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The vagina is a female reproductive organ that has several functions - it helps in reproduction and sexual functions, channels the flow of menstrual blood from the uterus and acts as a barrier to stop the microorganisms from entering the uterus. The vagina is a 7 to 10 cm long elastic muscular tube that expands from the vulva to the cervix of the uterus.
Lactobacillus acidophilus, a bacterium which is normally present in the vagina secretes lactic acid, which aids in maintaining an acidic environment in the vagina that gives the vagina its acidic pH level. The normal vaginal pH ranges from 3.8 to 4.5 and this helps keep the vagina healthy and free of infections .
The vagina will clean on its own with the help of natural vaginal secretions (discharge). However, using harsh soaps to clean the vagina may disrupt the healthy balance of the bacteria and normal pH balance of the vagina.
Thus, it is important to keep your vagina healthy to prevent vaginal health issues. Here, we've listed down some tips to keep your vagina healthy.
1. Don’t douche your vagina
Douching your vagina refers to the rinsing of the vagina with vinegar, baking soda or iodine water solution to eliminate odours and clean the vagina. Studies have shown that douching can disrupt the healthy bacteria in the vagina, which alters the pH levels, making the vagina more prone to infections. Also using douche products can cause irritation and infections because they contain fragrances and antiseptics .
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists doesn't recommend the usage of douches, sprays and vaginal deodorants.
Instead, you can use plain, unscented soap and water to wash the area around the vagina gently every day to maintain vaginal hygiene.
Image source: Healthline
2. Practise safe sex
One of the best things you can do to keep your vagina healthy is to practise safer sex. Using condoms or dental dams during sex can help protect your vagina against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) . Also, sex increases the risk of urinary tract infections (UTI) among women .
Ensure that you wash the vagina gently with warm water before sex and urinate after sex to reduce the risk of bacteria entering into the urethra.
Note: Women with latex allergies should avoid coming in contact with latex condoms as they may cause vaginal itching and swelling. Talk to your doctor about the other types of condom alternatives.
3. Eat probiotics
Fermented foods like yogurt, miso, kombucha, sauerkraut, tempeh, kimchi, kefir and pickles are rich in probiotics. Probiotics aids in balancing the vaginal pH level, increases good bacteria and keeps yeast infections at bay .
4. Consume fruits and vegetables
Include fruits and vegetables in your diet as they are rich in essential nutrients that will help decrease the risk of vaginal infections and prevent vaginal dryness.
5. Change pads frequently
During menstruation, women should maintain basic menstrual hygiene practices to lower the risk of bacterial vaginosis (BV) and urinary tract infections (UTI). Studies have shown that women who use reusable absorbent pads were are at a higher risk of getting vaginal infections. Changing pads frequently can prevent the vagina from becoming too moist and decrease irritation .
6. Wear comfortable clothes
Your vagina should stay clean and dry and not moist. Wear breathable cotton clothes and underwear as cotton fabric doesn't hold onto heat and moisture and allows your vagina to breathe and stay dry thereby, preventing yeast infections.
7. Avoid shaving pubic hair too often
Pubic hair prevents unwanted pathogens from entering the vagina that could increase the risk of vaginal infections and also prevents friction and sweating. Shaving your pubic hair makes the vagina more susceptible to infections such as yeast infections and UTIs and also makes you more prone to ingrown hairs .
8. Avoid using too much lubricants
Over-the-counter vaginal lubricants and moisturisers are used for sexual activity. These products contain antimicrobial preservatives like glycerine, parabens or chlorhexidine which can affect the healthy bacteria in the vagina and this, in turn, can affect vaginal health . So, avoid using too much of these lubricants.
9. Go for cervical screening check-ups
Cervical screening tests can help detect the risk of cervical cancer among women. Studies have shown that women aged over 60 years should undergo cervical screening tests in order to prevent the onset and death from cervical cancer .
In addition, women should go for regular gynaecological exams to maintain their vaginal health.
10. Treat vaginal infections on time
Vaginal infections can happen at any time. It is important that you check your vagina daily for any kind of symptoms that you notice. You should consult your gynaecologist if you experience burning, swelling or irritation in and around of your vagina, your vaginal discharge changes colour and smell different, it burns while urinating and uncomfortable sex.
An early diagnosis can help in faster treatment of the infection.
Q. How do you keep your vagina smelling good?
A. Maintain a healthy diet, stay hydrated, avoid douches, wash your vagina before and after sexual intercourse and wear cotton underwear.
Q. Why am I always wet down there and smelly?
A. Vaginal discharge is normal as it helps keep your vagina clean and lubricates it to prevent vaginal dryness. However, if you are having excess of vaginal discharge and it has a bad odour, you should consult a doctor immediately.