The vagina generally has an acidic pH, contains rich quantities of beneficial bacteria that help protect from infections, and is naturally lubricated. It is normal to see small amount of discharge from the vagina.
If you experience changes in vaginal odor, a change in color of the discharge that may be associated with discomfort — whether it’s pelvic discomfort or vulvar discomfort, itching, or burning — any change needs to be evaluated.
Follow these rules to keep your vagina healthy:
Maintain Vaginal PH Balance
Normally, vaginal pH is about 3.8 to 4.5, but douching can interfere with the vagina’s pH levels, reducing acidity and disrupting a healthy vaginal biome — the bacterial makeup of your vagina — and setting the stage for bacterial infections.
If your vagina has a strong or unpleasant odor, see your doctor; a douche will only cover up the smell without curing the problem that’s causing it. Avoid using harsh soaps or cleansers on the vulva or inside the vagina, as these also can affect a healthy pH balance.
Maintain a Healthy Diet
Follow a balanced, nutritious diet and drink plenty of fluids, which are key to vaginal and reproductive health. In fact, certain foods may be effective in treating vaginal health problems.
Yogurt can potentially help prevent yeast infections and aid in their treatment. Yogurt is rich in probiotics. If you’re prone to urinary tract infections it may be helpful to take a cranberry supplement daily.
Practice Safe Sex
Using condoms either the male or female kind during sex helps to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HIV, genital herpes, syphilis, gonorrhea, genital warts, and chlamydia. Some of these, like HIV and genital herpes, have no cure, and others, like the human papillomavirus (HPV) that causes genital warts are known to cause cancer.
You should change condoms when switching from oral or anal sex to vaginal sex, to prevent the introduction of harmful bacteria into the vagina. You should also avoid sharing sex toys with your partner as you can spread STIs like HPV.
See Your Gynecologist or Primary Care Doctor for Preventive Care
Having regular gynecological exams is crucial to maintaining your vaginal health. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women have their first screening gynecologic exam at the age of 21. It is also recommended that women undergo Pap smears starting at age 21 to screen for changes in vaginal cells that might indicate the presence of cancer. Gynecologists and many primary care physicians are trained to diagnose diseases and disorders that can harm the vagina or your reproductive system as a whole.
Treat Infections When They Arise
Three types of vaginal infections are common: yeast infection, bacterial vaginosis, and trichomoniasis. If you’re prone to yeast infections and you recognize the symptoms, it’s okay to self-treat with an over-the-counter medication. But if the symptoms don’t go away, then you need to be seen as soon as possible.
While yeast is a fungal infection, bacterial vaginosis is caused by bacterial overgrowth in the vagina. Trichomoniasis is an infection caused by a parasite and is sexually transmitted. Treating these infections is crucial because not treating them can lead to unpleasant, painful, and serious reproductive health problems. If you already have a vaginal infection and are then exposed to HIV, you’re more prone to becoming infected.
It’s worth noting that women who have poorly controlled diabetes or are infected with HIV can often experience recurrent yeast infections. If you’re experiencing many yeast infections during the course of a year, you should be evaluated by your doctor to make sure that there’s nothing more worrisome going on. Never put petroleum jelly or baby oil inside of your vagina. It causes inflammation and can set you up for infection.
Follow Good Hygiene
Your vagina should stay clean and dry — and what you wear can affect that. Certain types of fabrics and tight-fitting clothing create warm, moist conditions in which yeast thrive. Wear breathable cotton underwear and avoid thongs. If you’re prone to yeast infections, change out of wet swimsuits and sweaty workout clothes as quickly as possible.
After a bowel movement, wipe from front to back to avoid bacterial contamination of the vagina and to lower the risk of bladder infection. Change sanitary pads and tampons regularly during your period. It’s fine to wear panty liners to absorb normal vaginal discharge as long as you change them frequently, though she adds that women who wear them all the time may experience some vulvar irritation.