Vaginal Health Through the Life Stages

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The vagina and its health are important and significant parts of our lives. The vagina is what gives us life and allows us to give life. It goes through a lot - from puberty to periods, pleasure, infections, birth, and menopause. We all go through many of these changes and phases, and yet many of us do not actually know how to optimally care for our vaginas throughout these stages of life. By being aware of our bodies and recognizing the stages we are in or approaching, we can better prepare for what’s going on and take the best care possible of this essential part of our beings.

The following guide will discuss the happenings and changes occurring for women in their 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, along with helpful tools and supplements for all of the life stages.


The 20s

This is the time when the pelvic floor is at its strongest. The pelvic floor is the layer of muscles that support the pelvic organs (bladder, bowel, and uterus) in the bottom of the pelvis.

At this time, pubic hair will be fully developed and vulvar skin may appear thinner than in the teens, natural lubrication is not usually a problem (unless on the pill), and sexual libido is at its peak (for the body, this is the optimal time for fertility, conception, and childbirth).

CHALLENGES

At this time, many women are exploring sex and contraception use (including birth control pills), and may also become pregnant. Women may feel the need to use scented washes and products on their vaginas, but this can cause more harm than good. These products can disrupt pH levels of the vagina, leading to yeast infections, vaginal dryness, and irritation. Leaving tampons in for too long can lead to Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), infections, odors, and irritation.

Women at this stage may start experiencing urinary tract infections (UTIs), which can be a result of a bacterial infection or poor diet, hygiene, or sexual hygiene.  



TOOLS FOR PREVENTION & HEALING

Avoid using scented products and douches - use warm water and a natural soap like Dr. Bronner’s.


Explore other birth control options aside from the pill, which can cause hormonal imbalances and have long-term side effects. The pill also doesn’t protect from sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV, genital herpes, chlamydia, and more. Condoms are always a good bet, and there are many natural, vegan, and vagina-friendly versions available, such as Glyde, Sustain, Sir Richard’s, and L Condoms.


Use organic menstrual products & be sure to regularly change pads and tampons, or try a menstrual cup such as the Diva Cup.


Keep the vagina happy by making sure it is clean and dry. Certain types of fabric and clothing - like thongs in synthetic materials - can create an inhospitable environment. Breathable cotton underwear - organic, if possible - are best. Don’t hang out in wet swimsuits or workout gear, either, and let your vagina breathe at night by not wearing underwear to bed.

Drink plenty of water daily (2-3 liters, or half your body weight - in pounds - in ounces).


Eat a balanced diet with plenty of greens, vegetables, fresh fruits, nuts & seeds + grains & limit excessive intake of caffeine and alcohol.

Drink dandelion & burdock root tea and try a milk thistle tincture or capsules to support detoxification and hormone balance.

Go for annual check-ups and pap smear screenings.


Always urinate after intercourse to avoid bacterial infections and UTIs. Drinking pure organic unsweetened cranberry juice can also help to prevent UTIs.



The 30s


This is the time when hormones begin changing and it's imperative to implement plenty of self-care & nurturing. This is also a time when many women are getting pregnant so hormone balance is of utmost importance. The vulva and pubic hair generally remain the same as in the 20s although skin may start to lose some elasticity and fat.



CHALLENGES


At this time, the most notable change is a decrease in pelvic floor strength. The muscle begins to loosen, which can affect the functioning of the pelvic organs and can sometimes lead to issues such as urinary incontinence, bowel changes (irregularity), and feelings of vaginal heaviness. Sexual libido may begin to decline slightly, which is often related to social circumstances, such as work pressures, family commitments, and financial stress rather than bodily changes.  



TOOLS FOR PREVENTION & HEALING



Regular meals + regular mealtimes are imperative to keep blood sugar levels stable and supporting hormone balance.


Drink dandelion & burdock root tea and try a milk thistle tincture or capsules to support hormone balance.

Sip red raspberry leaf tea often to soothe and tone the uterus. (especially helpful pre/during the menstrual cycle

Pilates & barre are helpful for toning and strengthening the pelvic floor.

Kegel exercises are useful for women to practice before and after vaginal births to train the pelvic floor muscles to contract and release more effectively. They’re also beneficial in supporting the body during delivery, helping to retrain the muscles post-birth, and decreasing the chance of bladder and bowel issues, pressure, or prolapse. For a more tailored set of exercises, see a pelvic floor physical therapist who can check your specific muscle function and tailor the exercises so that they are most beneficial for your body.

