8 Ways To Prevent Yeast Infections

Though many women find that summer is the most common season for yeast infections, know that just because the weather is starting to change, doesn't mean your vagina is completely out of the yeast infection woods. But don't stress, my friend! Seriously, dodging yeast infections is a breeze once you've got the basics down. It's all about locking in the right daily routines and weekly habits; that way, you're practicing prevention regularly and it doesn't even feel like you're doing anything extra. Consistent maintenance is the cornerstone of any healthy vagina, right?

Let's begin with a refresher on what a yeast infection is. First of all, yeast is a fungus that is naturally present in your lovely vagina, and it's not harmful in and of itself. But as soon as there are too many yeast cells in the area — and everything from from high estrogen levels to antibiotics to pregnancy can cause your yeast cell levels to rise — an infection comes a-knockin'. A yeast called Candida albicans is the most common culprit behind yeast infections.

Tell-tale signs of an infection are itchiness and soreness, as well as a burning sensation when you're peeing or fooling around with your sweetheart. You might also see some discharge that is white or colorless, and resembles cottage cheese (if you haven't had a yeast infection before, consult with your doctor before treating — these symptoms can also be signs of certain STDs). These symptoms may sound unpleasant, but yeast infections are very common among women and can be taken care of fairly easily. Three out of every four women will encounter one in their life — and half of us will see two or more.

Moral of the story? Don't freak out, and read up on the eight ways you can prevent yeast infections.

1. Consume More Probiotics

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Siggis Raspberry Icelandic Yogurt 12 Pack, $24, Amazon

Ah, so many health issues seem to come back to those magical, life-changing probiotics. According to many folks, they're a remarkable way to ward off yeast infections. For example, yogurt contains Lactobacillus acidophilus, a type of bacteria that is your friend and wants you to have a happy vagina; it's known to maintain a healthy pH balance in your vag and encourage the growth of other friendly bacteria.

Although there isn't any conclusive scientific research proving that eating yogurt every day stops Candida albicans from every multiplying into an infection, a lot of women swear by it. If you want to look into it for yourself and see if yogurt helps keep your vagina happy, you can either treat yourself to a little cup of all-natural, unsweetened yogurt each day, or you can dip your tampon in a little yogurt before insertion during the middle of your period, to give your vagina an extra boost of yummy bacteria.

A recent Italian study proved that a group of women who placed a probiotic tablet in their vagina consistently for five weeks saw their rates for yeast infections drop by a whopping 87 percent. So, while science can't yet definitively say that yogurt consumption prevents infections, a Lactobacillus tablet is proven to do the job pretty well.

2. Switch To A Birth Control That Doesn't Contain Estrogen

Extra estrogen in the body often leads to the production of more yeast. Laurie Cullen, ND, a naturopathic physician and professor at Bastyr University, told Prevention that it's worthwhile for yeast infection-prone women to consider birth control options out there that don't contain estrogen, such as the IUD or progesterone-only pills. This will significantly reduce the risk of the Candida albicans exponentially growing into an infection. Of course, you should speak with your OBGYN before you just decide to make the switch on your own — they'll have more specific insight into the unique functionings of your body.

3. Wear Cotton Underwear

You want to keep your lady parts as dry as possible, free from warmth and moisture, because yeast thrives in humid environments. One way to do this is to stick to underwear made from natural fabrics, such as cotton and silk; they absorb dampness, leaving your vagina as healthily dry as possible. Synthetic stuff like nylon and blended materials cling to your body too closely, making you a prime target for infection.

If you often wear leggings, gym pants or pantyhose without any underwear underneath, consider investing in some comfy cotton undies. Your crotch will thank you for it — going commando in tight-fitting clothes made out of those kinds of synthetic fibers results in a lot of heat and moisture build-up, which paves the way for a big yeast gathering.

4. Stay Away From Scented Feminine Hygiene Products And Soaps

All the artificial chemicals that are put into scented feminine hygiene products don't belong in your lovely vag. Perfumes and dyes irritate the inside of your vagina and increase the risk of a yeast infection. And the same goes for scented soaps and anything else that comes in contact with your goods. So train your vagina to say no to scented bubble baths, fruity body wash and colored or printed toilet paper. Keep it simple.

5. Clean Your Vagina Often

Don't do anything too rough to clean yourself, like douching, as that will cause irritation and might wreck the normal balances in your vagina. But do wash down there on a regular basis (remember, though, no scented stuff!). Also, don't be afraid to get up close and personal. Samantha Dunham, MD, a gynecologist at the NYU Langone Medical Center, told Prevention that women should regularly pay attention to the inside folds of the vagina when washing, as that's where the yeast loves to congregate — and multiply.

Change out of your swimsuit immediately after you're done in the sauna or swimming pool to avoid moist genitals. On the toilet bowl, wipe front to back, just like Mom taught ya, to keep bad bacteria out of the sensitive areas. Also, here's a little trick: After you're done showering, put a hair dryer on the low, cool setting, and pamper your vagina with a little refreshing breeze. This will also get rid of that last bit of excess moisture.

6. Consider Natural Remedies

Mother Earth has always got your back. She's left you with all kinds of at-home remedies you can experiment with to prevent — and in some cases, even treat — yeast infections, and you don't need a prescription or a pharmacy to get started. Pick up some organic, cold-pressed coconut oil, which has anti-fungal properties that kill the yucky fungi that lead to infections; externally apply it a few times a day to your vulva, like a lotion.

Then, get your hands on some garlic. It's anti-fungal, antibiotic and antibacterial — all things that will scare the yeast into not multiplying. Either eat it or crush a few raw cloves to make a paste out of it, which you can apply just like the coconut oil.

A few other useful products are apple cider vinegar, cranberries and boric acid. While there are no scientific studies out there that can prove how powerful all-natural remedies are when it comes to fighting off yeast infections and maintaining vaginal health, there are plenty of women out there who can sing their praises (myself included), and you really don't have anything to lose by testing it out. A little garlic near the vagina never hurt anyone.

7. Sleep More

Your immune system plays an important role in keeping yeast infections away, and if you're not catching enough Zzz's every night, your body won't be able to properly function. Even if you're planted in bed for eight hours a night, if you're tossing and turning, you're not getting the sleep you truly need, according to OBGYN Robert Goldfarb in Everyday Health. He says you need to get restful sleep in order for the body to do its jobs; like keep the acidity levels in the vagina stable and lower the rate at which vaginal yeast grows, both of which prevent infections. So prioritize getting some solid shut-eye for a healthier vag.

8. Eat A Healthy Diet

OK, so you already know how important it is to add some probiotics to your diet. Now it's time to think about everything else you put into your belly. Yeast thrives off of sugar, especially processed and simple sugars, as well as grains and other glutinous foods. There have been so many connections made between food choices and the growth of Candida albicans that there is now a fully comprehensive program to inhibit yeast growth called the Candida Diet, which women who struggle with yeast infections can easily follow. If you're interested in trying it, consult with your doctor to see if it would make sense for you.

In addition to grains and sugars, it's recommended that folks who suffer from frequent yeast infections stay away from consuming excessive amounts of alcohol and starchy vegetables — think potatoes, carrots, and beets — as well as meat and dairy products (with the exception of ghee and probiotic yogurt). Following this diet is supposed to not only grant you fewer yeast infections, but also potentially help with problems like headaches, fatigue and brain fog.

Keeping your vagina happy and healthy isn't that hard — and it's definitely easier than having to deal with yet another yeast infection.

Images: mathom, gstockstudio, olllinka2, nik_Merkulov, annaileish, Alliance/Fotolia; Jon Bunting, Seniju/Flickr