Have you ever had a recurring itch and discharge immediately after your menses or while in the process? What were you diagnosed with? Were you treated for a yeast infection? Did your gynaecologist tell you the cause of the infection?
It is possible that you could be wiping your genitals from back to front, which is wrong.
For one Nancy* (not her real name) every month means seeing a gynaecologist. Reason? An uncomfortable and persistent itch.
She is frequently treated for yeast infections with all sorts of antibiotics. At some point, she even accused her husband of infecting her with a sexually transmitted disease.
“This is the most uncomfortable feeling that any woman can experience. The itching and scratching is a no no experience,” she says
Although she was not told the cause, the symptoms are on and off.
One day as she was researching online on her condition, she came across information that wiping herself the wrong way could be a major cause of yeast infection.
“This had never occurred to me but it’s true it can be the reason. At least it is two months now without taking any medication and the itching and discharge have stopped,” she said.
Every May 28, the world comes together to celebrate the Menstrual Hygiene Day.
But what exactly is this day all about?
Menstrual health and hygiene continues to be one of the most challenging areas to address in many poor countries. Not only do cultural taboos and beliefs portray menstruation as an off-limit subject, but there is also inadequate sanitary towels and hygiene conditions.
The average woman menstruates for approximately five days in a month. During this time, she needs certain conditions to maintain basic hygiene and her dignity, including access to a safe and clean toilet, access to hygienic pads, water and soap for washing and safe disposal of the sanitary towels.
Dr Anne Kihara, President, African Federation of Gynecologists and Obstetricians, and Dr Aggrey Akula, a gynecologist based in western Kenya, shared with the Business Daily some basic hygiene measures every girl and woman should take during this time of the month.
Menstrual hygiene management continues to be one of society’s greatest stigmas; only a few women in Kenya have access to proper facilities to ensure cleanliness, with the majority, especially those in the rural areas, lacking scientific knowledge of periods and hygienic health practices. They still resort to reusable unhygienic cloths during this time.
“Understanding how the process works and taking general measures during menstruation is extremely important,” Dr Kihara says.
Most importantly, she emphasised that girls and women should always wipe and wash their genitals the right way.
She says the urine system, vaginal opening and rectum are all in a line and each has different bacteria that protects the system.
“When you wipe back to front, you introduce bacteria into the genital area and further into the urine system, that is why more women are getting urinary tract infections,” she says
Cleaning in the opposite direction, she says, can make way for bacteria from the anus to the urethral opening.
“Although it is not only wrong wiping that causes yeast infection, it can be major reason when the right thing is not done,” Dr Kihara said.
She also warned that foreign bodies inserted into the genitals are a source of bugs during menses. This includes salt.
Some women do not understand that menses are alkaline when using foreign bodies; these change the environment. Salt changes the chemical balance and leaves one open to infections.
Dr Kihara also warned women and girls to avoid having sex during their menses.
“This is the time when diseases including HIV and other Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) propagate faster. Don’t create an environment that will eventually mess you up,” she warned
She says douching with soap kills the acidity that protects the vagina, subsequently introducing bugs.
“This is a basic routine but it is wrong because you are interfering with the acidity of the area. Use plain water to clean up,” she says.
“Drink plenty of water, three litres a day is good for your hygiene. This becomes extremely important when menstruating, ”she says.
Dr Akula advises that women should bathe regularly and use only water to wash their genitals. When you menstruate, the blood enters tiny spaces like the skin between your labia or crust around the opening of the vagina.
“Ensure all the blood is washed away before changing into a new pad. If not in a position to wash, wipe very well using wet wipes or tissue from the front to back,” he says.
Dr Kihara says once menstrual blood leaves the body, it gets contaminated with the body’s innate organisms. This rule applies for even those days when you don’t have much bleeding since your pad is still damp and will have organisms from your vagina.
“When these organisms remain in a warm and moist place for a long time they tend to multiply and can lead to conditions like urinary tract infection, vaginal infections and skin rashes,” she warns.
The best time to change a sanitary pad, she says, is once every six hours, while for a tampon is once every two hours.
Wear comfortable, loose clothing, rather than jeans or tight- fitting clothes during your periods. This will ensure air flow around the sensitive areas as well as prevent sweating to a large extent,” she says
The genitals should remain dry after every wash to avoid irritation, says Dr Akula.
“There is nothing as uncomfortable as itching from the genitals, keep the area dry,” he says.
Make sure that you wash your hands with warm water and soap after changing your pad or menstrual cup.
“Maintaining proper menstrual hygiene is vital to the health, well-being, mobility, and productivity of women and girls. This Menstrual Hygiene month, you should learn more on hygiene and how to take care of your body during menstruation,” he says.