Recently, I was posted to work in the Paediatrics Department of a high patient turnout teaching hospital. So imagine my surprise when while consulting in the clinic, a mother asked me if pregnancy is related to vaginal odor.
Thankfully, her little boy (who had been coughing for about 3 days) was just the last patient I had seen and I had a little more time before the official closing time of the clinic. I was a bit pleased that the clinic would be closing before time; had to get a little sleep after a long call night.
She asked again, ‘ Doctor, can you explain to me how being pregnant can cause a bad vaginal odor?’.
Not being one to shy away from educating folks about health, I replied; ‘Where did you hear that pregnancy causes vaginal odor?’
Immediately she delved into how she read that some ladies prefer not to get pregnant to avoid bad odor oozing out of their vagina. I was dazed at the depth of misinformation she confidently reeled out as facts that most ladies consciously on unconsciously believe.
Even though I had not exhaustively informed her about why any vagina smell at all, I ll try to do so here.
It is best we start from the basis… What is a Vagina?
As I pointed out earlier, it is best we back pedal a tiny bit so that a perfect understanding of the causes of vaginal smell or odor can be achieved.
Every vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a soft, flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. It connects the uterus to the outside world.
The vulva and labia form the entrance, while the cervix of the uterus protrudes into the vagina, punctuating the end of the Vagina.
Your receives the penis during sexual intercourse, serves as a conduit/passage way for your new babies and for expulsion of menstrual blood.
Now, a lot of people have always asked how possible is it that a ladies vagina can harbor so many micro organism. The answer is simple… The vagina is a carefully balanced ecosystem that host a community of ‘good’ bacteria. One of the main bacteria is called Lactobacillus, similar to the type found in ‘live’ yoghurts.
In return for its home, Lactobacillus generates lactic acid and hydrogen peroxide. This keeps the vagina’s pH at an optimal range of 3.5-4.5. These acidic conditions act as a disinfectant and discourage less welcome bacteria from causing infections. It is these natural bacteria that can contribute to a vagina’s natural scent.
Like the armpits, the groin has a high concentration of sweat glands. During exercise and sex, it is normal for the genitals to get sweaty and this may contribute to a more prominent vaginal odour.
Now to the crux of the matter.
Feminine odor is something all women deal with. And while it’s completely natural and normal for your vagina to have some kind of scent, certain vaginal smells can signal something’s wrong.
Here’s how to tell whether the smell ‘down there’ is normal for you; and believe me it may not a good thing to have vaginal odor. It can be embarrassing.
Causes of Vaginal Odor
The most common explanation for an unpleasant vaginal odour is an infection called bacterial vaginosis (BV), which produces a fishy smell.
In this condition your normally acidic vagina becomes overgrown with bacteria, making it become more alkaline. In addition to the fishy odor, women can also experience itching, irritation and a yellowish/creamy discharge.
“Some women are unfortunately prone to frequent bacterial vaginosis infections while others are fortunate enough never to have any infections,” she adds.
A forgotten tampon
Putrid smells can denote a foreign object such as a forgotten tampon.
“In this case, the bacteria have multiplied in the object like an abscess, but once removed, the smell should go away,” explains Prince.
An Sexually Transmitted Infection
Sexually transmitted infection (STI), like Trichonomiasis can cause your vagina to have an odor. The vaginal odor is typically described as a “fishy smell”.
In reality, certain kinds of foods and drinks can affect the way your vagina smells. This is why women to pay attention to what affects their odor at any given time.
If you find that your normal scent is off and you’ve been eating more processed foods, try increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables and see if that makes a difference.
And I got this from research:
While not a common cause of vaginal odors, one of the symptoms of cervical cancer is a foul-smelling blood stained discharge. The culprit: the odor results from the dying cancerous cells present in the cervix.
A sweaty vagina is definitely a smelly one. Imagine it as a breeding swimming pool for germs, floating all around.
When you sweat, especially while exercising, your sweat glands in your groin secrete an oily fluid that’s metabolized by bacteria on your skin.
This produces a noticeable smell that you can detect after a strenuous exercise session. This is one of the commonest reason for vaginal odor. It follows poor hygiene.
It’s not uncommon to notice a strong scent when you’re menstruating. Since blood has a higher pH level, your vaginal flora can get thrown off a little during your period and you may notice a metallic smell.
This type of smell should resolve once menstruation ends though.
