6 Ways to Prevent Bacterial Vaginosis From Happening Again

Bacterial vaginosis (BV) is a common type of vaginal infection. It develops when the mix of normally occurring bacteria in the vagina (the vaginal flora) becomes imbalanced, and one type overgrows. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis and treated, you may experience the infection again. Research suggests about 80% of people with BV experience a recurrence of the infection within three months of treatment. 

Still, there are some ways you can lower your risk of recurring bacterial vaginosis. This article will discuss potential causes, symptoms, and ways to prevent infections. 

Person talks to healthcare provider about bacterial vaginosis

FatCamera / Getty Images

What Is Bacterial Vaginosis?

Bacterial vaginosis occurs when the healthy balance of bacteria and yeast in the vagina is disrupted. This leads to one type of bacteria growing out of control. 

“Good” species of Lactobacillus bacteria help keep “harmful” bacteria in check by creating an acid environment in the vagina. They typically make up over 70% of the bacteria in your vaginal flora before menopause. 

Sometimes, the growth of helpful bacteria is interrupted, and other types may overgrow. Common bacteria that may cause BV include Gardnerella vaginalis, Atopobium, Ureaplasma, and Mycoplasma species. 

Causes

Often, the exact cause of BV is unclear. Still, there are some known risk factors for developing BV, including: 

  • Hormonal changes, like pregnancy
  • Unprotected sex, sex with a new partner, and multiple sex partners
  • Douching and using scented soaps
  • Recent antibiotic use
  • Cigarette smoking
  • Having an intrauterine device (IUD)

Symptoms

Some people with bacterial vaginosis won’t experience any symptoms. About 50% of people with bacterial vaginosis do experience symptoms, which may include:

  • Vaginal odor, usually a fishlike odor
  • Itching sensation around and inside the vagina
  • Burning sensation while peeing and during sexual intercourse
  • White or gray-colored vaginal discharge

Prevention

You may not be able to completely prevent an infection from happening. Still, there are a few ways to lower your risk of BV. Here are a few tips to help prevent BV:

Practice Vaginal Hygiene

Practicing good vaginal hygiene can help lower your risk of infection. You don’t need to do a lot to keep your vaginal area clean. Typically, all that’s needed is warm water and possibly a mild, unscented soap in the genital area. Soap should not be used in the vagina.

A few other recommendations for good vaginal hygiene include:

  • Avoid douching. 
  • Avoid washing with harsh or scented vaginal soaps or wipes.
  • Change tampons, liners, and pads frequently.
  • Wipe from front to back after using the bathroom.

Consume Probiotics

The good strains of bacteria, like Lactobacillus, are essential for maintaining a healthy vaginal flora and preventing infections. Multiple research studies have shown probiotics (strains of "friendly" bacteria normally found in the body) help reduce the risk of recurring BV. 

Probiotic supplements can be taken orally, or you could try a vaginal probiotic suppository. Both oral and vaginal probiotics appear to reduce the risk of bacterial vaginosis.

Eating a healthy diet containing some probiotic foods also supports a good balance of bacteria. Foods that are fermented contain probiotics, such as:

  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Tempeh
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Kombucha 
  • Pickles 

Wear Breathable Underwear and Loose Clothing

The material your underwear is made from may impact your vaginal health. 

Tight-fitting clothing and non-breathable materials around the vagina may increase temperature, moisture, and pH. This can change the environment of the vagina, make it easier for bacteria to overgrow, and cause an infection.

Try to wear loose-fitting silk or cotton underwear. And try to limit the amount of time you wear tight-fitting clothing.

Use Condoms

Using condoms during sexual intercourse can prevent more than just unwanted pregnancy. It also helps protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and disruptions in vaginal flora.  

A 2013 study found that the consistent use of condoms was associated with higher levels of Lactobacillus. This suggests using condoms protects the balance of helpful bacteria and may lower the risk of bacterial vaginosis.

Stress Management

While you can’t completely eliminate stress from your life, finding ways to manage your stress may help prevent recurring BV.

There may be a link between the stress hormone cortisol and vaginal health. Cortisol is associated with increased glycogen (sugar) in vaginal tissue, which may increase the risk for bacterial overgrowth. 

A few ways to manage stress may include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Yoga
  • Make time for hobbies
  • Take time off
  • Eat well

Home Remedies

If you suspect you have BV, it’s best to talk with your healthcare provider for treatment. It may be tempting to try home remedies for treating BV, but most aren’t proven effective and may even be harmful.

