While vaginal discharge plays an important role in cleaning the body, it may also point to a health problem…
Vaginal discharge usually makes its debut in early puberty, usually a few months before the onset of a girl’s first period. Every woman has it, every day. The vagina and cervix produce fluids that serve to eliminate bacteria and dead cells. These fluids are secreted to keep the vagina and its mucous membranes moist and healthy.
Appearance of the discharge
What’s surprising sometimes is the different appearances the discharge can take on. It can be transparent, white, yellowish, opaque, fluid, abundant or almost non-existent: it’s all normal and simply reflects variations in hormone levels at different times during the menstrual cycle. During pregnancy, ovulation and sexual excitement, it becomes more abundant. Admittedly, it can be hard to determine whether the discharge is normal.
After pregnancy, it’s light pink and can be abundant at times. In this case, it’s lochial discharge, which originates in the uterus and usually stops a few weeks after delivery.
It’s important to watch out for vaginal discharge that has an unusual texture, that smells strong and, above all, that’s accompanied by redness, itchiness or a burning sensation. Like the intestines, the vagina is home to a bacterial flora that doesn’t appreciate imbalances, which can be caused by a wide range of factors including:
- Bacterial vaginosis, which is responsible for around half of abnormal vaginal discharge
- The Pill
- Some sexually transmitted infections such as gonorrhea, chlamydia and vaginitis
- Vaginal douches, scented soap and bubble bath
- Yeast infections
- Cervical cancer
The list goes on, so it’s important to consult a health professional to treat the problem before it gets worse.
Like the intestinal flora, the vaginal flora is mostly made up of lactic bacteria, which thrive in a sensitive, easily disturbed environment. Oral probiotics, which are known for the benefits they provide to the intestine, also promote the vaginal flora, though more slowly. Probiotics in vaginal capsule form are available and provide a more direct effect. A lactofermented extract rich in L+ lactic acid can help re-establish an environment that is favourable to lactic bacteria, fostering a healthy vaginal flora.
Here are a few golden rules for avoiding vaginal infections:
- Wear 100% cotton panties.
- Avoid tight pants.
- When you go to the bathroom, always wipe toward the back to avoid bacterial contamination.
- Don’t use vaginal douches, scented soap or bubble bath.
- Avoid antimicrobial wipes and deodorant sprays advertised as indispensable to proper feminine hygiene. These antimicrobial agents kill off the good flora!
- Wash your vulva (your outer bits) using mild unscented soap and warm water. Your vaginal discharge will take care of cleaning the inside.
Though you may find that your discharge is so heavy you really can’t go without a panty liner, just keep in mind that scented or antibacterial feminine hygiene products have no real reason to exist. The best thing you can do is to let your body do its own thing. Imagine, finally something that cleans itself!
Sarah Cribby, Michelle Taylor and Gregor Reid. Vaginal Microbiota and the Use of Probiotics. Interdiscip Perspect Infect Dis. 2008; 2008: 256490.