Other causes of an abnormal vaginal odour, particularly if accompanied by symptoms such as an itchy or irritated vagina or a change in discharge, include:
- Thrush infection.
- Rectovaginal fistula (an abnormal connection between the vagina and the rectum, most commonly due to bowel problems like childbirth-related injuries, cancer or cancer treatments such as radiotherapy).
Tips to reduce vaginal odours
You can’t eliminate all smells, but you can reduce the intensity of an odour by practizing certain hygiene protocols.
If you’re experiencing a change in your vaginal scent, try a few of these recommendations to see if you can take care of it on your own.
But know that if you have recurrent issues with odor and/or infections, it’s best to see your GP for proper diagnosis and treatment.
Healthy Hygienic Behaviour
Safe, gentle vaginal hygiene practices can reduce vaginal odor. Some strategies include:
- Wiping front to back: This prevents fecal matter from getting into the vagina.
- Urinating immediately after sex.
- Using a gentle, fragrance-free soap on the vulva only. Inserting soap into the vagina can alter vaginal pH, causing infections and a foul odor. Various fragrance free products can be purchased online.
- Changing underwear daily, or when underwear is sweaty or soiled.
- Washing underwear in unscented products.
- Showering after sweating or exercise as trapped sweat can increase vaginal odor. It is best as a lady who love exercising and love to build her stamina to the level of a man; you should be ready to be extra clean.
- Washing the vulva with water if there is an unpleasant odor. Between showers, women can use a washcloth to gently wipe down the area, removing sweat and other sources of odor.
Change your clothes immediately after exercising
The best thing you can do is keep your groin area as dry as possible, and one of the best ways to do that is to change out of your sweaty clothes as soon as possible.
All healthy vaginas contain bacteria and yeast. Yours is not an exception.
The normal acidity of your vagina keeps bacteria and yeast in check, essentially cleaning itself. If you douche (flushing water up into the vagina), you can upset this delicate balance.
Water is the best cleaning fluid with a simple non-scented shower gel or soap when it comes to cleaning the area outside your vagina (your vulva). She sees a lot of eczema of the vulval skin which is much more fragile than the skin on your hands. Her words of advice: “Be gentle with it.”
Diet is key for every lady. Very sugary foods can trigger an overgrowth of yeast, altering the odor of the vagina.
There’s some evidence that other strong-smelling foods might also change the vagina’s smell. Onions, coffee, and other strong-smelling foods can alter the smell of the vagina by changing the smell of sweat and other bodily fluids.
There’s little scientific research supporting the use of any specific food to change the smell of the vagina. Some anecdotal evidence suggests that some sweet-smelling foods, such as watermelon, apple, and celery, might help.
It’s also important to drink plenty of water. Remaining well-hydrated prevents bacterial overgrowth. It can also prevent sweat from smelling bad, resulting in less pronounced vaginal odor.
How sex affects vaginal odor
Sometimes interactions between semen and vaginal fluids can cause vaginal odor. Some lubricants can also change vaginal pH and the odor that comes with it. To reduce the odor associated with vaginal intercourse:
- Use a condom to prevent semen from coming into contact with vaginal fluids. Compare different condom brands and products to choose the most suitable.
- Rinse the vagina and vulva with plain water following intercourse. Do not douche.
- Avoid using scented or flavored lubricants.
How your trendy wear cause vaginal odor.
Clothing can trap things in or around the vagina such as:
- dead skin
- leaked semen from earlier intercourse
- other sources of odor
Very tight-fitting clothing is a common culprit. That includes some shapewear. Fecal matter that travels to the vagina can cause infections and odors, so avoid clothing that encourages this spread. This includes tight-fitting thong underwear.
Breathable cotton is the best choice for women concerned about vaginal odor. Cotton is less likely to hold moisture close to the vagina. This makes it more difficult for bacteria and other sources of odor to accumulate and produce a strong smell. Cotton underwear can be purchased online.
How does pregnancy affect vaginal odor
Sex is a major part of most adult lives. Ladies love to smell good and fine, in pregnancy and out of pregnancy. There is really no scientific evidence to show that pregnancy causes vaginal odor, if not majority of pregnant women would be smelling bad.
Even though vaginal odor may vary in response to your menstrual cycle, pregnancy and menopause, it is more out of poor hygiene if you ever see a pregnant woman with vaginal odor.