Here are some of the possible home remedies for BV:

Boric Acid Suppositories

Boric acid suppositories may support a healthy pH balance in the vagina. Some research shows using these suppositories may help treat and prevent recurrent BV and yeast infections. 

Boric acid suppositories are available over the counter. Be sure to read the label and follow the instructions. Don’t use the product more than recommended. Avoid using it if you have an open sore around the vagina. Be sure to discuss using boric acid suppostitories with your healthcare provider before you start.

Never ingest boric acid. It can be toxic if taken by mouth. 

If you notice any burning, irritation, redness, rash, or unusual discharge after starting a boric acid suppository, stop using it immediately and contact your healthcare provider.

Other Home Remedies

You may hear about other home remedies like tea tree oil, hydrogen peroxide, and apple cider vinegar washes. However, there isn’t enough scientific evidence to prove these options work. And they could be harmful to vaginal tissue or make infections worse. 

Be careful when considering using home remedies for BV, since some may not be safe. 

When to See a Healthcare Provider

It’s best to talk with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing the symptoms of BV, like unusual vaginal discharge, odor, burning sensation, itching, or pain. They’ll be able to assess your symptoms and give you the right treatment to help your symptoms as soon as possible.  

Summary

Bacterial vaginosis is a vaginal infection caused by bacterial overgrowth. Many people experience recurrent infections, and it's important to find ways to prevent infections from returning.

While not all infections can be prevented, there are ways you may be able to lower your risk. Practices like wearing breathable underwear, using condoms during sex, consuming probiotics, and managing stress may help prevent recurring BV. 

A Word From Verywell

Bacterial vaginosis is a common infection, and there’s no way to completely stop all infections. Still, you may be able to lower your risk of developing BV with good hygiene and taking care of your overall health. Be sure to talk with your healthcare provider if you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of BV.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • How long does it take for BV to go away on its own?

    In some cases, bacterial vaginosis may go away on its own within a few days. However, it often requires treatment to clear the infection, and untreated BV can lead to health complications. It’s best to talk with your healthcare provider for treatment if you think you have an infection.

  • Can stress cause BV?

    The stress hormones released in response to high-stress levels could increase the risk of BV. Cortisol is associated with changes in vaginal tissue that could lead to BV infections.

  • What does BV discharge look like?

    During a BV infection, vaginal discharge usually becomes thin, white, or dull gray.

8 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Coudray MS, Madhivanan P. Bacterial vaginosis - a brief synopsis of the literature. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol. 2020;245:143-148. doi:10.1016/j.ejogrb.2019.12.035

  2. Miller EA, Beasley DE, Dunn RR, Archie EA. Lactobacilli dominance and vaginal pH: why is the human vaginal microbiome unique?Front Microbiol. 2016;7:1936. doi:10.3389/fmicb.2016.01936

  3. Chen Y, Bruning E, Rubino J, Eder SE. Role of female intimate hygiene in vulvovaginal health: global hygiene practices and product usage. Womens Health (Lond Engl). 2017;13(3):58-67. doi:10.1177/1745505717731011

  4. Abou Chacra L, Fenollar F, Diop K. Bacterial vaginosis: what do we currently know? Front Cell Infect Microbiol. 2022;11:672429. doi:10.3389/fcimb.2021.672429

  5. Ma L, Lv Z, Su J, et al. Consistent condom use increases the colonization of Lactobacillus crispatus in the vagina. PLoS One. 2013;8(7):e70716. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0070716

  6. Amabebe E, Anumba DOC. Psychosocial stress, cortisol levels, and maintenance of vaginal health. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne). 2018;9:568. doi:10.3389/fendo.2018.00568

  7. Powell A, Ghanem KG, Rogers L, et al. Clinicians’ use of intravaginal boric acid maintenance therapy for recurrent vulvovaginal candidiasis and bacterial vaginosis. Sex Transm Dis. 2019;46(12):810-812. doi:10.1097/OLQ.0000000000001063

  8. Mount Sinai. Boric acid poisoning.

By Ashley Braun, MPH, RD
Ashley Braun, MPH, RD, is a registered dietitian and public health professional with over 5 years of experience educating people on health related topics using evidence-based information. Her experience includes educating on a wide range of conditions including diabetes, heart disease, HIV, neurological conditions, and more.