Vaginal discharge is a regular, healthy part of having a vagina. However, changes in discharge can sometimes indicate where you are in your menstrual cycle and let you know when to expect your next period.
What is vaginal discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a fluid or mucus that naturally cleanses and moistens the vagina. Most discharge is clear or whitish in color. The amount, texture, and odor of discharge can vary based on factors like:
- Stage of menstrual cycle
- Hormonal changes
- Sexual activity
- Use of birth control
- Infections or diseases
Normal discharge may increase during ovulation or just before your period when hormone levels change. As long as the discharge isn’t itchy, irritating, foul-smelling, or accompanied by other symptoms, it’s usually not a cause for concern.
How discharge changes through your cycle
The amount and consistency of discharge depends on where you are in your menstrual cycle. Here’s a breakdown:
Discharge is usually minimal during your period. What is present will appear bloody from shedding the uterine lining.
After your period
Discharge increases but remains thin, clear, or creamy looking. Estrogen levels are low at this time.
Leading up to ovulation
About 10-14 days before your next period, discharge becomes wetter, clearer, and more slippery as estrogen rises and the cervix produces more mucus.
Discharge peaks at ovulation. It’s very stretchy and egg white-like due to the high estrogen levels needed for follicle rupture and egg release.
Discharge gradually thickens and becomes creamier and cloudier in color due to rising progesterone.
Before your next period
Progesterone peaks about 5-7 days before your period causing discharge to become thicker and stickier.
How to track discharge
Observing changes to vaginal discharge can help provide clues for when to expect your next period. Here are some tips:
- Check your underwear daily. Discharge will cause visible stains.
- Assess color, amount, consistency, and odor.
- Check mucus directly by inserting clean fingers into your vagina.
- Note changes over several months to detect your personal pattern.
- Check cervical fluid by bearing down with pelvic floor muscles.
What discharge before a period looks like
Here are some common discharge changes that can signal a period will start soon:
- Heavier discharge – More profuse discharge that feels wetter
- Thicker discharge – Increased mucousy or glue-like consistency
- Stickier discharge – Discharge coats and sticks to underwear
- White or off-white discharge – Paler, milkier appearance
- Cellular changes – Possible tissue chunks as the uterus sheds
These happen as progesterone surges up to a week before menstruation. The hormone causes changes to the uterine lining and cervical mucus in preparation for either a period or pregnancy.
When to see a doctor
Consult your OB/GYN if you notice any of the following:
- No discharge
- Green, yellow, or gray discharge
- Discharge that resembles pus or cottage cheese
- Fishy or foul smelling discharge
- Itching, burning, or irritation around the vagina
- Sores or bumps near the vagina
- Pain during sex or urination
- Bleeding between periods
- Periods suddenly stop
- Discharge with abdominal pain and fever
These may indicate an infection, sexually transmitted disease, hormonal imbalance, or other gynecological condition requiring treatment.
Other period predictors
While discharge can provide clues about impending menstruation, consider these other common premenstrual symptoms too:
|Closer to Period
|Breast swelling and tenderness
|Headaches or migraines
|Joint or muscle pain
|Acne flare ups
|Constipation or diarrhea
These happen in response to hormonal fluctuations in the days to weeks before your period starts. Tracking symptoms in a journal or app can help confirm patterns.
When period finally arrives
Once your period begins, discharge will turn reddish or brownish as the uterine lining sheds and exits the vagina. Bleeding typically lasts about 3-7 days with lighter flow near the end.
It’s a good idea to continue tracking symptoms so you know when to expect your next period. Cycles can range from 21-35 days with the average being 28 days. Periods often don’t occur at the exact same time each month but will be in the same general range.
Should discharge change after a period?
Vaginal discharge follows a predictable pattern after your period ends. As the uterine lining regrows and hormones fluctuate, you’ll notice these changes:
- Days 1-5: Minimal wetness and light bloody discharge
- Days 5-10: Increase in thin, mild smelling discharge
- Days 10-14: Abundant, clear, slippery discharge
- Days 15-28: Sticky, whitish, creamy discharge
Right before your next period, discharge will take on a heavier, gluey texture again. Understanding what’s normal for your body makes it easier to identify abnormalities like infections.
When discharge indicates pregnancy
If fertilization occurs, you may notice some key differences in discharge by the time your next expected period would have started:
- No period
- Continued increase in discharge instead of drying up
- Thicker, whiter discharge
- Mild or metallic smell
These happen as the cervix produces more mucus and the body ramps up estrogen production. If you suspect pregnancy, take a home test to confirm.
Checking your vaginal discharge every day allows you to detect the hormonal shifts occurring within your menstrual cycle. As progesterone and estrogen levels rise and fall, you will notice changes in discharge amount, texture, color and consistency. Clear, wet mucus indicates ovulation. Thick, sticky, white discharge typically signals a period will start soon. While discharge can help indicate when your period is approaching, also look out for other common PMS symptoms like cramps, back pain, and breast tenderness. Watch for abnormalities like foul odor that may require medical care. Understanding what’s normal for your body’s discharge makes it easier to predict when to expect your next period.