Many women in this stage may feel as though their sex life has become less exciting. Practicing communication can be a great way to reconnect with your partner. Plenty of foreplay, massage, and stimulation are helpful prior to sexual intercourse. Use a natural lubricant (no petroleum jelly!) or yoni oil as desired.


Take a probiotic supplement that is targeted for women’s vaginal health as needed/desired.

Downtime, self-care, and relaxation techniques are particularly powerful for stress reduction, as stress can affect sleep, libido, hormone balance, and vaginal health.



The 40s


This is the time when your hormones begin changing more drastically - specifically, estrogen levels begin dropping as the body prepares for menopause. Many women go through perimenopause in their 40s, though menopause and pre-menopausal symptoms can be lessened or completely alleviated with the nurturing and support of a holistic lifestyle. Maintaining hormone balance is key for feeling your best.

Though this time is often the mark of declining fertility, many women give birth in their 40s. Healing after pregnancy tends to be a slower process which requires more rest and care postpartum. Pelvic floor strength and repair is of the utmost importance post-birth.

Pubic hair may start thinning while the vagina becomes less lubricated, the labia continues to lose fat and the skin of the vulva may start thinning.


CHALLENGES


Changing hormones can often cause symptoms such as vaginal dryness, irregular menstrual cycles, mood imbalances, and decreased libido. A weakened pelvic floor can sometimes cause unintentional urine leakage, vaginal prolapse, and digestive disturbances. Declining hormones can also change the pH of the vagina, which directly affects bacterial balance & flora. When beneficial bacteria become outnumbered by bad bacteria, this can lead to vaginal infections and UTIs.



TOOLS FOR PREVENTION & HEALING



Continue with Kegel exercises or pelvic floor physiotherapy.

Stay active - movement is imperative for lymph flow and circulation. Exercises that strengthen the core also engage the pelvic floor muscles, such as Pilates and barre.

Allow plenty of time for foreplay - this will help with vaginal dryness. Use a natural lubricant (no petroleum jelly!) or yoni oil daily. Applying calendula - a medicinal plant - to the outer lips of the vagina (not inside!) can also help to alleviate vaginal dryness.

Take a probiotic supplement that is targeted for women’s vaginal health as needed/desired.

Consider natural progesterone cream to relieve hormonal symptoms.

Consume phytoestrogens regularly, which are plant-based sources of estrogen. Increasing natural estrogens in the body helps to relieve vaginal dryness and other symptoms associated with low estrogen. Food sources of phytoestrogens include cherries, wild yams, oats, red clover, apples, pomegranates, carrots, alfalfa, and licorice root.


The 50s

This is the time when most women are either pre-menopause, post-menopause, or going through menopause. The average age at which this occurs is 51, but it can happen at any time between the ages of 45 and 65. Menopause brings about many changes in the body: the vagina may become smaller in size along with the vulva and cervix, pubic hair becomes grey and sparse, and the skin can become thinner. Vaginal lubrication continues to decline as estrogen levels decrease.



CHALLENGES


Sex may become painful due to decreased lubrication, and vaginal tissue can tear with penetration and may even bleed. Sexual libido and feelings of intimacy may decline due to changing hormones as well as any pain or discomfort. Dropping estrogen levels may make the body more prone to UTIs and bladder infections.



TOOLS FOR PREVENTION & HEALING


Honor your own speed - take it slow, increase foreplay, and use natural lubrication for vaginal dryness and painful sex.


Consider estriol cream for vaginal dryness and natural progesterone cream to relieve hormonal symptoms.


Stay hydrated and consume adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids and proteins in order to enhance vaginal lubrication. Consume plenty of spring or filtered water, herbal teas, fresh fruit and vegetable juices, coconut water, avocados, nuts & seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, wild-caught fatty fish such as salmon, olive oil & coconut oil.


Use a natural lubricant (no petroleum jelly!) or yoni oil daily. Applying calendula - a medicinal plant - to the outer lips of the vagina (not inside!) can also help to alleviate vaginal dryness.



Communicate with your partner. Dealing with the many changes of menopause can be overwhelming and challenging, so it’s important to talk with your partner and to let them know what is going on and what you’re dealing with.


TOOLS FOR EVERY LIFE STAGE


Eliminate candida & balance the vaginal microbiome - Candida can exist throughout the digestive tract as well as in the vagina. When candida yeast takes over, it causes a range of health issues including recurrent yeast infections. Remove sugar from your diet, including excessive amounts of fruits, when you’re trying to rebalance your microbiome or heal recurrent yeast infections.

