Here at Byrdie HQ, we firmly believe that there are no taboos when it comes to female health—and that's why we're making it our mission to destigmatize any and all discussion surrounding birth control, our periods, and any other topic related to reproductive wellness. It's something we stand by all year long, but in observation ofNational Women's Health Week, we're highlighting some of our best guides and stories on the subject. Tune in all week long to get versed on your options when it comes to birth control, what it's really like to get an IUD, why you should care about which tampons you buy, and more.
John Mayer has a point: Women's bodies are wonderlands (but not exactly in the ogling, slightly creepy way he's singing about). Physically (and mentally, of course), women are tough cookies. We endure crippling cramps, bleed for a week straight (sometimes less, sometimes more—hormones are very unpredictable), and grow entire humans in our bodies. But as beautiful and incredible as our anatomy is, there are several common things we do each day that could be harming our precious reproductive systems.
To find out how to properly take care down there, we spoke with gynecologist and resident expert at SweetSpot Labs Jessica A. Shepherd, MD. Spoiler: Turns out reaching for chocolate when we're PMS'ing is causing more problems than just the unnecessary calories we're ingesting. Keep scrolling to read her top five don'ts.
Mistake 1: Consuming Too Many Sweets
As completely alluring as a pint of Ben & Jerry's sounds when our period comes around (or any time of the month, really), you'd do your vagina a favor by skipping it. Says Shepherd, "Sugar can increase vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis and yeast infections." Instead, she recommends eating foods with a low glycemic index to prevent yeast growth. You can also try the candida diet (candida is the yeast-like fungus that causes such problems), which excludes alcohol, sugar, and of course yeast—just speak with a doctor first to ensure it's a safe meal plan for you.
Mistake 2: Using oil-based lubricant
There are two key reasons you should ditch oil-based lubes: First, they can't be used with condoms, because they disintegrate the latex and thereby can increase the risk of sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancy. Second, oil-based formulas disrupt the vaginal atmosphere—oil is difficult for our water-based human tissues to break down and can leave a film on the inside of the vagina. Try a water-based or oil-free organic lubricant instead.
Mistake 3: Using harsh soap
Shepherd explains that harsh cleansers cause irritating reactions in the vagina. "These products usually have the wrong pH, are heavily fragranced, and use glycerin, a sugar-based ingredient that yeast loves," she says.
Harsh chemicals, she adds, upset your vagina's internal pH and good bacteria, a problem that can allow harmful organisms to proliferate. "When our pH is altered and made less acidic, the vagina loses its natural protection and bacteria are allowed to thrive and multiply," she says. Instead, try SweetSpot's gentle cleanser (above), which is 97% natural and much friendlier on your body.
Mistake 4: Washing Away Good Bacteria
In a similar vein, Shepherd warns against frequent douching, saying that doing so can "wash away good bacteria and increase bacterial infections." Try using gentle wipes instead, like these offerings from SweetSpot Labs. They're formulated without glycerin or high perfume content, which would contribute to an overgrowth of odor-producing bacteria (the opposite of what you want to happen when you're trying to freshen up).
Mistake 5: Neglecting Frequent Checkups
In addition to your annual Pap smear, Shepherd suggests getting a regular STD test: not just annually, but each time you're with a new partner. Skipping your yearly checkup, she says, means potentially missing the chance to catch serious issues such as pre-cancerous cells, infections, etc.
This post was originally published on February 10, 2017.
Up next, take a look at how to balance your hormones naturally.