Talking about vaginal health is not always at the top of a woman’s list of things to discuss… but with her Ob/Gyn, it sure is! As a board-certified OB/GYN, I’ve been asked a myriad of questions about vaginal health and vaginal discharge. In this week’s blog, I’m going to address some of the most frequently asked questions about this much misunderstood pelvic area.
What is normal?
Your vagina is like a micro-biome - chock full of healthy bacteria, known as Lactobacilli, as well as other bacteria and forms of yeast. When there is an overgrowth of imbalance between these, vaginal discharge can increase and cause symptoms of itching, burning and an unusual odor. Yeast infections usually cause a yellow curd-like discharge to form while bacterial vaginosis (BV) usually has a white-green color and a fishy odor.
Does your vaginal discharge change during the menstrual cycle?
Absolutely it does! This is due to the changes in the cervical mucus. If we look at a typical 28-day menstrual cycle, the first 14 days are called the “follicular phase” and the last 14 days are known as the “luteal phase”. Mid-cycle, or Day 14, is when ovulation occurs – when the egg is released from your ovary into the fallopian tube. Not only does the lining of the uterus change during the cycle but so does the amount and consistency of your cervical mucus and vaginal discharge.
To help demonstrate:
Days 1-12: usually white, light mucus
Day 13-15: clear, egg-white, stringy mucus
Day 16-28: thick, white-yellow mucus
What’s that fishy odor?
Usually your vaginal discharge doesn’t have an odor. That being said, there can be unusual smells, which can be caused by certain foods, antibiotics and infections. If you have a fishy odor, this usually indicates an infection known as Bacterial Vaginosis, or BV. It is best to go see your GYN to get tested to determine the exact cause so appropriate treatment can be given.
Does sex cause vaginal infections?
Certain vaginal infections are contracted during sex. These are also known as Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI’s), previously known as Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STD’s). Some of these STI’s do NOT cause obvious symptoms and thus, when left untreated for months or years, can lead to potentially permanent damage to your reproductive system, as well as other health problems.
Here is a list of vaginal infections that are spread through sex:
Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV)
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
Be sure to get tested for any of these if you’ve had any new partners or unusual discharge.
Do I need to clean my vagina?
No. Unfortunately, the media with its multitude of feminine hygiene products, has convinced us to believe that our pelvic area should smell like a bed of roses. This is far from true. These products actually contain lots of chemicals, which your body and vagina don’t need. This can lead to a non-infectious vaginitis and possible allergic reactions. As mentioned above and below, your vagina cleans itself and doesn’t need any help from harsh sprays or deodorants.
Should I douche?
NO! The vagina has its own self-cleaning system and you don’t want to mess with the vaginal pH. The more acidic the vagina the better. Douches can wash away the healthy bacteria, Lactobacilli, leading to an imbalance in pH and increased risk of infection.
When should I call my doctor?
If your vaginal discharge changes color, is heavier or smells different, you should make a visit with your GYN. Other symptoms such as vaginal itching, vaginal burning, swelling or soreness, painful intercourse or pain with urination warrant an appointment for evaluation.
Can I prevent getting vaginal infections?
Yes! Here’s a list of top tips that I share with my patients.
Wear breathable, cotton underwear.
Change out of your sweaty gym clothes and bathing suit as soon as possible to decrease the likelihood of yeast overgrowth.
Drink lots of water – at least half of your body weight in ounces of water. If you’re 140 pounds, drink at least 70 ounces of water--- and more if you’re exercising or sweating.
Avoid tight fitting jeans or pants. And think again about that thong if it’s causing you irritation.