Does this sound like a familiar problem? You’ve never had your period before, but you keep finding white, sticky discharge in your underwear. What could it mean?
Fortunately, there's nothing to worry about. Discharge is a totally normal part of puberty for girls and people with vaginas, and it might be something your teen will deal with for the rest of their life.
If your teen hasn't had their period yet, it's completely normal to experience discharge first, period or no period. Oftentimes, it’s one of the first signs of puberty that tell you their first period is on the way.
We're sure you have tons of questions about vaginal discharge, first periods, and the average age when most teens and tweens experience this. No need to stress—we’ve got all the answers you need. Keep reading to learn all about discharge, what to expect around first periods, and more.
What is discharge?
Vaginal discharge is a normal part of the body’s development and menstrual cycle—even for those not menstruating yet. For people who haven’t gotten their first period, normal vaginal discharge often appears as “a thin, clear, transparent, or whitish fluid” that's typically found in underwear. It can even be a little bit yellow, and it usually has a mild smell.
Your teen might even notice pink or brown discharge, which is completely normal. Pink discharge could mean the start of their period, while brown discharge could be spotting. It is often nothing to worry about, but if your teen is noticing anything concerning, it's a good idea to check with a doctor.
In terms of texture, discharge can be thin, mucus-like, and sticky or even thick and gooey. It’s generally made up of cells and assorted bacteria from the outer vaginal layer mixed with liquids and mucus produced by the cervix and vaginal lining. During menstruation, the amount of discharge can vary throughout a cycle, but it's usually between 2-4 teaspoons.
Vaginal discharge has a lot of purposes, but one of the main roles it has is to keep the vagina clean, moisturized, and healthy. It also helps protect the vagina from urinary tract infections (UTIs) and more.
It's important to note that if your teen's discharge changes in color, consistency, or smell, it could be an indication of skin irritation or an infection, such as yeast infections or sexually transmitted infections, and should be looked at by a doctor.
Why do people get discharge before their first period?
About a year or so after your teen starts growing breast buds and beginning puberty, they might notice this white or yellow-ish creamy or thin liquid stuff in their underwear—also known as vaginal discharge.
Even though discharge is a completely normal part of puberty in girls and people with vaginas, it’s normal for your teen to feel a bit confused and worried when they find discharge in their underwear but haven’t even noticed any period blood yet. What’s really going on down there?
Discharge before your first period is normal and is usually a sign that your body is preparing to start menstruating. Typically, your teen will start seeing it around six months to a year before their first period. Menstruation typically starts around 12 years old, but since every body is different, you can expect it to occur any time between the ages of 8 and 15.
As the post explains above, discharge is really just a way for the vagina to clean itself, and also to prepare for the upcoming menstrual cycle. Once your teen starts having regular periods, they might notice more discharge on the days leading up to their period.
How to tell if my teen is going to get their first period
Discharge is just one of the ways to know if your teen's first period is coming, but there are plenty of other signs and symptoms that you can look out for. These include mild to moderate cramps in the stomach, lower back pain, mood swings and irritability, bloating, fatigue, and more.
Of course, these are just some of the signs that their period is going to start soon. Your teen might experience all of these or none at all. Puberty looks and feels different for all people. Some teens may start growing pubic hair before menstruation begins, while others may experience the exact opposite.
What will their first period be like?
Once your teen begins menstruating, they may experience very light periods for the first few cycles. They may notice a couple spots of reddish brown blood that might last anywhere from 2 to 7 days, so they may want to start off with pads or period underwear at first. If your teen is noticing that their period is lasting longer than 7 days, make sure to check in with their doctor.
It's possible that your teen's first period could be heavy. There could be several possible reasons for this, including a thicker-than-usual uterine lining. If you're curious, we've got an article all about heavy first periods, from what causes them to how to manage them.
Do you think your teen's first period might be coming soon? Take our first period quiz to see when your teen might be beginning their cycle.
What else to expect
Vaginal discharge is a totally normal part of the menstrual cycle. Even if your teen hasn't had their first period yet, finding discharge in their underwear is completely natural.
You can expect your teen to start getting discharge around six months to a year before they get their first period, so tell your teen to keep an eye out for discharge in their underwear as it is typically a sign that their first period is on the way.
The average age most girls and people with vaginas get their periods is between the ages of 8 and 15. If your teen is over the age of 16 and hasn't had their period yet, check in with a healthcare provider to make sure everything is in order.
Discharge is a natural part of both puberty and life, and is an important part of the reproductive cycle. It’s usually made up of bacteria, vaginal lining, and cervical mucus, and is an excellent way for the vagina to clean itself and prevent urinary tract infections.
Discharge can vary in colour, smell, and texture, but for the most part, especially if your teen hasn't gotten their first period yet, let them know that discharge tends to be whitish, clear, pale yellow, and thin or sticky and mucus-like.
If your teen is finding vaginal discharge in their underwear and they think their first period is coming soon, find out how to best prepare for it here with our free first period guide. It is jam-packed with accessible information on everything there is to know about teens and menstruation, from what the color of your period blood means to all the things that come with puberty such as pubic hair, hair growth, and breast development.
Want to know more about teen periods?
If you want to know all there is to know about teens and menstruation, our blog has so much good information on this important milestone to get you through those first few years of parenting a menstruating teen, including how to choose between all the various menstrual products like disposable pads, tampons, menstrual cups, reusable pads, and period underwear.
We recommend beginning with these helpful posts: