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10 Essential Rules for a Healthy Vagina

Wash your underwear in hot water; wipe from front to back and more expert-approved tips.

Vaginal yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis are the two most common types of vaginal health issues treated by Catherine Bagley, OBGYN, of Henrico Doctors' Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. These infections occur when too much yeast or bad bacteria outgrow the good bacteria, called lactobacillus, in the vagina. Most women will have at least one of these infections during their lifetime. Healthy hygiene habits can help women stave off such infections, says Dr. Bagley.

Here are 10 rules to follow to keep your vagina healthy and happy:

1. Wash this way. Always wash the outside of your vagina with very mild hypoallergenic soap, and only use warm water on the inside, advises Bagley. Never use soap on the inside, she adds.

2. Check the way you wipe. Always wipe from front to back, so you don’t transmit bacteria, says Bagley.

3. Clean genitals for sex. Clean your vagina before and after sexual contact, says Bagley. Another tip: make sure your partner has clean genitals before intercourse, too. The same goes for fingers if digital penetration is expected.

4. Stay dry. To prevent yeast infections, change out of damp clothes like wet bathing suits and sweaty workout attire as quickly as possible. You should also wash sweaty clothes after each use.

5. Do eat yogurt. Anecdotal evidence shows that probiotics in yogurt can help ward off yeast infections, says Bagley. Other probiotic-rich foods to include in your diet are kefir, unpasteurized sauerkraut or sour pickles that are fermented in salt and water.

6. Pick your panties wisely. “The best thing for your vagina is to wear all cotton, non-bleached underwear,” says Bagley.

Other fabrics like silk and lace can keep air from circulating and lock in moisture that promotes the breeding of bad bacteria. Stick to looser cotton underwear and pants, rather than tight panties and clothes.

7. Know what’s normal. Everyone’s body is a little different and functions differently at various times of the month, but discharge that’s clear to yellow is usually a normal physiological discharge, explains Bagley.

Typical yeast infection signs include white cottage cheese-like discharge, burning and intense itching that gets worse at nighttime. You might have a more serious vaginal infection if you notice symptoms like green discharge and pelvic pain coupled with a foul, fishy odor, says Bagley.

Other red flags include lesions on the inside of the vagina, or on the vulva around the outside of the vagina.

8. Baby wipes are OK. Buy the hypoallergenic wipes that don’t have any kind of added scent and are safe for babies, advises Bagley.

9. Take it easy! “I wish women knew that they don’t have to worry so much about cleaning their vaginas because they tend to use feminine products or douches that alter the bacteria or change the balance,” explains Bagley.

After altering the good bacteria, they have to play catch up and rebalance the vagina’s bacteria flora, which takes time and isn’t pleasant, she adds.

10. Wash your underwear in hot water. Prone to yeast infections? Do a separate load of wash just for your underwear, and use warm or hot water to kill bacteria.

If you’re having recurrent yeast infections, check with your OBGYN. They can help you come up with a specific plan to get your vagina healthy and prevent future infections.

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