The reproductive system of a woman is a delicate and complex system that impacts various other organs in the body. It is important for our overall health and well-being.
Reproductive health is much more than the absence of disease of the reproductive system and physical well-being of a woman. It involves mental and social well-being; having a satisfying and safe sex life; right to decide if, when and how to have children; access to accurate information, timely support and services for abortion; affordable and effective methods of contraception; right to healthy and respectful relationships; safe, inclusive and appropriate health services.
A female body undergoes several transitional stages from birth to death. Each of this stage can be associated with various health concerns, including menstruation, sexually transmissible diseases, cervical screening, chronic health issues (such as polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis), contraception fertility, pregnancy, and menopause.
Maintaining physical and mental health by adapting to a healthy lifestyle can help women attain optimal health and well-being.
In this article, we discuss the reproductive health practices that are important for every woman.
Menstruation is one of the important processes of a woman’s body. It deserves maximum caution and self-care, as it is the basic process during the reproductive age. Proper hygiene during the cycle and eating nutritious foods will help you have a healthy cycle regularly. Below are some measures to maintain menstrual hygiene:
- Change sanitary pads or tampons in 4-6 hours to prevent rashes, irritation, or urinary tract infections.
- Wash your hands before and after changing your napkin, tampon or cup, as your hands can have microorganisms.
- Clean your vagina regularly with lukewarm water after removing the pad or tampon to remove organisms clinging on to your body.
- Avoid using vaginal hygiene products during the cycle; the vagina has a self-cleaning mechanism.
- Use clean, dry towels to wipe yourself during periods.
- Discard the used sanitary pads or tampons responsibly, do not flush them in the toilet.
- Avoid using two sanitary napkins simultaneously, as this can increase the risk of severe infections.
Safe sex measures
Unsafe sex can increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as syphilis, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, HIV or hepatitis B. It can also result in an unplanned pregnancy. Safe sex measures will protect you and your partner from STIs and unplanned pregnancy.
The following are some of the safety measures women can follow:
- Always use protection while having sex; condoms are the most used barriers.
- Limit your sexual partners; as having sexual encounters with several partners can increase the risk of STIs. Be smart and safe while getting involved with a new sexual partner.
- It is best to be in monogamous relationships to prevent STIs.
- Get tested for common infections, if you have a new partner.
- Communicate to your sexual partner about what you are comfortable with sexually; also have a conversation about birth control methods.
- Be responsible and do not get involved sexually when you are under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Explore birth control options, which include vaginal rings, intrauterine devices, daily pills, monthly injections, etc.
- Educate yourself and your partner about safe sex measures.
When you have decided to terminate your pregnancy, visit an experienced doctor and discuss your options for safe abortion. There are different methods to terminate the pregnancy, which include:
Medical abortion: This method involves taking two medicines, two to three days apart, which evacuates the pregnancy through the vagina. You may be asked to take the first drug in the hospital, and the second one can be taken at home. This method is recommended for women who are less than 10 weeks pregnant.
Surgical abortion: In this method, the pregnancy is removed from the womb surgically under the influence of anesthesia or conscious or deep sedation. Surgical abortion can be performed by any of the two methods:
- Vacuum or suction aspiration: This method involves inserting a tube into the womb and sucking the implanted embryo. It can be used for women who are up to 14 weeks pregnant. The procedure takes about 5 to 10 minutes; women can go home after a few hours.
- Dilatation and evacuation: In this method, forceps (special instruments) are inserted through the cervix into the uterus to remove the pregnancy. The procedure is performed under sedation or general anesthesia. It takes about 10 to 20 minutes, and the woman can usually return home on the same day.
Fertility in women can be affected due to various factors such as age (>35 years old), weight, lifestyle, conditions like endometriosis, blocked fallopian tube, polycystic ovarian syndrome, etc. Thus, women should take care of their bodies, if they are planning to have a baby. Maintaining overall health will improve your fertility and increase the chances of conception.
Make sure you consume a wide range of vegetables, fruits and lean meat. Have foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals such as folic acid, vitamin D, iodine, zinc and selenium, and foods containing omega-3 fatty acids. Avoid having processed foods and caffeine.
International guidelines recommend performing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every day. These activities include brisk walking, dancing, running, swimming or dancing.
Having a healthy relationship with your partner is important for mental and physical well-being. Be with a person who makes you feel good, treats you well, respects your feelings, wish and decision you make about your body. Communicate with your partner about any concerns you may have, be it emotional or sexual.
Talk to your partner about starting a family. Tell the methods of having a child you are comfortable with and seek their opinion. Try to reach a middle ground you are both comfortable with. Make sure you discuss the finances while family planning.
In case you are in an abusive relationship, try to reach for help. You may have to undergo counselling or psychological therapy if the relationship was traumatizing you or if you have been depressed. Visit a certified psychotherapist for more guidance.
The following lifestyle measures can help you maintain reproductive and overall health:
- Maintain a healthy body weight to help regulate ovulation.
- Pay attention to your calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron, and folic acid intake.
- Have foods rich in proteins and low glycemic index.
- Include green leafy vegetables and colourful fruits in your diet.
- Reduce your caffeine intake.
- Ensure that you sleep for 6 to 8 hours a day.
- Exercise regularly for 150 minutes per week.
- Make sure you perform Kegel exercises to strengthen pelvic floor muscles.
- Stop smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.
- Manage stress with meditation and yoga.
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