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Red, Black, Green, Yellow: The Varying Shades Of Vaginal Discharge

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

Discharge is the vagina’s way to cleanse and lubricate. While changing shades and texture throughout the menstrual cycle are normal, specific colours can help in giving useful observing your health.

Regular vaginal discharge is called leucorrhoea. It comprises of fluid and bacterial discharge from the vagina, and most people produce less than 4 ml of white/clear discharge daily. Normal discharge is clear, white or pale-yellow and sticky.

Before a period, vaginal discharge is cloudy because of progesterone rise. Otherwise, it is clear and watery because of high oestrogen. Vaginal discharge mixes with blood just before or after a period which gives it the shades of red.

Each individual’s period is different, and each period is different. Health conditions, hormonal and lifestyle changes, age, diet, and environment affect the colour and texture of period blood. Healthy menstrual blood can range from bright red to dark brown or black as per changes in the flow. The unusual colour of period blood or irregular bleeding can happen due to infections, pregnancy and in rare cases, cervical cancer.

Image credit: viva.la.vaginas

Clots

We are often worried about clots in period blood. The endometrial shedding causes blood, vaginal mucous and tissues to expel out of the vagina and the lumps we see are pieces of the endometrial tissue. So, normal clots are no cause of worry.

But, if clots are large, accompanied by excessive bleeding, it might indicate menorrhagia, which is a condition where a person has unusually heavy bleeding, and periods last more than a week.

Dark Red Or Brown

This can appear at the beginning/end of a period. It is oxidized blood which has been in the uterus for some time and is thus of a darker shade than regular and can be of different hues.

Brown or dark red spotting can also be an early sign of pregnancy called implantation bleeding. During pregnancy, it can be a sign of miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy where the egg implants in the fallopian tube instead of the uterus. Therefore, it is crucial to speak to one’s obstetrician if spotting occurs during pregnancy.

Postpartum Bleeding/Lochia: This is a postpartum discharge which begins bright red blood and eventually becomes darker with reduced flow. It is how the body expels excess uterine blood and tissues, but not everyone experiences lochia after giving birth and those experiencing heavy bleeding should consult a doctor.

Black

Old blood that stays in the uterus for a long time gets oxidized and turns dark red/brown initially after which it turns black. It can appear at the start or end of a person’s period. Apart from this, it can be an indicator of vaginal blockage coupled with its other symptoms.

Bright Red

This is the colour of fresh blood and indicates a steady flow. Some may have bright red blood throughout their period while for others, it may start bright and gradually darken as periods approaches the end.

Unusual spotting/bleeding at other times of the menstrual cycle may be a sign of infection like chlamydia or gonorrhoea. Polyps or fibroids, which are growths in the lining of the uterus, may also cause excessive bleeding. Coupled with the other symptoms, bright red blood other than menstruation might indicate cervical cancer.

Pink And Orange

Pink or orange blood or spotting occurs when period blood mixes with cervical fluid. Birth controls pills which lower oestrogen levels can cause a lighter flow in the pinkish shade. Sexual intercourse can often cause small tears in the vagina or cervix wherefrom blood mixed with vaginal fluids can result in a pink discharge.

Other causes of pink discharge could be significant weight loss, unhealthy diet, and anaemia. Pink release, combined with cramps during pregnancy, maybe a sign of miscarriage.

Orange blood can also signal infections like bacterial vaginosis or trichomoniasis if coupled with other symptoms like vaginal itching, discomfort and pungent discharge. Orange period blood does not always mean there is an infection, but it is good to consult a gynaecologist to be sure.

Grey

Grey is usually a sign of bacterial vaginosis occurring due to an imbalance between the beneficial and harmful bacteria in the vagina. Other symptoms of bacterial vaginosis include itching, pungent ‘fishy’ vaginal smell and painful urination. In later stages of pregnancy, grey discharge containing clots is a sign of miscarriage.

Yellow And Green

Pale yellow just before an approaching period and brownish-yellow after menstruation (usually short) is standard. Though yellow discharge of the following kinds needs medical attention:

  • A yellow, dark yellow or greenish discharge which is frothy/thick/chunky accompanied by a pungent, fishy smell can be a sign of trichomoniasis which is a sexually transmitted disease (STI).
  • A pus-like yellow discharge which has a strong odour can be a sign of cervicitis or STIs— gonorrhoea and chlamydia. Gonorrhoea may infect the vagina, anus, throat depending on the kind of sexual activity. Cervicitis (cervix inflammation) can also cause green/brown discharge and is caused by an STI, bacteria overgrowth or an allergy.
  • Pungent yellow/green discharge is a sign of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID). It is an infection that occurs when untreated gonorrhoea or chlamydia spreads. PID affects the uterus, fallopian tube and ovaries if left untreated. Yellowish/Grayish discharge with a fishy smell indicates bacterial vaginosis.

Clear

Clear discharge (white/pale yellow) is entirely normal and can be of the following types:

  • Watery: Normal discharge that can occur any time, especially following heavy workouts or sexual arousal.
  • Stretchy: Normal, mucus-like stretchy discharge indicating ovulation. Naturally, this also has an egg-y smell.

Know Your Normal

The whole point behind writing this article is to show that there are varying possibilities due to different reasons, so one should not panic or go on google search ending in 3 am-cancer-thoughts. Because each individual’s experience is different, the normal for each individual also differs. Therefore, what is essential is that we are aware of what is normal to us so that we can take note of any changes to it.

Be Kind To Your Vagina

Our vagina has good bacteria and harmful bacteria. You don’t want to drive the good samaritans away, do you? So, listed below are some of the ways in which you can take care of your vagina:

  • Be okay with what is your vaginal odour. You do not have to smell like cherry blossoms down there too just because patriarchy and capitalism have pre-decided what gender smells like. Heck, what does patriarchy even know about genders?
  • Also, do not douche! Never wash the inside of your vagina; it is self-cleaning. Soap/fragrances/vaginal washes can cause bacterial imbalance and may lead to infection. If you must- use warm water and very mild, unscented soap if at all, spread apart the lips and clean very delicately.
  • Choose comfortable cotton underwear. Cotton is skin-friendly and absorbs moisture which may prevent yeast infection. Do not wear super-tight underwear; it causes redness, itching, rashes and discomfort to the vagina, especially in humid seasons. Remember, your vagina needs to breathe!
  • Always keep your underwear clean and sanitised. Change it depending on weather, discharge and comfort.
  • Always practice safe sex by using condoms and get regularly tested for STIs.
  • Scented products may disrupt the natural balance of bacteria in the vagina, increasing the risk of infection. Thus, use unscented soaps, tampons, and pads.
Image credits: @okaymontana on IG

The author is a part of the current batch of the #PeriodParGyan Writer’s Training Program

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

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A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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