Vaginal Odor During Pregnancy: Causes & Treatments 2023

Krista Elkins

Updated on - Written by
Medically reviewed by Dr G. Michael DiLeo, MD

vaginal odor during pregnancy

Vaginal odor during pregnancy can be completely normal. However, there’s a big difference between a strong odor and a foul one. A strong smell may be one of the first signs of pregnancy in the first trimester. Usually, it is nothing to worry about. When does your vagina smell different when pregnant?

During pregnancy, a discharge with a noticeable odor may increase during all three trimesters. It is usually stronger in late pregnancy. It occurs because of the fluctuation of the hormones estrogen and progesterone. 

These hormones increase during pregnancy and can change the pH levels of a woman’s vagina as well as affect the turnover of cells and alter the glandular secretions.

Interestingly, pregnant women also have a heightened sense of smell, called hyperosmia. It is thought that this is an evolutionary change that has developed over time to help you avoid toxic foods that could harm your fetus, but this needs more research.

Is Vaginal Odor Normal During Pregnancy?

Vaginal discharge during pregnancy is completely normal and has many common symptoms. It might be unpleasant or embarrassing for pregnant women to have a strong smell from their nether regions, but usually, this embarrassment is an overreaction. 

You may be the only one who notices your increased discharge and/or any associated odor because of your increased sense of smell. Rarely, it may indicate pregnancy complications such as a vaginal infection.

The bodies of pregnant women go through significant changes during pregnancy, one of which is hormonal changes causing increased secretions. These hormones may vary day by day, altering the pH of the vagina. Depending on your state of hydration, the secretions may be more or less concentrated, that is, more or less intense in odor.

This change in discharge smell is just a reflection of the change of discharge, which helps to prevent infectious bacteria that live in the vagina from reaching into your uterus and affecting your fetus. Normal discharge of pregnancy is usually a whitish or cloudy type, called leukorrhea[1]

It is just one of the things associated with other changes of pregnancy, such as increased blood flow to your reproductive organs which may cause your vaginal tissues to become engorged and more sensitive.

All women have vaginal discharge. It starts before puberty, continues through life, and stops after you go through menopause. 

This should be a thin and milky white discharge and only have a faint smell. But this smell is what is called “physiologic,” or normal. Even a mildly pink mucous-like discharge is unsuspicious. It should not smell foul, however. 

It is also important to note that a woman’s vagina may have an odor during pregnancy because of the hormonal changes in urine that occurs during pregnancy. The urine might have an ammonia-type odor to it–again, a matter of how hydrated you may be from time to time and how concentrated your urine is.

Causes of Vaginal Smell While Pregnant

Hydration

Many women have changes in vaginal odor during pregnancy due to fluctuations in hormone levels. This affects the type of odor; the intensity of the odor is based on the state of hydration.

Infection

However, changes from the normal pH level of a woman’s vagina during pregnancy also make the vagina more susceptible to infection. If the vaginal odor becomes pungent or overpowering or there is itching or burning, you might have an infection.

A pregnant woman is more prone[2] to vaginal yeast infections. Because of the increase of estrogen in your body, you have more sugar in your vaginal secretions, which becomes prime food for the fungus. 

This leads to an overgrowth of yeast and, further, an imbalance in the normal flora of the vagina. You may notice a foul and unpleasant vaginal odor with a yeast infection. In addition, your discharge will have a much thicker consistency and be white or yellow. Itching is common.

If you have a very foul-smelling vagina, the color of your discharge is yellow or green, or the consistency is very thick, it may indicate a bacterial infection. This is called bacterial vaginosis[3] (BV). 

You may also have burning and itching with bacterial vaginosis. In fact, you cannot tell whether an infection is from yeast or bacteria by the smell or itching. 

Sexually Transmitted Infection

Sexually transmitted infections (STI) may cause a pungent smell and a discolored discharge from the vagina. Gonorrhea and chlamydia are two very common STIs that pregnant women may get. It is especially important to practice safe sex while you are pregnant. 

Another common cause of vaginal infection–and the most common STI–is trichomonas[4], easily diagnosed by a health care professional and easily treated. 

Your body normally has resident bacteria in the vagina to prevent infection, but during pregnancy, the beneficial bacterium, Lactobacillus[5], undergoes many changes. A bacterial imbalance is very common. 

Associated with BV, it has been shown that this imbalance may lead[3] to preterm labor or premature rupture of membranes. 

Diet

What you eat can also cause an unusual vaginal discharge. Certain foods like spicy foods, fish, coffee, garlic, onion, broccoli, and dairy can change the odor of your vagina or urine.

Urinary Tract Infection

Urinary tract infections are a very common cause of odor from your vagina. It will cause foul-smelling urine, painful urination, and a burning sensation while urinating. 