Try: Consuming plenty of prebiotic & probiotic-rich foods to support bacterial balance. Take a probiotic supplement that is targeted for women’s vaginal health as needed/desired.

Support blood sugar balance - Poor management of glucose and blood sugar imbalance in the body can lead to an increase of sugar in the mucous membranes which line the vagina and can lead to overgrowth of yeast.

Try: Eating balanced meals at regular meal times and making sure to incorporate protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates at each meal. You can also incorporate regular snacks so that you’re eating every 2-3 hours if you still feel imbalanced.

Incorporate regular exercise, circulation & movement - Activities like Pilates and barre are specifically helpful for strengthening the pelvic floor.

Try: Incorporating regular movement such as walking, hiking, jogging, swimming, dancing & strength training to provide circulation to the whole body.

Encourage pelvic floor support - Kegel exercises, Pilates, and barre plus working with a pelvic floor practitioner can be helpful at every life stage but especially after 30.

Try: Making Kegel exercises part of your daily routine and signing up for a Pilates or barre class to see if you enjoy it.

Drink plenty of water - Water helps to keep mucous membranes healthy and moist.
Try: Aiming for at least 8 glasses of water each day and more if you have an active infection.

Try yoni steaming - Yoni steaming, also known as vaginal steaming or v-steam, is a sacred self-care practice that has been used by women for centuries to heal and tone the vagina. By applying gentle heat and moisture, herbal steam permeates the external vagina and carries medicinal plant properties to the tissues, increasing circulation and lubrication. The plant medicines are absorbed into the bloodstream and circulated into the reproductive system where they help to stimulate healing.

Try: Reading more about yoni steaming + the benefits here, and giving it a go!

Don’t over cleanse your vagina - Our bodies were designed to keep our bacteria in perfect balance. By using harsh soaps and cleansers in our sensitive areas, or douching, we can actually further disrupt the balance and kill off the good bacteria necessary for a state of optimal health.
Try: Using just simply water and a natural pH-balanced soap (like Dr. Bronner’s).


SUPPORTIVE HERBS & SUPPLEMENTS ACROSS THE LIFE STAGES



Probiotics: Just like the bacteria in your gut, the bacteria in your vagina can also use a boost sometimes. Supporting the bacteria in your gut helps to strengthen your immune system, reducing the risk of vaginal dysbiosis. Probiotic supplements are one of the best natural remedies for preventing and treating yeast and BV infections. All forms of probiotics are beneficial, however, the refrigerated probiotics are recommended as the bacteria in the supplements can die when exposed to high temperatures. When looking for a supplement, get one containing at least 5 billion CFU, and make sure it includes Lactobacillus acidophilus, which is a main component in vaginal flora.
Try: Taking 5-10 billion CFU of the supplement with breakfast daily. There are many blends made specifically for feminine balance.



Vitamin C: Helps to increase immune system functioning. A robust immune system allows your body to bring itself back into balance naturally.

Try: Taking a form of vitamin C designed for optimal absorption, such as the liposomal form.

Shatavari: Used in Ayurveda, this a beautiful herb for women as it is supportive through all phases of womanhood. It helps to balance sluggish menstruation or a heavy flow. It also works as an aphrodisiac and a sexual tonic by elevating testosterone levels, and helps to lubricate the vagina when there is vaginal dryness during menopause or low sexual desire.Shatavari also increases fertility and breast milk production. It elevates estrogen levels, helping to balance hormones during menopause when estrogen is low.

Try: Take in capsule or powder form for hormone balance.



Chaste Tree (Vitex) tincture or capsules: This herb helps to support hormonal balance. From relieving PMS symptoms to supporting fertility and aiding in menopausal changes, this remedy is known as the ultimate herb for women. Vitex has the effect of stimulating and normalizing pituitary gland function (especially its progesterone function), and will always enable what is appropriate to occur. Vitex is most effective during the first 3-6 months you’re taking it. *Do not use Vitex during pregnancy and do not take it if you’re under 16 yrs of age.

Try: Taking Vitex in tincture or capsule form if you’re experiencing hormonal imbalances.



Always consult with a holistic practitioner prior to using any herbs or supplements. If you’re dealing with a severe or ongoing hormonal imbalance, it’s best to seek support.