Brown discharge before or after a period

Brown discharge in your undies can be alarming, but it's usually not a big deal. Here's what it means, plus when to get it checked out by your provider.

woman on the toilet checking her discharge
Photo credit: / Alihan Usullu

You may be used to seeing white, yellow, or clear vaginal discharge in your underwear (and obviously red during the time of your period). Brown discharge, however, may create some concern. What does it mean? Is it blood? The good news is most of the time brown discharge is absolutely harmless. Here's what you need to know.

What is brown discharge?

Brown discharge is blood mixed with vaginal fluid. (Blood turns brown as it dries.) There are many different reasons that you may notice brown spotting, brownish discharge, or brownish-pink discharge. Most commonly, it can happen:

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Why is my discharge brown?

You may have brown discharge for a variety of reasons. Here are the most common:

You're about to start your period. You may notice some brown-r ed discharge or brown discharge a week before your period. Usually, this isn't anything to worry about. Your cervix is very fragile. All it takes is one drop of blood from either your cervix or uterus to mix with your vaginal fluid, and you've got brownish discharge.

Another cause may be hormonal contraception such as birth control pills, especially when you first start to use them. This may be more common with the mini-pill, which contains no estrogen. If there's too little estrogen in your body, your uterus will shed some if its lining between periods. When the blood comes out slowly, it can be brownish.

Your period is ending. It's not uncommon to have brown or light brown discharge for a few days at the start or the end of your period. This is menstrual blood that's taking a bit longer to be expelled from your uterus because there's less of it at these times and the flow is lighter.

You're pregnant. Light brown discharge is very common when you're pregnant. Your cervix is very delicate during pregnancy, so you may experience a little bleeding after sex, or after a pelvic exam. At the tail end of your pregnancy, it can indicate that you're about to go into labor.

You've recently had sex. You could have some brown, blood-tinged discharge after sex. Friction during vigorous sex can cause some trauma to your vaginal or cervical tissues, especially if you're not well-lubricated, and that can cause some spotting. And the cervix can become bruised with deep penetration.

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You've had a Pap smear or pelvic exam. A pelvic exam isn't likely to cause bleeding unless you're pregnant and your practitioner is checking your cervix. But an annual checkup with the gynecologist usually includes a Pap test along with a pelvic exam. And spots of red or brown blood after a Pap smear is common because the test involves scraping your delicate cervical tissues with a cotton swab or brush.

You're experiencing implantation bleeding. Spotting or brownish discharge the week before you'd expect your period can be an early sign of pregnancy. Not everyone has bleeding at this time, but some do. It's called implantation bleeding because it's thought to be caused by the fertilized egg burrowing into the uterine lining, usually between 6 and 12 days after conception.

You're ovulating. A small number of women may have some spotting or discharge in the middle of their menstrual cycle, when the egg is released from the ovary. (You can estimate when you're ovulating with our Ovulation Calculator.)

Are there are any serious causes of brown discharge?

Occasionally, brown discharge can indicate a less common condition such as:


Brown discharge may be a sign of perimenopause, the transition period before menopause, when periods stop for good. During this time, your menstrual cycle becomes irregular, which can cause spotting. You may also have hot flashes, vaginal dryness, decreased sex drive, irritability, moodiness, night sweats, and trouble sleeping. These symptoms usually start in your 40s. But perimenopause can start when you're younger and can be a reason for fertility problems. In this case, it's sometimes called primary ovarian insufficiency.

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Something stuck in your vagina

If you have brown discharge that smells bad, there may be something stuck in your vagina that got left there accidentally, such as a tampon, condom, diaphragm, cervical cap, or sponge. If you still have symptoms after you remove it (or if you can't remove it), see your doctor. It may have caused a vaginal infection.

Pelvic inflammatory disease (PID)

In rare cases, brown discharge can be due to a cervical infection like pelvic inflammatory disease, especially if it has an unusual smell. You'd likely have other symptoms as well, though, such as abdominal pain, pain during sex, burning during urination, and fever. Your provider may recommend you start antibiotics for PID.

Sexually transmitted infection (STI)

Some STIs, such as gonorrhea or chlamydia, may cause vaginal discharge and spotting, as well as painful urination, pain during sex, and pelvic pressure. See your provider if you have these symptoms. You may need antibiotics.

Ovarian cyst

An ovarian cyst is a fluid-filled sac that forms on or inside an ovary. Often they come and go, but if one continues to grow it can cause brown discharge. Call your doctor if you also have abdominal pain, pelvic pressure, or pain during sex or urination.


Endometriosis is a condition in which the tissue that normally lines the uterus (the endometrium) grows outside of it. It may cause painful, heavy periods or spotting between periods, which can be brownish. Other symptoms may include painful bowel movements and urination, pain during sex, and difficulty getting pregnant.

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Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)

Women with polycystic ovary syndrome have a hormonal imbalance that makes ovulation rare or irregular, which can make it harder to get pregnant. It may cause light bleeding or brown discharge. You may have very light or very heavy periods or no periods, excess hair on your face or body, oily skin, acne, dark patches of skin, and weight gain.

Cervical cancer

The most serious potential reason for brown discharge is cervical cancer, but this is extremely rare. Some signs of cervical cancer may include: spotting between periods, spotting after sex, heavier or longer periods, and increased vaginal discharge.

When to call your provider about brown discharge

Most of the time, brown discharge isn't anything to worry about. But if you're concerned about it, or you experience any of the following symptoms, call your provider. They can help figure out what's causing it, and suggest treatment options if necessary.

  • Your brown discharge lasts more than a couple of weeks
  • Your brown discharge happens frequently after sex
  • Your vaginal area itches or burns
  • Your discharge smells odd
  • You have cramping
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BabyCenter's editorial team is committed to providing the most helpful and trustworthy pregnancy and parenting information in the world. When creating and updating content, we rely on credible sources: respected health organizations, professional groups of doctors and other experts, and published studies in peer-reviewed journals. We believe you should always know the source of the information you're seeing. Learn more about our editorial and medical review policies.

ACOG. Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, June 2022. a new window [Accessed October 2022]

ACOG. Perimenopausal Bleeding and Bleeding After Menopause, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, October 2020. a new window [Accessed October 2022]

ACOG. Vulvovaginal Health, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, January 2022. a new window [Accessed October 2022]

NIH. Vaginal Bleeding Between Periods, U.S. National Library of Medicine, March 2019. a new window [Accessed October 2022]

Cleveland Clinic. Brown Discharge and What It Means. July 2022. a new window [Accessed October 2022]

Hallie Levine
Hallie Levine is an award-winning journalist who has covered health and wellness for more than 20 years. She lives with her three children in Fairfield, Connecticut.