What should you do when you experience regular yeast infections or bacterial vaginosis (BV) every month? If you also struggle to manage your painful periods, the number of days where you actually feel normal and can enjoy sex is seriously limited. In addition, you don’t want to keep taking pills, reapplying creams and changing your underwear. Infections are disruptive to your day and you need the cycle of vaginal problems to stop.
We hear you! In this article we’ve put together a list of best practices and a comprehensive guide to ‘down there care’ so you can be free of annoying vaginal itching, burning and discharge so you can get back to enjoying your life (and great sex!) again.
Vaginal Microbiome 101
In order to understand how to heal and minimize infections in the vagina, you need to understand how the vaginal microbiome works. Basically, when your vagina is healthy it has a balance of beneficial (good) vaginal bacteria and pathogenic (bad) bacteria. This balance of bacteria maintains an acidic pH of 3.5-4.5, which helps the good bacteria to thrive and maintain vaginal health. When the good bacteria cannot keep up and yeast or bad bacteria overgrows, you get vaginal issues.
So, what causes the pH to change and the bad bacteria to overpower the good bacteria? It’s usually because of the way we care for our vaginas.
#1 Stop Douching
Women are led to believe that douching will clean the vagina, remove menstrual blood, improve the scent, and even prevent pregnancy. These beliefs are outdated and simply aren’t true.
According to Women’s Health magazine, “In the United States, almost one in five women aged 15 to 44 years old douche. Douching can lead to many health problems, including problems getting pregnant. Douching is also linked to vaginal infections and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).”
If your vagina does smell strongly, it may because of bacterial overgrowth, dehydration or a lack of fruit and vegetables in the diet. This is why ‘cleaning’ the vagina is not helpful and will actually make the problem worse by disrupting the vaginal microbiome. In fact, the vagina is like a self-cleaning oven and it cleans itself with natural secretions.
To maintain good hygiene, simply wash the visible parts of your genitals (the vulva) with warm water and a gentle, unscented soap when you bathe and before and/or after sex to freshen up.
#2 Let It Breathe
Ever had a sweaty bum while wearing a pair of nylon panties? Synthetic panties trap heat and sweat which allows moisture to build up and creates a prime environment for bad bacteria. Vaginal discharge is totally healthy, and you want your underwear to allow for more airflow and less trapped moisture. If you struggle with vaginal infections, make sure to wear panties made from 100% organic cotton. Cotton is the gold standard for underwear because it’s soft, breathable and absorbent.
When you wash them, use a scent-free soap because fragrance is an irritant and an endocrine disruptor and will be absorbed in part by the sensitive vulva skin. Also, we encourage you to sleep commando for uninhibited airflow. Sleep naked (cuddle up to your partner to stay warm!) or try a nightie, a long t-shirt, or loose-fitting pajama bottoms.
#3 Upgrade Your Menstrual Products
Conventional disposable pads and tampons have been bleached and contain chemicals that are easily absorbed by the sensitive vaginal tissue. If you like to let it flow, try organic disposable pads or reusable cotton flannel pads. If you prefer tampons, try out a menstrual cup. The Red Herring YouTube channel has a lot of info on different menstrual cups. If you’re just starting out, here’s a video on how to locate and measure your cervix to understand what size of cup is best for you.
Consider switching to reusable products for environmental reasons. The fact is, menstrual products create over 200,000 tonnes of waste per year and using reusable alternatives could reduce your overall environmental impact.
#4 Stop Micromanaging the Curlies
The hair is there for a good reason: to protect the labia from harm and prevent vaginal infections. When it comes to the vulva, stop waxing, shaving and trim instead.
#5 Avoid Contamination
If you struggle with vaginal infections, you need to be careful of introducing bacteria from other parts of your body into the vaginal area. For example, when you have a bowel movement make sure to wipe front to back. Unfortunately, thongs aren’t your best friend if you want to avoid the migration of rectal bacteria into your vagina. In the bedroom, avoid using saliva as lube and if you have intercourse after you perform oral sex on your man, use a condom.
#6 Rethink the Pill
Birth control pills disrupt the natural balance of estrogen and progesterone in order to prevent pregnancy. This hormone imbalance can affect your good bacteria and lead to infections. If you have chronic vaginal infections and you’re on the pill you may need to look at other methods of birth control in order to balance your hormones and allow the vaginal microbiome to return to balance. For birth control, we recommend condoms and learning the fertility awareness method (FAM), which has additional benefits to your health.
#7 Revise Your Diet
Your gut microbiome is linked to your vaginal microbiome, so eat a gut-healthy diet that includes lots of organic vegetables and fibre. It isn’t necessary to go on a 100% zero-carb candida diet but make sure you cut out desserts and sweet tropical fruits like banana and pineapple. You could also consider a vaginal prebiotic supplement.
#8 Map Your Microbiome
If none of the suggestions above work for you, consider getting your microbiome mapped out to see the exact imbalance of certain bacteria. Click here to get more info. Certain practitioners can provide you with custom bacteria to restore your vaginal microbiome. Regardless, make sure you work with a specialist like a naturopath or contact us to learn more about our coaching program for period issues.
Often the reason women experience reoccurring vaginal irritation or infection is because they aren’t taking care ‘down there’. The thing is, most of us were never taught how! Now that you know how to properly care for your very own ‘self-cleaning oven’, you can evaluate how pro-vagina your personal care is and make the changes necessary to feel comfortable and heal.
Let us know in the comments what you’ve tried in the past, what has worked for you and what hasn’t.
Spread the word!
Based on the stats women are still douching, especially teens. Please do your part and share this article to make sure more women are educated about proper vaginal care. You can also pin this with the image below.