A Jefferson nurse midwife weighs in with tips she offers her patients to keep their vagina healthy and happy, from foods to eat to safe sex practices.
Vaginal health is part of your overall health. Ongoing vaginal problems affect your sex life and can also impact your fertility, stress levels, self-confidence and relationships. But it’s not always easy to know how to keep your vagina healthy, especially with the vast array of hygiene products and supplements available today. To help you better understand the things that affect your vaginal health, and what you should be doing to address them, we spoke with certified nurse midwife Jessica Hayes.
A Healthy Diet Equals a Healthy Vagina
The simple act of eating a healthy diet—filled with plenty of water, lean proteins, whole grains, fruits and veggies—is one of the best ways to keep your vagina healthy. In addition, it’s important to fuel your vagina’s natural immune defenses with good bacteria. This can be accomplished by eating foods that contain prebiotics and probiotics.
“Prebiotics feed your existing bacteria and promote growth of healthy bacterial populations,” says Hayes. “Foods rich in prebiotics include bananas, asparagus and oatmeal. Probiotics, on the other hand, are bacteria that can be found in food and added to the body. Foods rich in probiotics include plain yogurt, kombucha and sauerkraut.”
Another way to keep your vagina healthy is to avoid too much sugar, as an excess of sugar in the body can lead to yeast infections.
Supplements Can Help Promote Vaginal Health
While you can get a fair amount of nutrients from food, another option for maintaining optimal vaginal health is taking supplements. If you’re looking for a probiotic supplement, it’s best to buy one that’s labeled “cold chain,” which means it needs to remain refrigerated. In addition, you should look for probiotics containing the three strains of bacteria specific to vaginal health: lactobacillus acidophilus, lactobacillus rhamnosus and lactobacillus reuteri.
The Best Cleanser is All Natural
Although there are many products that exist specifically for vaginal hygiene, Hayes advises, “Less is best when it comes to hygiene products. Your vagina doesn’t like artificial fragrances or chemicals, so you should be washing with just water. If you feel the need to wash with soap, stick to something with only natural ingredients, like castile soap.”
If you’re experiencing irritation or discomfort, Hayes recommends using coconut oil to soothe the area. “Coconut oil has naturally occurring antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory properties,” she says.
Safe Sex is Always Important
You should always practice safe sex to maintain your vaginal health as well as your overall health. This includes asking partners if they’ve been tested for sexually transmitted infections and getting tested yourself if you don’t know their status or yours.
If using lubricant during sex, use the same discretion that you would with picking a soap to wash with—avoid fragrances and an excess of chemicals. “Water-based lubricants are generally safe to use,” says Hayes. “Coconut oil can also act as an excellent lubricant that’s all-natural and free of chemicals and artificial fragrances.”
In addition to staying away from chemical-heavy lubricants, you should practice good sexual hygiene by always urinating after sex and cleaning up with water or a wet towel.
Your Healthcare Team Is Here to Help
If you’re experiencing irritation, itching, burning, strong odors or painful sex, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider. These symptoms could indicate an imbalance or an infection. And, addressing vaginal issues before they arise is good for your overall health. “You may need medication prescribed to treat any infection that’s present. For those who have a personal health history of bacterial vaginosis or other vaginal issues, an OB/GYN provider can recommend lifestyle changes or other preventive treatment options to avoid recurring infections,” says Hayes.
[Main photo credit: iStock.com/Astarot]