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How can you tell the difference between leaking amniotic fluid and discharge?


It can often be difficult for pregnant women to tell the difference between leaking amniotic fluid and normal vaginal discharge. Both fluids originate in the vaginal area and can appear similar. However, being able to recognize when amniotic fluid is leaking is important, as it may be a sign of complications with the pregnancy. This article will provide an overview of amniotic fluid, vaginal discharge during pregnancy, how to tell the difference between the two, and when to contact a doctor.

What is amniotic fluid?

Amniotic fluid is the protective liquid that surrounds the fetus during pregnancy. It is contained in the amniotic sac. Some key facts about amniotic fluid:

– Starts being produced around week 10 of pregnancy.
– The volume increases gradually until weeks 34-36 when it reaches around 1 liter.
– It helps cushion the fetus from bumps and injury.
– Allows the fetus to move freely and develop its muscles and lungs.
– Keeps temperature stable.
– Allows nutrients and oxygen to flow to the fetus.

Normally the amniotic sac remains intact until labor begins. When it ruptures, it is commonly referred to as “water breaking.” This liquid leaking from the vagina is amniotic fluid.

What is vaginal discharge during pregnancy?

Vaginal discharge is any fluid secreted from the vaginal opening. During pregnancy, there are several reasons women may notice more vaginal discharge:

Increased estrogen levels – Causes more blood flow to the vaginal area which stimulates secretions from the cervix.

Cervical mucus – The cervix produces mucus which increases during pregnancy to help prevent infection. It is usually white or pale yellow.

Leukorrhea – A thin, milky white discharge that contains dead vaginal cells and bacteria. Very common during pregnancy.

Bacterial vaginosis – A change in the normal vaginal bacteria balance causes a gray/white discharge with a fishy odor. Needs treatment.

Yeast infections – Cause a thick, white, curd-like discharge. Usually accompanied by itching.

Trichomoniasis – A sexually transmitted disease leads to yellow-green frothy discharge.

So increased vaginal discharge is normal during pregnancy but any sudden changes in color, texture, or smell may indicate an infection needing treatment.

How to tell the difference between amniotic fluid and discharge

Here are some ways to help distinguish between leaking amniotic fluid and normal vaginal discharge during pregnancy:

Leaking amniotic fluid Vaginal discharge
Appears as a noticeable gush of fluid or slow constant leaking from the vagina Usually appears as smaller amounts of moisture or drips of fluid
Liquid is clear and watery, like water Often has a cloudy, white, yellowish or greenish appearance
Odorless or mild, sweet odor Sometimes has a distinct or unpleasant odor depending on type
Sudden onset rather than gradual increase Discharge amount may gradually increase over pregnancy
May occur at any time during pregnancy Usually occurs more often in 2nd and 3rd trimesters
Fluid may appear pink or brown if mixed with blood Rarely appears pink or brown unless infection present
Wetness may extend to thighs and legs Usually contained to underwear/pad area
No itching or irritation Itching and irritation common with infections
Sudden discharge of fluid repeats itself Discharge may be ongoing but not suddenly gushing

As you can see, the main distinguishing factors are the watery nature, lack of odor and color, and sudden onset of amniotic fluid leakage. Discharge tends to be more mucus-like, increase gradually, and presents with other symptoms if infection is the cause.

Additional tests to confirm leaking fluid

If you suspect your water may have broken but you are uncertain, there are tests that can help confirm if the fluid is amniotic fluid.

pH test – Amniotic fluid has a pH of 6-8 while vaginal fluid is more acidic. Your doctor can test the pH of the leaking fluid with test strips.

Ferning test – When amniotic fluid dries on a slide, it forms a crystallized ferning pattern under a microscope. Your doctor can perform this simple visual test.

Amnio███ test – This looks for the placental alpha microglobulin-1 protein found in amniotic fluid but not vaginal discharge. Your doctor wipes fluid from the vagina and sends it to a lab.

Ultrasound – An ultrasound technician checks for several signs to confirm ruptured membranes, like low levels of amniotic fluid.

These tests provide definitive diagnosis if the source of leaking fluid is uncertain clinically. Your doctor can decide if testing is needed.

When to call the doctor

Contact your obstetrician or midwife immediately if you experience a gush or constant leaking of fluid from the vagina before 37 weeks. Preterm premature rupture of membranes (PPROM) requires prompt medical care to monitor you and baby closely.

Even after 37 weeks, call right away so your provider can determine if labor needs to be induced to lower infection risks. Avoid sexual intercourse and inserting anything in the vagina, which can introduce bacteria.

