It is normal to have some vaginal discharge. Vaginal discharge is your body’s way of cleaning and moisturizing your vagina. A healthy vagina will secrete fluids made by glands inside the vagina and cervix to carry away dead cells and bacteria. This small amount of discharge helps the vagina to clean and lubricate itself, similar to your mouth secreting saliva. A healthy vagina remains acidic which helps suppress the growth of harmful bacteria and yeast. It also contains “good bacteria” that keeps the environment acidic and balanced. It is normal for the amount, color and consistency of your discharge to vary throughout the month depending on where you are at in your menstrual cycle. For example, you may notice an increased amount of discharge when you are ovulating, breastfeeding, or sexually aroused. Normal vaginal discharge can be clear, white, cloudy, yellowish or even contain mucous. These can all be normal variations and there is no need to worry if you have no other symptoms. However, if the smell, consistency, or color changes significantly it may be signs of an infection or other condition.
Signs that your discharge may be abnormal and you may need to see your doctor are:
• A foul strong “fishy” odor
• Change in color to green, gray, pus like discharge
• Vaginal itching, burning, swelling, or redness
• Vaginal bleeding or spotting after intercourse
These signs may indicate you have a vaginal infection such as bacterial vaginosis, candidiasis (yeast infection), or a sexually transmitted disease. BV (bacterial vaginosis) and yeast are both common vaginal infections, and can occur with or without sexual activity. You can’t always prevent vaginal infections or irritation, but there are steps you can take to help keep your vagina healthy.
THE HEALTHY VAGINA
• Some vaginal discharge is normal and is necessary for good vaginal health. The discharge helps to keep the vaginal area clean, lubricated, and removes dead skin cells from the vagina.
• Normal vaginal discharge is usually clear/white with no noticeable odor. Discharge varies throughout your cycle. Certain times of the month you may notice some white “mucous” around the time of ovulation and this is normal.
• In a perfect world, our vagina stays acidic which helps to suppress the growth of yeast and bacteria
• We are a society that LOVES to clean. We have more antibacterial products than our mothers and grandmothers ever had! Many times the products we use cause “over cleaning” of the genitals and disrupts this balance.
• There should be a balance of “good” bacteria and “bad” (odor causing) bacteria at all times. By washing away the “good guys” that help maintain this balance we disrupt our bodies natural protective flora that can lead to more frequent vaginal infections.
• Even though we are a society that LOVES to “clean”- avoid ANY antibacterial soaps in that area that can kill or wash away the “good” protective bacteria in your vagina.
• DON’T DOUCHE…Just like these soaps, douches wash away lubricants and good protective bacteria leaving your vagina defenseless against yeast and bacteria.
• Unfortunately many of these “feminine hygiene” products are marketed for women and contain fragrances that are NOT good for that area. It is MARKETING girls!!! They want your money! A gentle, fragrance free soap is all you need. There are MANY out there some common examples are DOVE sensitive skin body bar, cetaphil body wash (generic works great), or any other
Steps you can take to protect vaginal health- protect your PH balance:
• Avoid ANY scented soaps, body washes, or feminine washes that have fragrances. If it smells “NICE,” it has fragrance. These products “wash” down your body and can irritate the vaginal tissue and alter your vaginal PH.
• Avoid letting shampoo or hair products run down your body in the shower. These products are great for hair, but contain harsh chemicals that can cause irritation.
• Use unscented laundry detergent and no fabric softener on undergarmets
• Change out of wet bathing suits or sweaty exercise clothing as soon as possible
• Use unscented tampons, pads, and toilet paper
• Wear cotton underwear and loose fitting clothing when possible
• DO NOT douche- douching can interfere with your bodies natural good flora and reduce acidity allowing yeast and harmful bacteria to flourish
• Practice safe sex to prevent transmission of harmful bacteria and sexually transmitted disease. If you think you may have a sexually transmitted infection, it is important to see your gynecologist because not treating them can lead to reproductive health problems.
*** See next article(s) on vaginal infections: vulvovaginitis