Let’s talk vaginal health here for a second.
Everyone’s walked down the grocery store aisle and seen “feminine hygiene” as an option. I’m sorry, but I have never met a single provider of women’s health care for sale on that aisle. Nope; what I find instead are powders, wipes, soaps, creams, scented pads and deodorized tampons, and a multitude of completely useless items no woman should waste her hard-earned money on.
“So how DO I keep things clean and fresh?”
It’s best to think of your vagina as a self-cleaning oven that is always on the cleaning cycle. If you’re thinking of putting some cream or flowery-smelling perfume down there to cover an odor, perhaps you should seek professional help first. Your vagina is a microbiome of well-balanced acids, bacteria, and yeast. Everyone lives down there in peaceful harmony until something gets out of whack and one of them has a party.
“But I have discharge!”
Yes, yes you do, and you should be super thankful for it. Discharge is your vagina’s way of keeping the peace amongst its healthy inhabitants. The discharge keeps the vagina acidic – which helps lactobacillus (good bacteria that loves you) stay happy. In return the lactobacillus keeps the other bacteria and yeast in line. For the majority of women, everyone lives down there in harmony, only affected by normal hormonal changes throughout the menstrual cycle and life. For example, when you ovulate, the discharge adjusts to be more welcoming of sperm. Other things that can affect discharge include birth control pills, medications, pregnancy, breastfeeding, menopause, and hydration.
“So, when’s it a problem?”
When you have pain, when your odor is fishy or foul, or if you itch. When the skin changes, when sex is painful, when there is blood and you’re not on your cycle. Then you don’t need that grocery store aisle – you need a women’s healthcare provider. Actually the powders, creams, and perfumes will only make things worse. That happy pH balance down there? Not a big fan of you douching with perfume. Lactobacillus doesn’t like chemicals and killing it off can start a slippery slope that leads you to my exam table faster than you can say “angry vagina.”
“What’s your best advice?”
Skip the products, skip the perfumes and powders, never douche, and avoid over-advertised goofy lubricants (flavored, warming, his/hers etc).
At the same time, don’t overclean the poor thing – remember our friend lactobacillus? Guess what anti-bacterial soaps and body washes do? You guessed it – X’s for eyes. Use basic bar soap and rinse well. Then leave the rest up to your body.
If you do have concerns about your discharge, odor, or anything else to do with your magical self-cleaning oven, please call your women’s healthcare provider. We can help way more than some marketing giant with a catchy jingle.
For more information on local healthcare providers, click here.
Erin Baird Graduated from Georgetown University in 2005 with her Nurse-Midwifery degree and has worked in Lynchburg and the CMG Women's Center, formerly Forest Women's Center since 2009. She lives in Lynchburg with her extremely understanding and supportive stay-at-home husband Joe and her completely out-of-control children ages 9, 8, 5 and 4. In the spare time she wishes she actually had she likes to read, exercise and crochet, but mostly sleep.