Report any color changes like green, brown or bloody fluid as well. Reduced fetal movements after water breaking also warrants immediate attention.

Finally, call your doctor any time there are multiple episodes of sudden fluid leakage to rule out premature rupture of membranes, even if you are unsure. Better to be evaluated than wait with a potential complication.

When NOT to worry about fluid leakage

Increased vaginal discharge is very common in pregnancy and usually nothing to worry about. Here are some instances where you may not need to call the doctor:

– You pass a small amount of thin, clear, odorless fluid when straining, coughing, sneezing or exercising. This is probably urine leakage, very common during pregnancy. No need to worry.

– You have a yeast infection or bacterial vaginosis causing abnormal discharge. Treatment can likely wait until your next prenatal visit.

– The discharge matches your normal secretions just with increased volume. Totally normal in pregnancy. Simply mention at your next visit.

– You sometimes leak small amounts of fluid when passing hard stool. This usually stops shortly after. No concerns unless you fully empty your bladder.

– No apparent gush or leaking sensation. Discharge only appears in underwear or pad at normal amount or is a slow dribble. Likely normal fluids.

So discharge with no obvious leakage incidents, no unusual color or smell, and no other symptoms is usually nothing to fret about. But when in doubt, call your provider for an evaluation.

Methods to prevent and manage discharge

Here are some tips to help handle increased vaginal discharge during pregnancy:

– Wear panty liners daily to absorb extra fluids and moisture. Change frequently to avoid irritation.

– Stick to cotton underwear which feels more comfortable and breathes better than synthetic fabrics. Avoid thongs or lace which can harbor bacteria.

– Clean the vaginal area daily with warm water and avoid perfumed soaps. This prevents buildup of discharge.

– Wipe from front to back after using the toilet to avoid spreading bacteria from the anus. Never use a douche.

– Stay hydrated by drinking 8-10 glasses of water daily. Water dilutes urine to reduce chances of leakage with coughing.

– Maintain good hygiene with showers instead of baths to keep vaginal bacteria balanced.

– Avoid irritants like scented pads/tampons, vaginal sprays, and aggressive wiping.

– Treat any infections promptly and avoid intercourse until cleared up. Follow all doctor recommendations.

– Do Kegel exercises routinely to strengthen pelvic muscles and improve control.

– Empty bladder frequently and avoid “holding it” for long periods to reduce urgency leakage.

If discharge becomes a nuisance, discuss options with your doctor such as disposable or reusable incontinence pads. But increased discharge is common and expected with pregnancy.

When to see a doctor about abnormal discharge

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you notice any of the following:

– Changes in amount, consistency, color or smell

– Discharge accompanied by itching, burning or soreness

– Appears gray, greenish or yellowish

– Causes swelling, rash or redness externally

– Gushing fluid leak seeming like amniotic fluid

– Signs of infection like foul odor, pain, fever or chills

– Discharge that appears bloody or brown/rust colored

– Urinating frequently with urge leakage

– Heavier discharge following intercourse

Any deviation from normal that concerns you warrants a quick check. Obstetricians can test samples and prescribe medication if needed to clear up infections safely. Don’t hesitate to get evaluated.

Takeaway points

– Normal vaginal discharge increases during pregnancy due to hormones and blood flow.

– Amniotic fluid leaking may indicate ruptured membranes or complications requiring prompt care.

– Look for watery, odorless fluid with a noticeable gush or steady leaking to differentiate from discharge.

– Discharge is typically white or off-white with more solid, mucus-like texture that may smell stronger.

– Do not insert anything in the vagina or have intercourse if amniotic fluid leak is suspected.

– Call your doctor any time there is a sudden release of fluid or other symptoms accompanying discharge.

– Increased vaginal fluids are common and expected during pregnancy but abnormal discharge needs evaluation.


Distinguishing between amniotic fluid and normal vaginal discharge is important for monitoring maternal and fetal well-being. Pay attention to your symptoms and don’t hesitate to contact your healthcare provider for an evaluation when something seems abnormal. Keeping the vaginal area clean and dry can help reduce discomfort from excess discharge. Most increases in discharge during pregnancy are perfectly normal, however. Only with a doctor’s confirmation can you know for sure if leaking fluid may indicate a complication requiring prompt medical care. Track patterns and document leakage to provide your OBGYN the best information during your prenatal visits. This will ensure any concerns get addressed right away for a healthy, ongoing pregnancy.