Cervicitis

Cervicitis[1] (inflammation of the cervix) can occur from infection or hormonal changes. The scant bleeding from cervicitis can accumulate as old blood that can cause an odor.

Visit your doctor if you have any concerns about these causes of vaginal odor during pregnancy. 

How To Treat Vaginal Odor During Pregnancy?

You will need to stay very hydrated during pregnancy, even more so than before you were pregnant. It is also vital to practice[6] proper hygiene. This helps prevent irritating the vagina and spreading bacteria to the vagina. This includes

  • Wear cotton underwear and change underwear frequently
  • Wash the external genitals with mild soap and lukewarm water
  • No douching
  • Avoid scented soaps 
  • Change clothing and bedding regularly
  • Wipe from front to back after going to the bathroom
  • Urinate often 
  • Practice safe sex and limit the number of sexual partners 
  • Do not smoke 
  • Wear panty liners 

Only your doctor can tell what’s causing an odor or an infection and will treat vaginal infections with certain medications. For BV, they will prescribe antibiotics. For a yeast infection, they will prescribe anti-fungal medications. 

It is currently recommended that topical antifungals are used instead of oral pills such as fluconazole, as there may be a link between this medication and miscarriage. Trichomonas requires a certain type of antibiotic[7].

For any STI, you should re-examine your sexual practices. The reason monogamous couples experience no STIs is that there are no multiple-sex partners. 

Also, if you have an STI, your partner does, too; just treating you won’t help, as recurrence is just one intimate moment away.

Taking a pregnancy-specific supplement may help to keep both mom and baby healthy. Here are also some over-the-counter medications safe for an expectant mother to use while pregnant. 

When To See A Doctor?

During the early stages of pregnancy, you may not notice a change in your vaginal smell. If it is your vaginal discharge that has a strong odor, try hydrating yourself; and if you have a bad odor or itching and burning, you will need to see a medical professional. 

These symptoms could indicate that you may have an overgrowth of yeast or bacteria, possibly related to infection. 

You will want to be sure that these things get treated so that they do not cause harm to your fetus, besides the misery they cause you. They are simple to treat and are very common causes of vaginal odor during pregnancy. 

The Bottom Line

A pregnant woman’s body produces extra hormones that create a heavier, stickier, and more frequent discharge meant to protect the cervix from infection. 

There is also increased blood flow to the area. Other symptoms that women report are sensitive skin in the vaginal area. These things rarely indicate a serious medical condition. 

However, you may have something else if the vaginal smell is foul, fishy, or otherwise unpleasant. A yeast infection will cause your discharge to be white, thick, and cottage cheese-like. 

Bacterial infections such as bacterial vaginosis may cause you to have smelly vaginal discharge that is often green or yellow. Trichomonas will typically have a frothy discharge. A urinary tract infection or a sexually transmitted disease may also cause these symptoms. You may also have a burning or itching sensation in your nether region.

It is important for you to see a doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms so that you can receive prompt diagnosis and treatment and keep both yourself and your growing baby safe. If it’s just the intensity of a normal smell you notice, you should not worry.


+ 7 sources

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  1. Tobyn, G., Denham, A. and Whitelegg, M. (2011). Lamium album, white deadnettle. Medical Herbs, [online] pp.211–220. doi:10.1016/b978-0-443-10344-5.00026-4.
  2. Soong, D. and Einarson, A. (2009). Vaginal yeast infections during pregnancy. Canadian family physician Medecin de famille canadien, [online] 55(3), pp.255–6. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2654841/.
  3. Anon, (2022). Bacterial Vaginosis – STD information from CDC. [online] Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/std/bv/default.htm.
  4. Plannedparenthood.org. (2022). Planned Parenthood. [online] Available at: https://www.plannedparenthood.org/learn/stds-hiv-safer-sex/trichomoniasis.
  5. National Institutes of Health (NIH). (2020). Beneficial bacteria prevent recurring bacterial vaginosis. [online] Available at: https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/beneficial-bacteria-prevent-recurring-bacterial-vaginosis.
  6. Romero, R., Hassan, S.S., Gajer, P., Tarca, A.L., Fadrosh, D.W., Nikita, L., Galuppi, M., Lamont, R.F., Chaemsaithong, P., Miranda, J., Chaiworapongsa, T. and Ravel, J. (2014). The composition and stability of the vaginal microbiota of normal pregnant women is different from that of non-pregnant women. Microbiome, [online] 2(1). doi:10.1186/2049-2618-2-4.
  7. NHS Choices (2022). Treatment – Trichomoniasis. [online] Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/trichomoniasis/treatment/.
Krista Elkins

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

Freelance Healthcare Content Writer. More effective content because I know your customer. I've been in bedside healthcare as both a Paramedic and RN for almost 20 years! Quality writing for busy content managers.

Medically reviewed by:

Michael DiLeo

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