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An honorable discharge: Where? Your underwear!

by Dr. Patricia Sadler

Growing up can feel like it’s taking forever or it can feel like it’s happened overnight. Usually it’s a little bit of both. Many things change your body from a girl to a woman. For instance, before you even have your first period, you’ll probably start developing breasts, growing pubic and underarm hair, and noticing vaginal discharge.

Learn about the changes in your body during puberty.

What is Vaginal Discharge?

About six months to a year before your first period starts, you might notice a white, cream-colored, or yellow mucous on your underwear. Some girls think it’s pee or the beginning of a period. Actually, it’s vaginal discharge, and it’s your body’s way of getting your vagina ready for adulthood. After you start your period, you’ll keep having discharge during your cycle (the time between the start of one period and the start of another one—about 28 days). Usually, it will be thick and sticky right after your period, clear and watery in the middle of your cycle, and then thick and sticky again right before your next period. It shouldn’t smell bad, hurt, or itch.

What does it do?

At this time in your life, vaginal discharge’s main job is to keep your vagina clean. It also provides a home for lactobacilli, good bacteria that protect your vagina from other germs. 

What should I do about vaginal discharge?

With normal discharge, you don’t need to do anything. It won’t stain your clothes and no one else can see it. Some girls like to wear a pad to soak up discharge. That’s OK. Just make sure not to use a tampon if you aren’t having your period.

There are ways to keep your vagina healthy. Everyone knows to wipe from front to back after using the toilet, right? That’s so you don’t get any bad bacteria into the vagina. Wearing tight clothes or staying in a wet bathing suit too long can trap heat and moisture around the vagina and lead to infection. Cotton underwear is best because it allows the area to stay dry. Laundry detergent and fabric softeners also can irritate the tissue around the vagina. If you’ve had your period, certain pads or tampons might cause irritation. Changing to another brand can solve this problem. Unscented pads and tampons are best.

Keeping your body healthy is pretty easy with just regular bathing. Don’t buy special products to clean your vagina—these products often keep vaginal discharge from doing its job. Plain old soap and water will work just fine!

Vaginal discharge may seem strange, but it’s really not much different from ear wax, saliva, or mucous in your nose. All these serve as barriers to keep harmful substances out of your body.

Learn more about problem periods.

How do I know if something’s wrong?

It’s rare for girls to get vaginal infections. But if you notice pain, itching, burning, or bleeding that isn’t a period, you should talk to an adult you trust right away. An imbalance of the normal bacteria in the vagina causes the following infections:

Candidiasis (yeast infection) – Symptoms include a white, cottage-cheese-type discharge and a LOT of itching and burning. Yeast infections are most likely after your period starts or after you’ve been on anti-biotics, which can affect the healthy bacteria in your vagina.

Bacterial vaginosis – Symptoms include a yellow or gray frothy discharge with a bad, fishy odor.

Although it can be embarrassing to tell someone, these infections aren’t serious if you treat them right away. Leaving them untreated can lead to bigger problems.

Patricia Sadler lives in South Carolina with her pharmacist husband and three children. She practices internal medicine part-time.

© 2008 New Moon® Publishing, New Moon®: The Magazine for Girls and Their Dreams, Duluth MN.

 

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This article is from New Moon  , a magazine written for girls by girls. Here is a complete list of the New Moon articles on girlshealth.gov.

Content last reviewed May 15, 2008
Page last updated October 31, 2013

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women's Health.

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