The earlier you start practicing strong feminine hygiene, the better equipped you will be to manage changes to your body and feminine wellness later in life. Read on to discover vaginal care and hygiene tips for women of all ages.

Late teens and 20s…

In your late teens and twenties, you are establishing self-care practices that will benefit both your current self and future self.

Find a doctor you can trust

As women transition to adulthood, many experience confusion about when to see a family medicine practitioner vs. a gynecologist. Any health concerns related to sexual health or reproduction are typically better evaluated by an OBGYN; additionally, the Mayo Clinic breaks down in more detail which scenarios are better suited for a gynecologist. Regardless of sexual activity levels, women should begin regular pap smears at age 21.

Practice safe sex and hygiene

Understanding good hygiene practices once you become sexually active can better prepare you to prevent a number of sexual health concerns. To start, find a contraceptive method that works for you, and make sure to communicate with your sexual partners about which method you plan to use together. Also, get in the practice of regular screenings for STDs and STIs - this is especially important if you or your partner are engaged with multiple sexual partners simultaneously. Other hygiene best practices for intimacy include using the bathroom before and after sex (to prevent UTIs), and cleaning any toys or devices used in the bedroom after each use.

Listen to your body’s signs

At this stage in your life, you will likely become more familiar with your own body, and understand your own “normal” body conditions. Pay attention to your typical odor, menstrual cycle and vaginal discharge. This way, when something feels off, you will know it is time to see your healthcare provider.

During your 30s...

Understand how hygiene impacts pregnancy

You may have heard of bacterial vaginosis (BV): the most common infection in women ages 15-44 that occurs when the normal bacteria of the vagina changes. But did you know that 1 in 4 pregnant women get BV? This statistic is staggering, and can have serious effects on the health of both the new mother and her baby. According to the CDC, pregnant women with BV are more likely to have babies born prematurely or with a low birth weight than pregnant women without BV. In fact, one study shows that BV is associated with a 2.6x increased risk for preterm labor and a 6.9x increased risk for preterm birth. To help protect yourself and your newborn, consult your doctor immediately if you suspect you have BV. You can read more here about the signs and symptoms.

And, understand hygiene concerns after childbirth

Vaginal care is critical not only before childbirth, but immediately after, too. Postpartum bacterial infections are common, and can have a long-term impact on a woman’s reproductive health. For more resources on postpartum care, visit the Mayo Clinic, and talk to your doctor.

Don’t suffer through painful sex - speak up!

Pain with sex - officially known as dyspareunia, is more common than many women realize. There are a number of factors that contribute to pain with sex, many of which are emotional and psychological, not just physical. If you are experiencing a pattern with painful sex, it is time to see your doctor to figure out how best to address it.

For women in their 40s…

Prepare for peri-menopause

Most women begin the stage of peri-menopause during their 40s and 50s. This is the transition between a woman’s reproductive years and menopause, and causes estrogen levels to fluctuate. On average, this period lasts four years, but in some women it can last up to a decade. Peri-menopause can bring a number of changes to a woman’s body, including night sweats, brain fog, and vaginal dryness.

More on vaginal dryness

Because estrogen levels fluctuate during this time, it is common for a woman’s vaginal tissue to become thinner - causing what many women report as an uncomfortable daily dryness. Consider beginning the use of a daily vaginal moisturizer to combat any feelings of discomfort or dryness, and to help maintain the vagina’s pH levels to a healthy, acidic range.

Always use lubricant during intimacy

As your body changes, it becomes especially important to use lubricant during sex. This can help prevent painful sex and feelings of vaginal dryness and irritation. Find a natural lubricant that feels good for you and your partner, and apply it generously before intimacy.

In your 50s and beyond…

Prepare for menopause

For most women, menopause begins in their 50s. It is estimated that 6,000 women enter menopause each day. An AARP survey found that 84% of women experience menopausal symptoms that interfere with their lives; nearly 40% reported vaginal dryness. Uncomfortable symptoms during menopause are very common - things like intense hot flashes, mood changes, and difficulty sleeping. Consult your healthcare provider to find a treatment plan that works best for you and your lifestyle.

Bladder control issues are common

Another side effect of menopause are issues related to bladder control, also known as incontinence. According to the North American Menopause Society, this is because reduced levels of estrogen “can cause thinning of the lining of the urethra...surrounding pelvic muscles also may weaken with aging...as a result, women at midlife and beyond are at increased risk for urinary incontinence.” There are a number of products designed to combat incontinence, and your doctor can make specific recommendations. Also, many healthcare providers recommend kegel exercises, to strengthen the muscles of the pelvic floor and reduce symptoms.