If you are like me, literally no one has ever spoken to you about vaginal flora (vaginal pH). Not your mom, not your best girlfriend, not even your gynecologist! And if you’re like me, you didn’t know about this delicate environment until you had a problem. Raise both hands! You deserve a double high-five sister because you aren’t alone! We’re talking about all the messy details today.
What is vaginal pH?
You’ve probably heard of pH levels in your body and having them run acidic or alkaline. Most everything in your body gets along while this is in balance. Your vagina is no exception. You may remember from chemistry that the pH of something determines how acidic or basic it is, and you might be surprised to learn that the pH of your vagina directly relates to its health. What is a normal vaginal pH? It falls somewhere between 3.5 to 4.5, and if you’re healthy it should regulate itself and keep it in this acidic range. When your vaginal pH is out of that range (above or below) you will likely notice an unpleasant odor or discharge.
What can cause an imbalance in vaginal flora?
There are several ways your vaginal pH balance could be off, all of which are super common.
Unprotected sex. Semen is a very alkaline substance and can throw off your flora. If you have a new partner, you could be especially susceptible to this. It’s a foreign substance and your vaginal flora is trying desperately to protect you.
Douching. Do not douche. I’m not even sure why douching exists, to be honest. Even your gynecologist will tell you it’s unhealthy and disruptive to your body’s chemistry. It’s equivalent to throwing a bomb in your lady parts. If you feel you need to douche, then there may be a problem already occurring and a visit to your doctor would be best.
Antibiotics. While they are used during infection and do serve a purpose, they are definitely on our list of gut-bombs. They are designed to wipe out absolutely everything (the good, the bad and the ugly) in order to kill whatever infection is ailing you. However, with that, you’ve now wiped out your good bacteria. At this time, it’s incredibly easy for your vaginal pH balance to be thrown off. Have you ever noticed that after a two week prescription of antibiotics, you have to now battle a yeast infection? Bingo.
Soaps. Did you know that you actually don’t have to use soap down there? I know it sounds crazy, but it’s a beautifully working machine and is designed to take care of itself! We know that shelves in the feminine aisle are lined with flashy packaging and products that seem to make us think we need them. Nope, according to Mayo Clinic, anything but rinsing with warm water is considered excessive.
What you eat. We are what we eat, we all know this, right? What you consume plays a heavy role in your body’s overall health as well as your vaginal pH balance. Candida (yeast) feeds off of sugars and if you find that you are prone to yeast infections, steer clear. If you’re tired of buying creams or taking a prescription for a yeast infection, maybe consider doing a candida diet. It’s a way of eating for a couple of weeks that inhibits the growth of candida.
Menstrual period. Menstrual blood is on the acidic side and can change the vaginal pH balance. There is a lot happening in your vagina during those few days, and if you’re in balance for the rest of the month, your body has a way of working it out. The first couple of days after your period has stopped you may notice a difference, but hang tight and see how your body corrects itself. If it persists, make a call to your doctor for testing.
How do I know if my vaginal pH is off balance?
You should be able to tell almost right away. You may pick up a fishy odor or notice the discharge is off-color. Bacterial Vaginosis and candida (yeast) are the most common infections that come with pH imbalance. BV (bacterial vaginosis) will carry with it a strong fishy odor and a thick grey-like discharge. Yeast will show signs of a thick white discharge and intense itching.
Can tampons mess up your pH balance?
Tampons have long been linked to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) which could be a life-threatening infection. This is believed to happen if tampons are soaked in menses and left in the vagina too long. A tampons job is to soak up whatever it comes in contact with. It’s dry cotton. It’s going to do exactly that. If you don’t use the right size or absorbency (like using a super tampon on a lighter flow day), it can soak up your vaginal fluids as well which is where all of the bacteria live. This will leave you susceptible to infection. We recently talked about vaginal dryness and tampon use.
Can menstrual cups cause infections?
In short, if they are used (and cared for) properly there is no link between menstrual cups and infections. Menstrual cups are approved to be left in the vagina for up to 12 hours, safely. At this point, they would need to be emptied and washed prior to being reinserted. Here at Pixie Cup, we formulated a menstrual cup wash that will not throw off your vaginal pH balance. If menstrual cups are used correctly, they are actually ideal for maintaining your natural vaginal pH balance. Menstrual cups are a cup-shaped device made of medical-grade silicone that sits in the vaginal canal. It doesn’t soak up anything. It collects the menstrual blood to be discarded later.
How can I maintain a healthy vaginal pH balance?
Take a probiotic. Gut health plays a heavy role in how our body functions. There are certain types of bacteria that live in our stomach, intestinal tract and in our vagina. Taking a probiotic designed uniquely for your lady parts is a great place to start. Check those out here.
See your gynecologist regularly. Going for scheduled exams is the best way to keep up on what’s happening down there. If you regularly get exams, your doctor will be able to build up a track record and it will be easier to see if something is off. Tracking your period and any symptoms that occur after your period can be helpful in bringing accurate information to your doctor.
Avoid tight + synthetic clothing. Yoga pants are all the rage these days as well as leggings. If you’re truly using them to work out, be sure to replace them after the work out with breathable pants. Cotton underwear is also crucial as it wicks moisture away from the body.
If your balance has been thrown off, it takes time to get your lady groove back in shape. Don’t be discouraged. With time and help from your doctor, everything will work out! Have you been researching alternative period care? Have you thought about trying a menstrual cup? Finding the best one to fit your needs is important! Check out our online store for different cup styles and sizes.
PLEASE NOTE: This blog post is not intended as a substitute for the medical advice of your doctor. You should regularly consult a physician in matters relating to your health and particularly with respect to anything related to menstruation and vaginal health. If you have any concerns about using a Pixie Cup, consult your doctor before use. If you have any gynecological conditions, please talk to your physician.