Unexpectedly seeing vaginal discharge in your underwear can make you send your eyebrows to the sky! What exactly is vaginal discharge, and why does it seem to appear and disappear throughout your menstrual cycle timeline? Read on to learn more about what this discharge is, and how you can learn to interpret your vaginal discharge before starting your period.
What is Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge is a sticky substance that is secreted by the vagina. It is often clear, and contains a mixture of bacteria, vaginal fluids, and cervical mucous.
Depending where you are in your menstrual cycle, the clarity of your vaginal discharge will vary. Any type of discharge with green or grey hues is likely a sign of a bacterial infection, and should be assessed by a health care provider.
Vaginal Discharge before your period – Why does it occur?
Prior to starting your period, your body is preparing for the final stage of your menstrual cycle. Your hormones are rapidly shifting, which directly affects how your body will produce vaginal discharge.
Right before your period, you will likely experience higher volumes of vaginal discharge. Most women recognize this indicator to be a physiological signal that their period is about to start. If you are interested in deepening your understanding of how your body changes during your menstrual cycle, consider monitoring the frequency and volume of your vaginal discharge.
What are the 4 phases of menstrual cycle
A woman’s menstrual cycle always has four phases. Each stage will vary in length because the full menstrual cycle will not complete in the same number of days for every woman. Some women will complete the 4 phases in 28 days, and other women will reach beyond 30 days.
The menstrual phase is the period portion of your menstrual cycle. In this time you experience blood-loss, fatigue, mood swings, and all the other symptoms that are associated with your period.
During your menstrual phase it is likely that your body is still releasing vaginal discharge due to your changing hormones. Anything exiting the vagina during the menstrual phase will be mixed with period blood and other tissues from the utero lining, so it will be hard to differentiate what you are seeing.
Ovulation phase is scientifically referred to as the follicular phase. This phase overlaps with your menstrual phase, but you do not see an increase in vaginal discharge until after your period has ended.
Whilst ovulating, your body is stimulating the production of new follicles which will develop into eggs. Your hormones, specifically estrogen, increase during this time which results in a thickening of cervical mucous. The thick mucous attaches itself to the cervical walls, and makes it more difficult for sperm to access any eggs and achieve fertilization.
During ovulation, your body will begin to shed a lot of the thick mucous, and you will see an upswing in vaginal discharge. This is how your body enters the most fertile portion of the your menstrual cycle. As the thick mucous leaves your body, your internal pathway is cleared for sperm to enter.
The vaginal discharge you excrete at this phase will be extremely simple to identify. It is typically sticky in texture, and has high elasticity properties. It can range from clear to slightly milky-white in colour, and can stretch easily if you were to try and pick it up. All of these components of your vaginal discharge are meant to make it easier for sperm to move easily through the vaginal canal, and make contact with your egg.
Following your ovulation phase, the body enters the lateral phase of your menstrual cycle. This is often the longest phase of your period, and it is common for vaginal discharge to taper off during this time. If no egg has been fertilized by this point of your cycle, the body will prepare itself for your period.
Your cycle will complete at the menstrual phase. A first sign that your period is coming is the increased volume of vaginal discharge. At this point you can safely assume that you are ending the luteal phase, and menstruation will begin shortly.
Which is not one of the four stages in the menstrual cycle?
Often people assume that the time immediately prior to menstruation is the “pre-menstrual period”. This is not considered to be an actual phase of your menstrual cycle.
This time before menstruation is often referred to as a window where women experience “PMS” or Pre-menstrual syndrome. Mood swings become more apparent, appetites can increase, breasts become tender, and breakouts or skin blemishes take place.
PMS falls within the final days of the luteal phase of your menstrual cycle. Your hormones are surging which accounts for all the symptoms you experience before your period starts (including increased vaginal discharge).
Why am I not producing vaginal discharge?
Women who use hormonally based contraceptive products, like the pill, are less likely to experience extreme swings in their hormone levels. Because of this mild shift in hormones during their cycle, there are fewer physical presentations that your body is moving through the different phases of the menstrual cycle.
Hormonal contraceptives also reduces the severity of period cramps, decreases total blood loss, and reduces opportunities for skin problems to arise.
Learning how your body operates during the different phases of your menstrual cycle is an empowering process. Recognizing the different volumes of vaginal discharge you produce can can help you better understand which phase of your menstrual cycle you are currently experiencing. This knowledge is extremely helpful, especially for women who are trying to conceive.
Learning how to recognize normal changes throughout the menstrual cycle is also helpful because it will enables you to quickly identify any unusual or abnormal symptoms during your period. Any discharge that is off-coloured or odorous should tell you that a visit to your health provider is your next step.