Inadequate menstrual hygiene can lead to a variety of health problems, including urinary tract infections (UTI). The reason for this is that as the cervix slightly opens up to pass blood, it also makes it easier for bacteria and viruses to travel into the upper cervix and uterine cavity, making this a more vulnerable time for people who menstruate.
According to Vilmante Markeviciene, founder of Genial Day, a woman-owned company focusing on women’s health and conscious hygiene products, there are certain dos and don’t for that special time of the month to keep ailments at bay, including proper cleansing rituals, choosing the right sanitary products and regularly changing them, as well as letting go of some outdated myths about periods.
Signs of poor menstrual hygiene
Besides UTIs, the warm and moist environment in the vagina during menstruation, accompanied with the use of irritating products and the changes in the vagina’s pH, caused by fluctuating hormones and menstrual blood, can also lead to bacterial infections. Studies show that 40-50 % of vaginitis (vaginal inflammation) cases are attributed to bacterial vaginosis, and 20-25 % are attributed to yeast infections.
“The main indicator of poor menstrual hygiene is the smell, which is easy to get rid of if the intimate area is washed at least twice a day and sanitary products are regularly changed. Other signs include vaginal dryness, a rash and red, inflamed skin,” said Markeviciene.
Common mistakes and misconceptions
The most common mistake people make is believing that periods should be uncomfortable, painful and irritable. This is absolutely not true—it’s important to pay attention to any irritation or pain in your vulva or vagina, rash or itchiness, and look for hypoallergenic products. When choosing sanitary pads, or even cleansers, people should look for unscented ones, because they are less likely to irritate the vagina. Tampon wearers who experience bacterial or yeast infections should change to organic cotton ones as well, or better yet opt for hypoallergenic pads, menstrual cups or period panties, because tampons can disrupt the vagina’s pH.
Main tips for menstrual hygiene
Take regular showers, wash the intimate area with warm water, only use wipes intended for genitals, avoid douching and regularly change sanitary products, making sure to do so with clean hands. Leaving a tampon in for too long can lead to toxic shock syndrome and, because of this, they should never be used during sleep. Also, if a vagina isn’t wet enough, inserting a tampon can cause micro tears, so I would suggest to always opt for a smaller one than needed and only use them on days with a heavier flow,” the expert said.
If, after changing sanitary products, the discomfort felt during menstruation, like irritation, frequent infections or heavy bleeding, meaning having to change a pad or tampon every hour, persists, people should seek professional help. Periods are a mirror of our health, and although some minor discomfort can be expected, they shouldn’t be unbearable.