Most women are familiar with pads and tampons when it comes to dealing with their periods; however, different menstrual hygiene products are becoming more popular. Let’s take a look at the options that are out there for managing bleeding with your period.
Pads go in the underwear and absorb menstrual blood. The most common types of pads are disposable and have an adhesive on the bottom to stick to the underwear. Pads should be changed every 4-8 hours or sooner, based on comfort. Pads come in different sizes, depending on the flow of bleeding. Thicker, longer pads are usually more absorbent for heavier flow days, while thin panty liners can be used for light bleeding and spotting. Traditional pads are white in color and are usually processed with chemicals to bleach the pad. For many women this does not cause any irritation, but for some women with sensitive skin, it can. Recently companies have started selling organic and chlorine-free pads. Reusable pads made of cotton are also sold and usually fasten around the underwear with a snap. These pads are able to be washed and reused.
Period underwear was first introduced about ten years ago and has gained in popularity since. It is underwear that is specially designed to absorb blood without leaking and is intended to be used in the place of pads, tampons, or other menstrual products. It is sold by many different companies now, so it can be found in a variety of styles at different price points. The underwear can hold, on average, one to two tampons’ worth of flow and should be changed when fully saturated. Depending on how heavy a woman’s period is, she may use two to four pairs of period underwear per day. Although designed to go without extra protection, some women like to use period underwear as back-up for leak protection and still use another menstrual product as well.
Tampons are inserted into the vagina with or without an applicator and absorb menstrual blood. A string hangs outside of the vagina for easy removal. Tampons come in a range of sizes, depending on how absorbent they are. Tampons are single-use and should be changed every 4-8 hours. It is recommended to use the lowest absorbency tampon needed.
A menstrual cup is a bell-shaped, flexible device that goes inside the vagina and collects blood like a cup. Menstrual cups are designed to be washed and reused. It takes some practice to learn how to insert a menstrual cup properly, and misplacement can cause discomfort and leaking. A menstrual cup stays in the vagina through suction and support from the pelvic floor muscles. Depending on the type and brand, the cup needs to be emptied every 8-12 hours. They come with instructions for proper care and cleaning.
A menstrual disc is a disc-shaped device made of medical grade silicone or plastic that collects blood from inside the vagina. It is inserted by folding the disc and inserting far into the vagina, near the cervix. It sits behind the pubic bone to keep it in place. Like a menstrual cup, it can be worn for up to 12 hours. Menstrual discs can be disposable or reusable.
Often women will try multiple different products before settling on what works best for them. Please consult with your healthcare provider if you have questions about which products might work best for you.
Toxic shock syndrome (TSS) is a rare, but life-threatening, bacterial infection that has historically been associated with tampon use. TSS rates have gone down dramatically as manufacturers have changed tampon design. Studies have found that menstrual cup and menstrual disc use can also put women at risk of TSS. Symptoms of TSS include sudden high fever, feeling dizzy, having nausea or vomiting, and a sunburn-like rash on the palms and soles of the feet.