Vaginal flora: what is it for and how to take care of it?

You know the intestinal flora or intestinal microbiota, this set of bacteria including the famous lactobacilli which preserves our digestive system. The vaginal flora is less known. However, it has an equally essential role! It ensures the fragile bacteriological balance of the vaginal mucosa and protects it from infections and irritations.

What is vaginal flora?

Contrary to what one might think, the vagina is not at all a sterile place! The vaginal mucosa is naturally inhabited by millions of microscopic living organisms, mainly bacteria such as lactobacilli (Döderlein bacilli) for example, but also by mycotic organisms (fungus) such as Candida Albicans. This is what we call the vaginal microbiota or vaginal flora (Döderlein flora). Protective bacteria (probiotics) ensure the good microbial balance of the flora and thus protect us from infections and mycoses. They fight pathogenic germs by maintaining an appropriate and stable pH between 4 and 4.5. Yes, if you remember your chemistry classes, this means that the vagina is an acidic area!

The vaginal flora is also very useful to the newborn who passes through his mother's vagina at the time of his birth. The lactobacilli it encounters along its path will infiltrate its body and inseminate its intestines. The toddler will then be assisted, like all of us, by his mother's bacteria, to digest his food. Nature really does things well!

Imbalance of the vaginal flora: the causes

When the pH of the vagina is disturbed, pathogenic germs – these tricksters – take advantage of this to multiply and invade the vaginal mucous membranes. As a result, the risks of urinary infections (cystitis) and vaginal infections (bacterial vaginosis or trichomonas vaginitis) become much greater.

The imbalance of the vaginal flora (dysbiosis) can have several causes, the main ones being:

  • hormonal changes, particularly at certain key moments in a woman's life (menstruation, pregnancy, menopause);
  • taking medications such as antibiotic treatment that reduces the protective power of bacteria and leaves plenty of room for mycoses to develop;
  • certain habits such as tobacco consumption, wearing underwear that is not breathable enough, regular swimming in a pool… but also lack of sleep and exposure to stress.

Symptoms of unbalanced vaginal flora

Generally, dysbiosis (an imbalance of the intimate flora) causes the following symptoms:

  • thick, smelly secretions;
  • itches ;
  • Burns ;
  • irritation;
  • pain during sexual intercourse.

Imbalance of the vaginal flora: the consequences

As we have seen, the reduction in lactobacilli and variations in pH promote the proliferation of pathogenic germs in the vaginal microbiota. They can cause vaginal infections:

  • bacterial vaginosis (vaginal infection causing grayish or white, smelly discharge);
  • trichomonas vaginitis (smelly greenish or yellow discharge, accompanied by itching or irritation).

These two vaginal infections are treated with antibiotic treatment.

The imbalance of the vaginal microbiota is also a common cause of certain diseases, such as urinary infections:

  • cystitis (inflammation of the bladder caused by the proliferation of bacteria);
  • urethritis (infection affecting only the urethra);
  • pyelonephritis (inflammation of the kidney generally resulting from untreated or poorly treated cystitis).

How to take care of your vaginal flora?

To know everything about intimate hygiene and taking care of your vaginal flora, you should not indulge in excessive hygiene: one intimate cleansing, or even two maximum daily, is more than enough!

Do not use antiseptic products (unless on medical advice) and do not try to wash the inside of your body. Forget everything you've been told about douching: it's wrong and dangerous. Your vagina is self-cleaning, mother nature has really thought of everything! Only your vulva should be cleaned daily, and to do this you can use a simple mild soap without perfume (no need for special soap for intimate hygiene).

In addition, certain actions are important: when you go to the toilet for example, wipe from front to back to avoid bringing pathogenic germs back to your vulva.

To maintain or restore the balance of your vaginal microbiota, your gynecologist may prescribe lactobacilli in the form of probiotics. For enhanced action, it is likely that you will be advised to rebalance your intestinal microbiota at the same time, because these two microbiota are closely linked.

happy woman in menstrual panties and seamless bra

Vaginal flora and periods

The vaginal flora is particularly fragile and sensitive during hormonal changes and therefore during the period. In fact, estrogen levels decrease and vaginal pH increases. Some microbes, such as mycoplasmas, also feed on blood. So what can we do to avoid infections at this precise moment in our cycle ? Choose the right hygienic protection!

If you are a tampon or cup fan, change them every four to six hours (to protect against vaginal infections and irritation) and avoid wearing internal protection at night. Indeed, they absorb menstrual blood, but not only that! The vaginal microbiota is also absorbed, which is why women using tampons are more prone to recurring yeast infections. If I am interested in this topic, do not hesitate to read our article: Prevent and cure vaginal yeast infection naturally .

But if you prefer external protections, you are not out of the woods! Perfumed sanitary towels should be avoided, as should certain airtight towels which cause a rise in temperature and humidity – a climate conducive to the proliferation of bacteria. So choose more breathable 100% cotton sanitary napkins, or better yet, menstrual panties that will keep you dry all day! :)

By Valérie