosis during pregnancy can increase your risk of miscarrying in the second trimester and raise your chances of delivering your baby prematurely. It can also lead to Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, ectopic pregnancy, and infertility.
Read on to learn more about these concerns, as well as the symptoms and treatment options for BV.
“Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the number #1 most commonly diagnosed vaginal infection – even more common than yeast infection.”
Many women with BV do not exhibit any symptoms, which can make it harder for pregnant women to identify if they have an infection. Symptoms of BV include:
- Thin vaginal discharge
- Discharge that is grey, white, or green
- Foul-smelling or “fishy” vagina odor especially after having sex
- Pain, itching or burning in the vagina
- Itching around the outside of the vagina
- Burning feeling when you urinate
- Burning feeling inside the vagina
If you start showing signs of BV, it’s important to contact your health provider as soon as possible to prevent any complications.
“Approximately 10% – 30% of pregnant women will experience bacterial vaginosis (BV) during their pregnancy. BV is characterized by a shift from a healthy vaginal microbiome – one dominated by acid-producing bacteria (the healthy bacteria, such as lactobacillus) – to a vagina dominated by unhealthy bacteria.”
Besides being pregnant, other risk factors increase your chances of getting BV. These include:
- Having multiple sex partners or a new sex partner: Even though the cause of BV is unknown, the infection is linked to sexual activity. BV is more common in women who have sex with other women.
- Douching: Vaginal douching is known to increase the risk of BV. Women are generally discouraged to use a douche since the vagina is already self-cleaning.
- Lacking certain bacteria: Some women’s bodies do not produce enough of the “good” bacteria in the vagina, making it easier to cause infection.
- Being a Black Woman: BV is twice as common in black women than in white women. The cause for this is not fully understood.
- Used an intrauterine device (also called IUD)
Fortunately for pregnant women, there are ways you can help prevent BV.
- Don’t have sex: BV isn’t an sexually transmitted infection (STI), but you’re more likely to get it if you have sex than if you don’t.
- Limit the number of sex partners you have: Have sex with only one person who doesn’t have other sex partners.
- Use a condom every time you have sex: Condoms are barrier methods of birth control. Barrier methods help prevent pregnancy (and STIs) by blocking or killing your partner’s sperm. Other kinds of birth control, like the pill and implants, don’t protect you from STIs.
- Don’t douche: Douching can remove normal bacteria in your vagina that can help protect you from infection.
- Practice Good Vaginal Hygiene: Use warm water only and no soap to clean the outside of your vagina. Do not clean the inside of your vagina
- Always wipe front to back.
BV can be frustrating but is generally is not a cause for concern as long as it’s treated properly. Early detection and the use of antibiotics or the use of pH vaginal regulators, such as GYNALAC, can ensure that there is no harm to your baby. If you start experiencing symptoms of BV, do not wait to contact your doctor.
BV is three times more common to be found in infertile women than fertile women. BV, and other infections in general, can cause decreased fertility in a number of ways:
- Increasing inflammation and immune system activity, making a toxic environment for reproduction.
- Causing damage to sperm and vaginal cells.
- Interfering with the production of healthy cervical mucus during ovulation.
- Blocking the Fallopian Tubes through scar tissue damage from infections, so that sperm and egg can’t meet.
Pregnant women are at increased risk for BV because of hormone changes that happen during pregnancy. If you have BV during pregnancy, your baby is at increased risk for premature birth and low birthweight. Premature birth is birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. Low birthweight is when your baby is born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces. Being born too early or too small can cause health problems for your baby.
BV also can cause pelvic inflammatory diseases (also called PID). PID is an infection in the uterus that can increase your risk for infertility (not being able to get pregnant).
BV is also associated with a two-fold increase in risk of preclinical pregnancy loss, sometimes called a chemical pregnancy, following IVF. BV is also associated with increased rates of human papillomavirus (HPV) and HIV infection. For women with BV present during pregnancy, there may be an increased risk of miscarriages, preterm birth, and low birth weight complications for the newborn, as well as postpartum infections.
Did you know?
- Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common infection that’s easily treated, but it can cause problems for your baby during pregnancy.
- Having BV during pregnancy can increase your baby’s risk for premature birth and low birthweight.
- BV can increase your risk for pelvic inflammatory disease, which can cause problems if you’re trying to get pregnant.
- BV isn’t a sexually transmitted infection, but it is common in sexually active women.
- Getting treated for BV during pregnancy can help protect your baby.
“Bacterial vaginosis is usually not dangerous, however if left untreated it can increase the risk for other medical problems”
When to call your doctor
It’s important to let your healthcare provider know about any abnormal discharge, as it could be a sign of an infection or a problem with your pregnancy. Here are some signs of abnormal discharge:
- Yellow, green, or gray color
- Strong and foul odor
- Accompanied by redness or itching, or vulvar swelling
Abnormal discharge and odor may be a sign of infection and may also signal a complication in your pregnancy. When in doubt, it’s always better to play it safe and call your doctor. Note when the changes to your vaginal discharge began and any defining characteristics. This will help your doctor determine if your discharge is cause for concern.
Normal vaginal discharge, is thin, clear, or milky white, and mild smelling. If your discharge turns grey or white accompanied by a strong smell, it may be a sign that you have BV and a pH imbalance. The only real solution is to restore and maintain your body’s delicate balance. Sometimes your body can do this on its own, but when it needs a little help, there's GYNALAC. Read more...
Bacterial Vaginosis: Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) is the most common cause of vaginal infections and results from an imbalance in the natural flora of your vagina and a change in its pH.
Types of Vaginal Odor: Click to learn more about the different types of vaginal odor.
Vaginal Discharge: The production of vaginal discharge can change in consistency and appearance depending on many factors. Click for a guide to Vaginal Discharge Colour.
Vaginal Discharge: Click here to learn more about what the color of your vaginal discharge means.
Importance of pH: A healthy vaginal pH is usually between 3.8 and 4.5. Click to learn more about why pH of the vagina is so important.
Vaginal Health: Click to learn more about vaginal health.
Antibiotic Resistance: The growing concern over the risk of antibiotic resistance is the primary reasons most healthcare practitioners are now turning towards non-antibiotic approaches to prevent recurrent infections.
UTI or Vaginal Infection? If you experience discomfort in your genital area or when you urinate, you may have an infection. Click here to learn more about difference between a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) and Vaginal Infection.
Bacterial Vaginosis or Yeast Infection: Which Is It? Click here to learn how to tell the difference between bacterial vaginosis and a yeast infection.