Updated: Jul 17
About the author - Deborah Maguire
Debs is a senior fertility nurse, with over 10 years of clinical experience in women's health. Alongside her fertility nursing role, she is currently studying for an MSc in nutrition at Leeds Beckett University.
When we think about improving fertility, vaginal microbes may not be your first thought for tests, or lifestyle changes. However, supporting these bacteria can be the missing link in our fertility journey. Whilst we talk openly about our gut health, our vaginal microbiome is rarely top of the priority list.
So, what is the vaginal microbiome?
Just like the gut, our vagina contains millions of bacteria which help to maintain an optimal pH and fight off any harmful bacteria. These bacteria also help to prevent infections, STIs, and to support a healthy pregnancy and birth.
Ideally, the vaginal microbiome is made up of 95% Lactobacilli species, which secrete lactic acid to keep the pH of the vagina within its healthy range. If the vaginal microbiome is disrupted and the pH levels exceed 4.5, the vagina becomes too alkaline and is an ideal breeding ground for infection leading to vaginal dysbiosis.
What is vaginal dysbiosis? And should I be worried?
Vaginal dysbiosis is the scientific term used when the vaginal bacteria are out of balance. You might have heard of BV (bacterial vaginosis) or thrush; both are the result of vaginal dysbiosis.
Vaginal dysbiosis and fertility
Sure, BV and thrush are pretty common and easily treated, but vaginal dysbiosis can lead to more serious fertility issues:
Women with BV are more likely to have tubal infertility (blocked fallopian tubes) meaning IVF is required.
If Lactobacilli (good bacteria) levels are low, your chances of implantation and pregnancy are also reduced.
30% of infertile women have pathogenic bacteria in their vagina. In fact, a Danish study showed that women with abnormal vaginal flora (bacteria) had only a 9% success rate with IVF, compared to a 35% success rate of those with a normal vaginal flora.
My top tips to prevent dysbiosis and keep your vaginal microbiome healthy:
Ditch the perfumed products! Our vaginas are self-cleaning and do not need special ‘deodorants’, washes or soaps. In fact, these products can actually harm the vagina. Believe it or not, your vaginal is self-cleaning and water is all it needs!
Increase probiotic-rich foods. This is especially important if you are taking antibiotics, as these can reduce the Lactobacillus species (good bacteria) in the vagina. Including nutritional sources of pro and prebiotics can really help support your good bacteria – think kimchi, kombucha, sauerkraut, kefir, miso, onions, and garlic. You may also want to consider taking a probiotic supplement with strains that have been specifically researched to support a healthy vaginal microbiome, though it’s best to check with your healthcare practitioner (or nutritionist!) before taking any new supplement.
Address your stress! Long term stress has been shown to negatively affect the vaginal microbiome, reduce your Lactobacilli levels, and increase the risk of vaginal infections. Consider scheduling in some downtime to help you switch off from the day-to-day pressures.
Rethink your diet. High sugar foods and low intake of vitamins A, C and E can also cause an overgrowth of bad bacteria. Opt for a diet rich in whole foods (such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and wholegrains) and consider speaking with a nutritionist if you need support in making healthy, sustainable changes.
Always report any symptoms (unusual vaginal discharge, smell, burning or itching) to a healthcare professional.
Worried about your vaginal microbiome?
If you’d like to know more about how the microbiome can support your fertility, the Vaginal EcologiX test could be a great option for you – a comprehensive, at-home vaginal swab test to help you gain insight into your risk of vaginal infections such as thrush or BV, and other factors that may be affecting your vaginal health and fertility. For more information on this test, check out this instagram post.
To find out more about this test and to see if it could help you, feel free to book in a free discovery call with Hayley here.