Vaginal steaming--a universal practice women have used since ancient times--is proving to be a worthy gynecological self-care tool. As more and more women try steaming it is showing potential to help with an array of concerns from cramps to bacterial vaginosis to fibroids--the list goes on and on. One of the things that makes vaginal steaming so great is that it's extremely gentle and simply involves sitting over a pot of herbal steam. Even so, it's important to know the do's and don'ts. Let's start with the contraindications--when not to steam.
Contraindication #1: Menstruation
Although many turn to vaginal steaming to address menstrual problems, steaming during active menstruation or fresh spotting is contraindicated. Steaming while bleeding can be dangerous because the steam speeds up the blood flow and can cause heavy bleeding. Instead, steaming should be done before and after the period, which will help aid the natural uterine cleanse that occurs during the period.
Contraindication #2: Pregnancy
Although very helpful to aid in healthy conception and excellent after giving birth, steaming is contraindicated while pregnant. Steaming while pregnant can be dangerous because the steam relaxes and opens the cervix, which could result in miscarriage or early labor.
Contraindication #3: After Insemination While Trying to Conceive
For anyone that is trying to conceive, they can steam during the time period after the period up until the point of ovulation and then they should stop. Steaming after insemination could interfere with the sperm, fertilization or implantation.
This is also true for medically assisted insemination. Steam up until the point of the IVF or IUI transfer and then stop until the pregnancy is confirmed.
Contraindication #4: Spontaneous Heavy Bleeding
For anyone that experiences spontaneous heavy bleeding--sometimes referred to as two periods per month--steaming is contraindicated. Because the steam speeds up circulation and opens the cervix, it might cause spontaneous bleeding to occur--which can be dangerous when it’s heavy. Women with spontaneous bleeding who want to steam should go to an acupuncturist first and get herbs to get the spontaneous bleeding under control first (hint: ask for yunnan baiyao).
Contraindication #5: Hot Flashes
Since steaming introduces heat to the body it might trigger hot flashes and should probably be avoided when hot flashes are present. This might not be true in every case, however. Two women, on separate occasions, have informed me that steaming actually helped to alleviate their hot flashes. This is an area where more research is needed, however, it would be best to proceed with caution if prone to hot flashes.
Contraindication #6: During Miscarriage
Though steaming is very helpful for miscarriage recovery, it is not advised to steam before the pregnancy matter has cleared out. In rare cases this might lead to heavy bleeding and can be dangerous. Start steaming after the pregnancy matter has cleared out and the bleeding has turned to brown.
The next consideration when it comes to vaginal steam safety is how the vaginal steam is setup. Below are the setup components to consider.
Vaginal Steam Seat
Ensure that the vaginal steam seat is sturdy and that it is placed far enough above the steam not to cause a burn. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of unsafe youtube videos that advise women to steam by sitting directly on or straddling over a hot pot. This is not safe. Sadly, one woman attempted such a setup and fell in. She endured several burns. The vaginal steam seat should be a wooden box, a birthing stool or a sturdy chair.
The hot steam should not be in a plastic bowl as is commonly shown on youtube DIY setups. Toxins from the plastic can leak into the water. Glass jars are also common but often break if the water is too hot. The best setup will have the water and herbs in a clay, glass or stainless steel pot.
Electric burners are commonly used to create long steam sessions. This is very helpful for addressing certain complaints and is commonplace in spas. Long steam sessions are not suitable for everyone however. Steaming with a burner can aggravate those with herpes, the mirena IUD, short menstrual cycles (27 days or shorter) or infections (BV, yeast, UTI). In such cases a mild (no-burner) steam session is more suitable.
Lastly, it’s not necessary to steam with a burner during weather. Mild steams are the best during summertime.
Getting the Right Herbs
Another safety consideration when steaming is making sure to get the right herbs. Most vaginal steam herb blends focus on cleansing and circulatory herbs that are beneficial for clearing out old residue and helping with cramps. Unfortunately, this category of herbs doesn't work for everyone. Specifically, women with short menstrual cycles (27 days or less) don’t tolerate cleansing herbs very well and it can cause their period to come early or may cause loose stools. Alternatively, if short-cyclers get the right herbs, it may help to extend their cycle to a normal 28 days.
To Cloak or Not to Cloak
It's common in spas to provide a plastic cloak while steaming which helps to cause a full body detox and increase circulation. It is okay, however, to steam without a cloak. In hot weather, if prone to infections, herpes, nightsweats or hot flashes, the cloak is unnecessary and might cause excess heat problems in the body. Instead, it can be replaced with a light sheet or thin robe.
Vaginal Steam Safety
These are the basics of vaginal steam safety. As more spas are starting to offer vaginal steam services and new DIY at home videos pop up every day, it's clear that the practice of vaginal steaming is spreading. As it does, the companies and individuals offering this service should implement proper screening processes to ensure there aren't contraindications and to make the proper choices for sensitive clients.