"Vaginal health is no different than any other organ system," said Andrea Wolfe, M.D., Women's Wellness Specialist at Grand Pearl Spa—a division of Plastic Surgery Associates.
"And it isn't a 'dirty' subject.
Let's say "so long" to the taboo and get to it!
Dr. Wolfe stresses that keeping your lady bits in check may be made easier with steps as simple as staying hydrated.
"The vagina has the ability to 'self-clean,' but it depends on producing enough natural lubrication. Getting enough water daily helps to increase natural lubrication and maintain the proper pH."
Coffee lovers may not want to hear this, but Wolfe notes that excess caffeine can cause urinary urge symptoms, which many women attribute to possible urinary tract infections. Choose half-caf next time to help alleviate these symptoms.
And when it comes to douching? Don't.
"While some women feel that douching helps to clean and maintain the vagina, that practice can actually cause bacterial overgrowth or other issues," said Wolfe.
Leslie Pelkey, M.D., FACP, Associate Chief Medical Officer at Cherry Health, advises that in addition to douches, it's wise to avoid certain other items marketed to women. "Use of hygiene products such as bubble bath, vaginal spray or vaginal deodorant disrupts the protective acidic vaginal environment."
Don't forget to let your vagina get some air time.
"Today's fashion often entails tight-fitting clothes, sometimes made of synthetic materials. This can trap moisture and cause chafing, possibly leading to infections and discomfort," said Wolfe. "Spend time in looser clothing, wear cotton pajamas, or sleep in the nude to allow the vaginal and vulvar tissue to breathe."
Wolfe's most simple tip of them all? Use your vagina. "Frequent intercourse and orgasms will help to keep muscle and connective tissues supple, as well as increase endorphins and ability to achieve orgasm."
Dr. Pelkey adds that women should be safe and use a condom to prevent sexually transmitted infections—and should urinate after intercourse to prevent bladder infections.
What if you notice something isn't quite right down there? Nisha McKenzie, PA-C, IF, CSC, Grand Rapids OB/GYN, and Director of the Center for Women's Sexual Health, wants you to know you have someone on your side. She also wants you to know it's important to stay up to date on your pap and pelvic examinations.
"Call that gynecologist you trust!" McKenzie said. "Over-the-counter remedies can help sometimes, but unless you know exactly what you're treating, there is a possibility you could make matters worse—or even just prolong time to proper diagnosis and treatment."
If you're thinking about pregnancy, Nancy Pranger, M.D., OB/GYN, at Cherry Health encourages planning ahead.
"Start early on a prenatal vitamin and avoid tobacco and alcohol and be sure to talk to your doctor about medications which may affect pregnancy. Those early weeks are very important in normal development," Dr. Pranger said. "If you're not interested in pregnancy, there are many convenient options for effective birth control for you to consider."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.