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Vaginal discharges

Vaginal discharges are normal and help keeps your vagina moist and comfortable.


Normal vaginal discharge is clear or white. When it dries on your underwear it looks yellow and has a slight smell.

Vaginal discharge changes throughout your menstrual cycle. During your most fertile time, about 15 or 16 days before your period, there is more discharge. It is slippery and clear.

Many useful bacteria live in your vagina. They keep harmful bacteria under control. They cause a slight smell which is completely normal. Normal vaginal discharge can change from day to day.

It is often heavier:

  • midway between periods 
  • when you have an IUD 
  • during pregnancy 
  • after sexual intercourse 

There is less discharge:

  • when breast feeding 
  • after menopause 
  • when using the contraceptive injection 


A vaginal discharge is not normal when it:

  • itches or irritates 
  • smells unpleasant 
  • changes colour

It is also not normal to have:

  • bleeding between periods 
  • uncomfortable or painful sexual intercourse 
  • lower abdominal pain. 

Any of these can be a sign of infection. If you notice any of them see your health professional. This is very important if you think you could have a sexually transmissible infection (STI).

Your nurse or doctor will discuss your concerns, check your genital area and take swab tests to find infection. Other tests may be suggested.


  • wash your genital area daily 
  • do not douche 
  • wipe yourself from front to back after a bowel motion 
  • wear cotton underwear and avoid tight jeans and lycra shorts 
  • avoid perfumed soaps and coloured toilet paper.


Thrush is also called candida, yeast or fungal infection. It is normal to have candida in your vagina and bowel. Sometimes candida grows too much and causes problems.

This may happen if:

Putting a pessary into the vagina

  • you are taking antibiotics 
  • you are pregnant 
  • you have diabetes 
  • you are under stress 
  • there is not enough lubrication during sexual intercourse 
  • you have low immunity such as an HIV infection.

Thrush is not an STI.

In some people there can be:

  • an uncomfortable, thick, white discharge 
  • itching, redness and swelling of the genital area 
  • painful sexual intercourse. 

Thrush is usually treated with cream or pessaries, which you put into your vagina, or tablets by mouth. You can buy these from a pharmacy or get a prescription from our clinics or from a doctor. To help reduce the irritation, put a handful of salt in your bath water.

Some people find natural remedies helpful.

See a nurse or doctor if:

  • you are not sure you have thrush 
  • you get thrush more than four times a year.


Bacterial vaginosis is also known as gardnerella. Changes in the balance of normal vaginal bacteria can cause bacterial vaginosis.

It is not an STI.

In some people there can be:

  • a greyish-white thin discharge 
  • an unpleasant smell – this is more noticeable after sexual intercourse and periods. 

It is usually treated with tablets you swallow. You will need to see a nurse to doctor to get these tablets. 


Many STIs such as gonorrhoea and chlamydia have no symptoms.

However, in some people they can cause:

  • a smelly, yellow or irritating discharge 
  • unusual bleeding 
  • abdominal pain 
  • painful sexual intercourse. 

If there is the slightest chance you might have an STI see a health professional, such as Family Planning, for a check-up.

Family Planning has clinics located throughout New Zealand. Use the clinic finder to find your nearest clinic.

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