Pregnancy brings many changes to a woman’s body, including some that may be concerning or embarrassing. Some changes are expected, while others may be a source of stress and require medical attention. Changes in vaginal odor, which may or may not be accompanied by discharge, occur in many women during pregnancy. There are several causes for this vaginal odor. Some of the causes do not require medical care, whereas others do. Concerns can easily be addressed by speaking with your physician.
One common cause of vaginal odor is the fluctuating balance of progesterone and estrogen, as well as other hormones, such as prolactin. These hormonal changes are important for maintaining a healthy pregnancy. However, they can also cause vaginal odor and discharge in some women. These changes may be further affected by diet. For example, excess sugar or garlic may affect odor. Paying attention to dietary intake of rich, pungent foods and ensuring a balanced nutritious diet that includes plenty of vegetables and fruit may help. Another vaginal change during pregnancy is an increased supply of blood. This blood supply changes vaginal pH. The pH is normally acidic to ensure that certain, healthy bacteria survive, and harmful bacteria do not. The altered pH increases the possibility of harmful bacterial growth and infections. An overgrowth of bacterial species that do not normally reside in the vagina can result in bacterial vaginosis, which may occur in up to one-third of pregnancies. Although bacterial vaginosis is not thought to be sexually transmitted, having multiple partners may increase risk, as can douching. Therefore, these habits should be avoided during pregnancy. Bacterial vaginosis is associated with vaginal discharge that has a strong, fishy odor. Because an untreated infection can cause complications, women should consult their physician if they have concerns about vaginal odor and discharge to ensure that the bacterial infection is cured. In addition to bacteria, yeast can also grow in the vaginal area during pregnancy, causing a foul odor, lumpy, white discharge and itchiness or burning.
There are some strategies that may help reduce vaginal odor and the risk of infections. In addition to avoiding douching, do not use tampons, as these can alter the vaginal environment and encourage growth of harmful bacteria. Keep the area dry. For example, cotton underwear and panty liners can help eliminate moisture. Fragranced products may actually make itchiness worse, so these may not be the best approach for odor. Instead, unscented soaps or body washes may be a better approach. As always, eating a nutritious, balanced diet can help maintain overall health during pregnancy. Consulting your physician about any concerns, including those related to vaginal changes and odor, can help treat underlying problems and provide peace of mind.