The hygiene mistakes to avoid during your time of the month
Poor menstrual hygiene is the perpetrator behind various infections. Here's how to avoid these unpleasant consequences.
The vagina is capable of incredible things, including cleaning itself and helping to protect the body from infection. However, during your period, it may need a bit of help in the hygiene department. Vilmante Markeviciene, founder of Gentle Day, a woman-owned company focusing on women’s health and conscious hygiene products, shares her insights on how to maintain proper hygiene.
Inadequate hygiene during menstruation can lead to a variety of health problems, including urinary tract infections (UTI), with studies showing that women are three times more likely to develop the condition than men. 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 Markeviciene, there are certain dos and don’ts 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cleansing rituals, choosing the right sanitary products and regularly changing them, as well as letting go of some outdated myths about periods.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. These ailments are quite common - studies show that 40-50 % of vaginitis (vaginal inflammation) cases are attributed to bacterial vaginosis, and 20-25 % are attributed to yeast infections.
As some of these conditions are at least in part attributed to poor menstrual hygiene, Markeviciene says that people should be on the lookout for tell-tale signs that something is wrong.
“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
According to the expert, people experiencing any discomfort during menstruation should listen to their body and focus on choosing sanitary products that make them feel comfortable.
“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,” Markeviciene explained. “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.”
Essential tips for menstrual hygiene
After finding suitable products, Markeviciene emphasises the importance of making sure to keep everything as fresh and clean as possible. This includes:
- taking regular showers
- washng the intimate area with warm water
- only using wipes intended for genitals
- avoiding douching
- regularly changing sanitary products, making sure to do so with clean hands
She continues, “Pads and tampons should not be worn for more than eight hours. Leaving a tampon in for too long can even 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."
People who use menstrual cups should boil them in hot water for at least 4–7 minutes to be thoroughly disinfected, and they should replace them with a new one every 1.5 to 3 years. Those who hang onto the cups for longer periods due to ecological reasons should switch to the recyclable TPE cups rather than prolonging the use of the same cup.
"Medical help should be sought if, after changing sanitary products, irritation or frequent infections persist," she advises. "This is also true of heavy bleeding, causing the need for a change in pad or tampon every hour. Periods are a mirror of our health, and although some minor discomfort can be expected, they shouldn’t be unbearable."