In the age of the internet, anyone can be an expert on anything – including women’s health. However, this same educational tool can also lead to the widespread distribution of false information. In the past, young women heard myths from parents or grandparents passed down through the generations. Nowadays, you can find ample misconceptions right at your fingertips, courtesy of your phone and computer.
Distinguishing fact from fiction is one of the important roles of a women’s health doctor, and why it’s vital to choose an obstetrician and gynecologist – known as an OB/GYN – near you who can help determine what’s best for you. In the meantime, we’ve listed some of the most common women’s health myths below, along with the truth, to ensure you have the right information.
MYTH 1: You can’t get pregnant when breastfeeding.
Yes, you can get pregnant while breastfeeding. While breastfeeding does delay the return of menstruation by producing a hormone that prevents egg production, or ovulation, using breastfeeding as birth control involves strict practices. These include nursing exclusively during the day and night (at least every four hours during the day and every six hours at night) with no other food, water, or liquids given to the baby. Also, your baby must be less than six months old, your period should not have returned, and you shouldn’t use a breast pump to express milk. Mothers who don’t want to get pregnant should use a reliable form of birth control rather than turning to breastfeeding alone as a birth control method.
MYTH 2: Avoid head showers during periods.
There is no reason not to wash your hair, take a bath, or shower while you’re having your period. A warm bath can help ease cramps. You will not get sick, go blind, or lose your hair from taking a bath when you are having your period, but some of these inaccurate health myths have been passed from one generation to the next. When it comes to the mess of your period, leave your vagina alone. It can and will take care of itself.
MYTH 3: Vaginal discharge means yeast infections.
On the contrary, vaginal discharge that’s white or clear and with a faint odour or odourless is normal. Discharge helps protect you from dryness, moistens your vagina during sex, and guards against vaginal and urinary tract infections.
But vaginal discharge isn’t always healthy. If you notice more discharge than normal, a change in colour or thickness, a bad smell, itching, burning, pelvic pain, or pain during sex or while urinating, you should check with your gynaecologist. You may have a vaginal infection or another medical issue, such as a sexually transmitted infection.
MYTH 4: Sex after having a baby will hurt.
Most women are terrified of pain with sex after pregnancy, but if you allow enough time for your body to heal completely, sex won’t be a problem. Keep in mind that new moms become ready for sex at very different rates. When you decide you’re ready, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful.
Your estrogen levels dip while you’re nursing, which can cause vaginal dryness, so it is recommended to use plenty of lube when you decide to take the plunge. Communicate with your partner about your fears, take it slow, and go easy on yourself. And don’t forget to use contraception.
MYTH 5: Your periods can sync.
If you experience period syncing with a friend or someone you live with, it’s more likely the result of pure probability. That’s because cycle length varies from person to person. Some people have their period every 21 days, while others see their period begin every 35 days. Some people experience bleeding for a week, while others only bleed for a day or two.
Some people have regular periods, while others have less regular cycles. Your menstrual cycle may last for 15% to 30% every month. With odds like that, it’s highly likely that at some point, you and a friend, roommate, or co-worker will both be experiencing bleeding at the same time.
MYTH 6: The vagina should be cleaned properly.
The vagina is self-cleaning. Using cleaning products can change the pH balance, resulting in vaginal infections. Just use a simple and, ideally, non-scented soap. The vulva is the outer area that surrounds the vagina. It includes the opening of the vagina, outer and inner lips, and the clitoris.
The truth is, you do not need to use special products for your vulva. You can clean the external vagina parts by simply washing it with lukewarm water. If you wish, you may use mild, unscented soap. Afterwards, you should rinse the vulva properly and gently pat the area dry as moisture can stimulate yeast growth.
MYTH 7: You always bleed when you have sex for the first time.
No, not always. Some women will bleed after having sex for the first time, while others will not. Both are perfectly normal. A woman may bleed when she has penetrative sex for the first time because of her hymen stretching or tearing. The hymen is a thin piece of skin that partially covers the entrance to the vagina.
For some women, it may stretch or tear when they start having sex. A stretched or torn hymen does not necessarily mean a woman has lost her virginity. A woman may not know her hymen has stretched or torn because it does not always cause pain or noticeable bleeding.
MYTH 8: Pain during sex is normal.
Sex isn’t supposed to hurt. Just because painful sex is very common doesn’t mean you have to accept it as normal. Occasional minor soreness is likely nothing to worry about, but intense or frequent pain is worth discussing with your doctor. Sex should be a pleasurable experience; if it’s not, don’t hesitate to speak to your partner and your doctor.
MYTH 9: Pubic hair is unhygienic.
Pubic hair is so not dirty or unhygienic! It traps sweat, oil, and bacteria, which may give it an odour. Still, it serves the purpose of keeping potentially harmful microorganisms from reaching the delicate skin of the genital region. This myth often leads people to shave off their pubic hair, when the truth is that our pubic hair is only protecting our skin.
MYTH 10: Menstrual blood is different from regular blood.
Menstrual blood, or menstrual fluid, is the regular discharge of blood and mucosal tissue from the inner lining of the uterus through the vagina. It is a complex biological fluid composed of blood, vaginal secretion, and endometrial cells of the uterine lining.
When compared to regular blood, menstrual blood is darker and not highly oxygenated. It contains dead and non-functional tissue parts. Furthermore, menstrual blood has low iron, haemoglobin, and white and red blood cell concentrations compared to regular blood. Discharge of menstrual blood takes place for two to seven days every month.
Dr. Amna Raees Khan is a specialist obstetrician and gynaecologist. Visit @amnaraeesahmed on Instagram for more information.