By Sheryl Millares, MD
Feminine hygiene encompasses the practices intended to keep women’s intimate areas clean and healthy. It also includes the sanitary products used in maintaining the vulva and vagina fresh and infection-free.
The key to feminine hygiene is to maintain the vagina’s acidic nature. Capable of self-cleansing, it’s built-in system maintains a healthy pH naturally and can ward-off bad bacteria.
Ladies of different ages and hormonal status are often advised to take basic measures, such as paying care and attention when wiping the V-zone in between toilet use, from vagina to anus. Other aspects include the proper choice of menstrual products, use of feminine wash, consistent wearing of clean clothes and underwear, good nutrition and adequate water intake.
V-zone care before and after birth
Pregnancy on the other hand, entails careful attention. Experiencing copious vaginal discharge can be quite irritating for pregnant women, who may tend to wash the area more often, but this may compromise the natural protection of an intimate area. Likewise, douching isn’t recommended whether pregnant or not.
To ensure that no unwanted bacteria gets inoculated in the feminine triangle, front-to-back wiping is highly recommended. During pregnancy, this is even more imperative since the whole region is more sensitive than usual and is more vulnerable to infection. It’s risky to allow bacteria near the introitus, where it can make its way to the womb.
The kind of underwear an expectant woman favors is also a factor. Nylon panties aren’t advisable during pregnancy as it often traps undesirable moisture. Increased vascularity centered on the V-zone makes the area terribly hot, which is best relieved with the use of airy and comfortable cotton underwear.
During the postpartum period, good hygiene plays a role in wound healing and infection prevention. For the first few days, frequent sanitary pad changing—at least four times a day—will be necessary due to vaginal discharge consisting of lochia or every void or bowel movement. Both lochia and feces are known medium for bacteria.
Pick a product
Every fertile woman deals with menstrual hygiene, and most ladies are aware of their options, picking the product that works best for them. Locally, sanitary pads or napkins are the most widely used hygienic product owing to its availability and no-fuss nature. Made up of absorbent cellulose, their leak-proof plastic backing is designed to trap odor more than other hygiene options.
In the U.S., tampons are popular due to their simplicity and convenience. Made of highly-absorbent cotton and worn inside the vagina, a tampon absorbs menstrual fluids coming out of the cervix. Like napkins, here are several types to choose from depending on the individual’s needs during light and heavy days. They’re also disposable and should be changed at least every eight hours, as prolonged exposure may lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome.
For eco-conscious consumers, menstrual cups made of medical-grade silicone offer an alternative. Insinuated into the vagina and worn against the cervical opening, it’s held up by the vaginal muscles and require removal every four to 12 hours depending on the menstrual flow. Accumulated blood is flushed away, and the cup is thoroughly washed before reinsertion.
Extended usage of either napkins or tampons may cause unwanted leaks and bad odors. Daily baths or showers keep the whole body refreshed and clean during menstruation. No woman should be deprived of this hygienic right.
As for feminine wash, not all are created equal. These need to be used sparingly, in diluted form, and only when necessary. Some are strongly formulated with antiseptics that may cause infection if used frequently. Bad bacteria are eliminated, but so are good ones which act as the primary defense of the vagina against invasion.
Intimate flora: fronds and folds
The intimate area of a woman has always been likened to a flower not only because of its delicateness, but more so because of its odor. No two flowers smell alike and each woman’s scent is different. The natural odor of a vagina smells fleshy or musky. The most important thing is self-awareness, knowing what’s normal and what’s atypical.
A gynecological consult is necessary to rule out infection. Persistent fishy or foul-smelling odors may signal bacterial vaginosis, which may warrant treatment or a prescription. This kind of infection may present with burning sensation or itching but in some, fishy odor is the only symptom. To be certain, the fronds and folds of a woman particularly the areas that are less visible to her must be inspected. Seeking professional help shouldn’t be delayed.
In a time clamoring for a balanced professional and domestic life, a woman’s personal health and well-being are often overlooked. The intimate area of a woman deserves care, and must remain a priority no matter the reason or season. HT