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Understanding your vagina and how to keep her clean

In Body + Soul, Features, Stories, Wellness by Nicole Fuge

Mama, you will have seen your ladybits go through some major changes. So when it comes to hygiene and vaginas, here’s what you need to know.

By Chloe Chivers 

Vaginas: To wash or not?

Whether you’re a new mum, a mum-to-be, or a mum of three, you will have seen your ladybits go through some major changes.

Yet when it comes to cleaning “that area”, many women are still a little confused about the do’s and don’ts – especially after giving birth.

Should you be investing in feminine washes? Should you douche? Or will your vagina just look after itself?

There’s a right and wrong approach to this debacle.

Let’s demystify this issue once and for all by helping you understand the complexities of your beautiful vagina. Because it’s crucial that you take control of your vaginal health and feel comfortable in your own body.


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Understanding your vagina

If you can’t tell your vagina from your vulva, don’t worry. Fewer than half of women can identify their lady bits. I’m here to help!

Often, the general term ‘vagina’ is used to refer to the entire area between a woman’s legs. But it’s actually a lot more intricate than that.

Let’s start with your vulva. This is the exterior of your genitals, and it includes the labia, clitoris, vaginal opening and urethra opening.

Your vagina, on the other hand, is a muscular tube that joins the cervix and the vaginal opening.

So, which part needs cleaning?

There are times when you may feel that your ladybits need a bit of freshening up, especially during pregnancy, after giving birth, and during your postpartum phase.

Like many other areas of your skin, your vulva has sweat glands. When you get warm and sweaty, this area can get a bit odorous. Tight clothing can make this even worse.

When it comes to personal hygiene, everyone has their own practices and routines. You need to choose what’s right for you. If that means washing your ladybits, then go ahead – but not in the way you’d wash your armpits!

First things first: soap is not your vulva’s friend. The skin here is much more delicate and sensitive than the skin on other parts of your body, and ordinary soaps are far too harsh. Most soaps are very alkaline, which can upset the balance of your skin’s acidic shield, causing irritation to your vulva as well as dryness.

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How do you wash your vulva?

If you want to refresh your nether regions, all you need is warm water and a gentle, natural pH-balanced vaginal or feminine wash.

Look out for ones containing herbal Horopito as this supports vaginal health. Gently cleanse your vulva front to back with your hands, then pat dry with a clean towel.

That’s it. Simple.

But what about the vagina? Does your internal area need cleaning, too?

In a word, no. Your vagina is lined with a special kind of flora that works to maintain a delicate acidic pH balance. This is what naturally deters infections.

Douching – or any other form of cleaning out that internal muscular tube – only upsets this pH balance. This can throw the whole system out of whack, potentially disrupting your vagina’s ability to self-clean and leading to irritation.

Douching during and after pregnancy is definitely not recommended, and can even increase your risk of developing serious infections like bacterial vaginosis.

Instead, have a little faith in your vagina and leave her to clean herself.

That’s right – your vagina is self-cleaning. That stain on your undies is actually part of your vagina’s cleansing ritual.

Vaginal discharge is a mixture of friendly bacteria and other stuff that your body has flushed out, such as blood, semen, and old cells.

Throughout your ovulation cycle, you will notice slight changes to your discharge. The colour, texture, and volume can vary from one week to the next.

Some days it might be watery and milky, while other days it might be scant.

After a vaginal delivery, you may notice that your vagina has a stale, musty odour and a dark red discharge. This is called lochia, and it usually hangs about for the first three days after giving birth. Over the following week, it gradually becomes more watery and lighter in colour, and should be creamy or yellowish by about the 14th day. This is completely normal.

Every woman is different, so we each have our own ‘normal’. Keep track of what’s normal for you.

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Dealing with strange discharge

Your vagina communicates with you. If something isn’t right, she will let you know through your discharge. Changes to your discharge such as yellow, grey or green discolouration, thicker consistency or an unpleasant odour can indicate something’s wrong.

A thick, yellowy-white white discharge with a cottage-cheese consistency can mean vaginal thrush. This is usually accompanied by itching, irritation, and pain during sex or urinating.

Talking about a vaginal problem can seem embarrassing – but it really shouldn’t be. Consider that about 75% of women will have at least one thrush infection in their lifetime – and many have at least several. So, you’re definitely not alone.

Thrush might be unpleasant, but it’s both treatable and preventable. The trick is not to ignore it.

Seek medical advice as soon as something looks or feels wrong – especially if you have itching, burning or irritation.

Remember, the health of your vagina contributes to your overall wellbeing. Treat your body with the kindness and respect it deserves, and don’t hold back from getting help when you need it.

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