Q: My mom always tells me I should douche after my period. Is she right?
A: I usually agree with moms, so I’m sorry to say that she is wrong.
In fact, she is telling you to do something that could adversely affect your health. Douching is a risk factor for unpleasant and even serious infections.
The vagina is a self-cleaning organ. The blood from your period comes out on its own, without the assistance of douching. The idea of rinsing out and “cleansing” the area may sound good, but doing so disrupts the peaceful coexistence of the normal vaginal microflora — a type of bacteria — leading to the overgrowth of the wrong kind, especially non-oxygen-liking bacteria called anaerobes. These thrive when you hasten the demise of normal bacteria by changing the vagina’s pH, usually by rinsing the area with medicated or perfumed solutions or by using antibiotics.
As a result, women who douche may develop a condition called bacterial vaginosis. This doesn’t always cause symptoms but for some women may lead to a thin white discharge with a fishy odor.
If these symptoms occur, the natural response is often to douche again, which simply adds insult to injury. Bacterial vaginosis isn’t just a malodorous annoyance — it also increases your risk for HIV infection, pelvic inflammatory disease and (in pregnant women) pre-term delivery.
Douching can also promote yeast infections by altering the pH of the vagina (a higher pH fosters yeast growth). And it will not eliminate the bacteria or viruses that cause sexually transmitted diseases. In fact, it may increase STD infections by undermining the vagina’s natural defense system.
Unfortunately, many women still think that post-coital douching will help prevent pregnancy, and that they can wash that sperm away as easily as they can wash that man right out of their hair. This assumption is absolutely false. In fact, douching may actually increase risk for pregnancy by forcing sperm up into the cervix, where it gains entry to the uterine cavity and the ready-to-be-fertilized eggs it contains.
Many women also douche before or after sexual activity, assuming this will keep them clean and odor-free. Again, this is not the case. As discussed, douching will actually promote the growth of bacteria that causes odor.
If you already experience a discharge and irritation, don’t try to treat it with a douche. Evaluate your symptoms. If you have redness, irritation, itching and/or a cottage-cheesy discharge, try an over-the-counter yeast medication. If this doesn’t help, see your doctor.
In one recent survey, almost 70 percent of adolescents and 40 percent of college students reported douching. This practice is often encouraged by advertisements telling us to stay fresh “down there.” The way to stay fresh down there is with regular bathing and appropriate undergarments, not douching products.
Dr. Reichman’s Bottom Line: Don’t fall for the douching myth. Douching does not promote vaginal cleanliness or reduce the presence of harmful organisms. Instead, you may end up with odor, discharge and a serious infection.
Dr. Judith Reichman, the “Today” show's medical contributor on women's health, has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for more than 20 years. You will find many answers to your questions in her latest book, "Slow Your Clock Down: The Complete Guide to a Healthy, Younger You," published by William Morrow, a division of .
PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician.