The Scientist: Dena E. Harris, M.D., co-founder of SoHo OB/GYN, where she has been practicing since 1980; a fellow of the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology; and a fellow of the International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease.

The Answer: Every woman in her reproductive years makes vaginal discharge every day. There isn’t a set amount that’s “normal.” Basically you should just see some wetness in your underwear. If your skivvies are soaking wet, your vagina is very itchy, or your discharge has a terrible odor (not the regular mild fishiness), it could be a sign that it’s time to see your doctor. Otherwise, here’s what is typically going on:

If you menstruate, you’ll usually start to produce a mucous-y discharge the week after your period, a couple of days to a week before you ovulate. It’s lubrication produced by glands in your cervix, and though it comes out clear, it turns white or yellow when exposed to air. The amount of discharge increases right at ovulation, when your estrogen levels spike. It may look like you blew your nose into your underpants. After you ovulate, your estrogen levels go down and progesterone levels rise, leading to a whitish discharge of another sort. During the second half of your cycle, your vagina cleans itself, shedding epithelial cells from the vaginal walls. This cleaning happens once per menstrual cycle.

During pregnancy, women tend to have even more discharge, because estrogen levels are particularly high. Conversely, in menopause, estrogen levels drop big-time, decreasing discharge production, which is why many women notice vaginal dryness as they get older.

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