Steaming for whole-woman wellness

If you’re a woman and you’re not doing this, then it might be time to reconsider.

It’s herbal, ancient, and practiced by women just about everywhere. Well, everywhere except for the contemporary United States, that is.

From Southeast Asia to South America, across Europe and Africa, from island nations to landlocked countries, throughout ancient empires and modern tribes, you’ll find women boiling herbs and adopting creative (and comfortable) ways to perch over the resulting steam.

We’re talking about vaginal steaming. And it just may be the solution you haven’t tried for your lingering gynecological issues.

What steaming is

Vaginal steam baths have been used traditionally to prepare the uterus for conception as well as to heal the uterus after birth. They gently penetrate, cleanse, and nourish the reproductive area, bringing warmth, promoting circulation, balancing pH, repairing damaged tissue, and more.

But vaginal steaming isn’t restricted to a specific life season or even to a specific pathology. It is a surprisingly powerful self-care tool employed the world over for healthy fertility and whole-woman wellness.

Why to steam

Yes, there is such a thing as a normal period. And it’s pretty simple to spot: It arrives every 28 to 30 days, stays for 4 days, brings a medium flow of fresh red blood, and is not accompanied by any adverse symptoms. It also tends to time its visit with the new or full moon.

Does that sound like you?

Chances are: no. Most Western women are rarely acquainted with such normalcy.

It’s not about what’s “normal for you.” Because when it comes to health, most modern women aren’t normal.

Depending on how far you are from normal, you may need only a short protocol of steams to see measurable results. Or you may need targeted therapy for 3 to 6 months. The purpose of this post is to familiarize you with the practice, not to provide a comprehensive plan for your own period problems, but if you want to self-diagnose and create a treatment plan for yourself, we highly recommend the DIY Vaginal Steam Therapy Tutorial from Steamy Chick.

When to steam

Vaginal steaming is appropriate for a large portion of the female life cycle, from before menarche to after menopause. However, please refrain from steaming in the following cases:

  • while actively menstruating

  • after ovulation when trying to conceive

  • while pregnant

  • while actively miscarrying

  • during any spontaneous heavy bleeding

  • while experiencing hot flashes or other high heat in the body (or proceed with caution)

Apart from that, the indications for vaginal steaming are vast:

  • support for overall health

  • improved fertility

  • better connection with the body and its rhythms

  • preparation for pregnancy

  • recovery after giving birth

  • recovery after miscarriage

  • signs of old residue (dark blood, clots, cramps)

  • unusual discharge or mucus

  • bacterial or yeast infections or suspected unhealthy vaginal flora

  • sexually transmitted diseases like herpes and HPV

  • cysts

  • fibroids

  • scar tissue

  • endometriosis

  • blocked fallopian tubes

  • cervical dysplasia and cervical cancer

  • uterine or bladder prolapse or weakness

  • hemorrhoids

  • PMS

  • PCOS

  • dysmenorrhea

  • amenorrhea

  • irregular periods

  • scant bleeding

  • heavy bleeding

  • short cycles (less than 28 days)

  • long cycles (more than 30 days)

  • menarche

  • menopause

  • painful intercourse

  • prior sexual or pelvic trauma

  • prior vaginal tears or episiotomy

  • surgeries (like a hysterectomy)

If any of these conditions or circumstances apply to you, then you may find steaming daily throughout the month or on certain days around menstruation beneficial.

Note that it isn’t only the reproductive system that benefits. Since heat dilates tissue, and vaginal tissue is among the most sensitive and absorbent in a woman’s body, the medicinal properties of the herbs penetrate the bloodstream, bringing healing to other parts of the body. On a subtler level, plants have a higher vibration that leaves an energetic footprint not only on the physical body but also on the mind.

How to steam

Vaginal steaming is a simple practice that women find both therapeutic and relaxing, practical, affordable, and easy to do in the comfort of home. (More spas and wellness centers, however, are offering it as a service if you prefer a clinical or more luxurious experience.)

The basic procedure is straightforward: select one or more herbs appropriate to your condition or constitution, bring them to a boil in a covered pot, remove the lid, and position the body over the pot such that the herbal steam can penetrate the uterus.

Readily available herbs like basil and oregano are common, although some use combinations with calendula, chamomile, lavender, lemon balm, marigold, motherwort, red raspberry, rose, rosemary, thyme, yarrow, and others. You can choose a simple aromatic herb like oregano, or consult a local herb shop, which may carry a vaginal steam blend. For more targeted support, matched to your symptoms and unique fertility or health needs, we’re particularly fond of these custom herbal blends.

This guide and this article provide clear and more detailed instructions for doing a vaginal steam at home. (The latter does caution against steaming with active infections, but as long as you steam properly with an infection, it can in fact be extremely therapeutic. The article also does not recommend steaming with enough frequency to address chronic conditions.)  

Note that you do not need a special steam sauna or modified chair to make this practice work. You may place the pot of water in the toilet. Or you can squat or kneel over the pot, but take care not to burn your skin. Additional options include sitting on the edge of a normal kitchen chair, placing the pot just in front of the chair, and then wrapping blankets around you to create a tent. You could take a similar approach on the edge of a bathtub, with the pot in the tub in front of you. Always make sure to keep the feet and body warm with socks and blankets as needed. Pots and ceramic or glass containers are fine (as long as they’re strong enough not to shatter), but stay away from plastic and flimsy materials like sitz baths.

Vaginal steaming is particularly important after birth. While some cultures perform vaginal steams within the first 9 days of delivery, others wait until 6 to 8 weeks postpartum (especially with a surgical birth). Some consider a single steam sufficient, while others do a whole series. Regardless, ensure that bleeding has stopped and any tears or incisions have healed. Check with your doctor or midwife before doing a steam; you may feel more comfortable waiting until after a 2-week or 6-week checkup to ensure everything is healing well. A vaginal steam will be beneficial whenever you do it.

In sum, vaginal steaming is excellent preventive medicine, with unparalleled efficacy in cases of specific gynecological disorders. Along with castor oils packs and warm oil self-massage, it is a simple, safe, effective, universal, and time-honored practice that should be in every woman’s whole-body health arsenal.

Stacy Claxton, a Functional Diagnostic Nutrition® Practitioner, Ayurvedic Health Practitioner and Educator, and Perinatal Specialist, is one half of the dynamic duo behind Preparing to Parent, where she and her identical twin, Erin, are “growing families with purpose…on purpose.” This passionate sister pair loves caring for the tender and vulnerable bodies, minds, and souls of new beings and new moms and wielding words with impact on their holistic health blog. Join their family for free recipes and more.

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