Every woman should be interested in her vaginal health, but the question most women ask is, ‘what constitutes a healthy vagina?’ Well, all things being equal, the vagina should have an acidic pH, contain a good number of ‘good’ bacteria that help ward off infections and should be naturally lubricated.
A healthy vagina also secretes a relatively small amount of discharge. Different women have varying amounts of healthy discharge daily and it is normal; discharge is basically the shedding of vaginal and cervical cells.
However, if a woman starts experiencing changes in vaginal odor and color, discomfort, a burning sensation, or itching in the vulva, then it is time to get evaluated.
Thankfully, there are a number of simple, painless things you can do to keep things healthy down there. So, here are some rules to help keep your vagina healthy and happy.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Eating healthy goes a long way in keeping things healthy down there. Foods that are good for the muscles, brain, and heart are also good for the vagina. They include healthy foods such as good carbohydrate, good fats, veggies, fruits, and of course, yogurt. Women should also steer clear of processed foods and excessive sugar as they can increase the risk of yeast infections. Maintaining a balanced, healthy diet and drinking lots of fluids are both essential for vaginal health.
Yogurt is particularly effective in not just preventing yeast infections but also in treating them. Yogurt, especially plain Greek yogurt, is rich in probiotics. So women who are prone to yeast infections should eat plain Greek yogurt or take a probiotic that is rich in Lactobacilli. For women who tend to suffer urinary tract infections too often, taking cranberry supplements daily can also be helpful.
Douching is Not Advised
If you are a hygiene freak, understand that your vagina self-cleans, so you don’t need to be obsessive about it. This means that douching can alter the natural environment of the vagina, reducing acidity, and result in bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections. Simply cleanse the outer vagina with water and ensure to include the exterior folds. And if you must use a cleanser or soap, keep things simple by using one that is low in perfumes and do NOT use it inside the vagina.
See Your Gynecologist
According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women should have their first pelvic exam and Pap smear at age 21. This is to check for changes in vaginal cells that might suggest the onset of cancer and diagnose diseases that could cause harm to the vagina or reproductive system.
Although lately, women with no symptoms and not pregnant are being advised against going for annual pelvic examinations, regular visits to your gynecologist are very important. You can check for STDs or simply talk about fertility, contraceptives, and any random reproductive health issue. So before you switch up your doctor visits, have a conversation about it with him or her first.
Practice Good Hygiene
Simple good hygiene practices can go a long way in ensuring the health of the vagina. For instance, to prevent bacterial contamination in the vagina and bladder infection, always wipe from front to back after a bowel movement. Additionally, regularly change your tampons and sanitary pads during your period. Women who wear panty liners too often may experience some vulvar irritation. However, it is okay to wear them to absorb normal vaginal discharge as long as you frequently change them.
Treat Infections ASAP
Women are most prone to three types of vaginal infections: bacterial vaginosis, yeast infection, and trichomoniasis. Bacterial vaginosis is as a result of an overgrowth of bacteria in the vagina, yeast is a fungal infection, and trichomoniasis is a sexually transmitted infection that is caused by a parasite. Some doctors say it’s okay to use over-the-counter medications if a woman is prone to yeast infections and recognizes the symptoms. However, if these symptoms persist, they should be evaluated as soon as possible.
It is essential to treat these infections as not doing so could result in harmful and painful reproductive health issues.
Practice Safe Sex
STDs are capable of harming your reproductive organs and causing infertility. This is why it is essential for sexual partners to practice safe sex by using barrier contraception until they are both STD-tested. However, note that even with protection, herpes and HPV can still be transmitted, so it is important to consult with your gynecologist regularly, especially if you have multiple sexual partners. In case you need some convincing: STDs can lead to vaginal sores, itchy discharge, and can even infect the ovaries and fallopian tubes. Some of these infections, if left untreated, can result in permanent damage of the fallopian tubes.
Sadly, some of these infections, like herpes and HIV, have no cure while others like HPV can cause genital warts and cancer. So, using condoms (male or female kind) during sex helps to protect women against STDs such as genital herpes, genital warts, HIV, gonorrhea, chlamydia, and syphilis.
Lubrication is an essential part of sexual intercourse. As a matter of fact, the skin of the labia can become irritated without lubrication. Unfortunately, some women do not produce the adequate amount of natural lubricant and may need an artificial lubricant to prevent the vagina from being chafed.
However, for women trying to conceive, some lubricants may affect with the sperm and make getting pregnant difficult. For such women, any pH-balanced product that is oil-based, water-based, or silicone-based is okay. It is important to also note that oil-based lubricants can break down the latex in condoms. Whatever you do, do not apply baby oil or petroleum jelly inside the vagina as they can lead to inflammation and infections.
Most underwear comes with cotton fabric in the crotch area. This is why women should always go for cotton undies if they must keep their vagina clean and dry. Cotton underwears absorb moisture and so are ideal for your lady parts. And when in the house or at night, you can go commando to let things air out. For women who are prone to yeast infections or experience a lot of discharge, always leave home with two pairs of underwear and change them during the day. This will help in preventing vaginal infections.