From the May/June 2017 issue of Family Foundations
For all women, when something changes down there it throws up a red flag, but that red flag might rise a little higher if it is an NFP woman who relies on her mucus and discharge to track her cycles. With some helpful information and tips from Dr. Karla Polaschek, an NFP-only OB/GYN in Davenport, Iowa, here are 5 things to keep in mind about vaginal infections.
1. Fertility awareness is empowering!
Get to know your body and your cycle! How can you know when something is wrong if you don’t know when something is normal?! Many younger women go see their doctor for discharge that’s completely normal and nothing to worry about. Become familiar enough with their body to distinguish between the pre-ovulatory, ovulatory and post-ovulatory times by tracking your cycle, so you can recognize when something is off.
2. There are common infections that many women experience at some point
Dr. Polaschek describes three common vaginal infections (outside of sexually transmitted diseases) that most women will deal with at some point— yeast infections, bacterial vaginosis, and trichamonisis.
The two more common of these are yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis, and both occur when something happens in the body to disrupt the natural flora, or the bacteria that is naturally found in the vagina. This can result from many things: taking antibiotics, staying in a hot tub too long, having a chronic medical condition that makes it difficult for your body to eradicate certain bacteria, etc.
A less common infection that women may see is Trichomonisis, which is typically an STD, but it can rarely be contracted outside of sex “because the infectious agent is a parasite so it can live on other objects,” Dr. Polachesck explains.
Things to look for:
- Yeast Infection — itching and discomfort and/or a white, cottage cheese type discharge
- Bacterial Vaginosis — watery discharge (white, grey, or other color) with fishy odor
- Trichomonisis — greenish-yellow, frothy discharge with a strong odor; vaginal itching and irritation
3. Premenopausal/postmenopausal: Some discharges are normal
Dr. Polaschek says one condition she sees frequently in her middle aged patients is atrophic vaginitis. Women will often describe a discharge with discomfort, and what’s happening is that their estrogen levels are low because of menopause and their vaginal wall tissue is thin. Some women will experience discomfort or pain during intercourse, or spotting after intercourse. Sometimes a discharge will appear spontaneously to keep things moist; but water-based lubricants can also help with dryness.
While these vaginal changes are worrisome to the women she sees, Dr. Polaschek describes it as a 100 percent normal physiological change. “As women get older and go through the change, they often don’t know that this can happen, and it’s often not a problem at all.”
4. Infections don’t have to derail NFP observations
It would seem that mucus and discharge changes may be problematic for an NFP user who relies on mucus patterns to track fertility, but that is often not the case. “Those that are just starting to learn NFP might have a little trouble differentiating infectious discharge from their normal mucus, says Dr. Polaschek, but “once someone is experienced, it’s a non-issue.” Her experience is that a patient who practices NFP would see a symptom of bacterial vaginosis, for example, and know right away that something is wrong because of the completely different consistency.
A vaginal infection will only interfere with sympto-thermal calculations if it happens to occur during Phase II and around ovulation. If that timing happens and the woman cannot distinguish her mucus sign clearly enough, she can rely more on her temperature sign and possibly use the Temperature-Only Rule to determine Phase III during that cycle if needed. But the best approach is to have good health and lifestyle practices that lessen the risk of developing a vaginal infection.
5. Vaginal infections can often be prevented
Of course, everyone would love to avoid a vaginal infection, if possible, and the answer to preventing them is generally similar to that of avoiding the common cold: eat a well-balanced and healthy diet, take multivitamins if necessary, and exercise.
Some extra measures women can take with their feminine health and grooming is to generally avoid shaving or waxing since they cause a higher risk of ingrown hairs, which can lead to vulvar infections. Another thing that Dr. Polaschek suggested very strongly to avoid are thongs as an underwear option as they rub and cause irritation, so she medically recommends underwear with a cotton crotch. When it comes to washing that underwear, she is emphatic about “no dryer sheets for underwear! Dryer sheets leave a little coating on the clothes to keep them soft but that coating is irritating to some people’s genital tissues.”
Taking care of your feminine health, and knowing what to look out for and how to prevent vaginal infections is another step in becoming a healthier you, and possibly making NFP a bit easier to use.
— Megan Imwalle
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