Knowing whether your discharge is normal is pretty simple once you’ve got the facts and know your cycle. So here they are.

Discharge is your body’s way of keeping your cervix clean. Normal vaginal discharge is colourless, milky white or pale yellow depending on what stage you’re at in your menstrual cycle. It can be slippery or clumpy in texture. Healthy discharge has virtually no smell when it leaves your body, apart from a slightly acidic odour. As with the colour, this slight smell can vary at different times of your cycle, and you’ll soon become familiar with what is normal for you.

As long as you stay fresh by showering and changing your underwear every day, the smell shouldn’t become a problem. But as it can get a bit damp down there, some girls use panty liners to protect their clothes. And it’s important to let your genital area ‘breathe’ by wearing cotton underwear, avoiding jeans that are too tight in the crotch, and going ‘commando’ – i.e., not wearing underwear in bed at night. This will reduce the chance of vaginal irritations and infections.

If your vaginal discharge starts to smell bad, changes colour, has blood in it or becomes very heavy, you could have an infection, so get it checked out by your doctor. The most likely cause is ‘thrush’, which is a yeast infection. This is often caused by that intimate area being kept too hot, through things like regularly wearing nylon pants or skin-tight jeans. It’s also best to avoid perfumed soaps, bubble baths and shower gels, opting instead for mild, unperfumed soap for the genital area or just plain water.

Don’t confuse discharge with ‘spotting’, which is when you bleed from the vagina very lightly, usually between periods. While spotting is generally harmless, it’s a good idea to check with your doctor as it could be a sign of a health condition that needs attention.