Menstrual Products

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What kind of products can I use when I have my period?

There are lots of menstrual products available. To help you decide what to use, ask yourself:

  • Is my flow different at night than during the day?
  • Does my flow stay the same all during my period, or does it go from heavy to light?
  • Which products am I comfortable using?
  • Is convenience important to me?
  • Is it important for me to choose "environmentally friendly" products?
  • Am I willing to wash and reuse items that have absorbed menstrual blood?
  • What can I afford?
  • Am I involved in sports or dance activities?

What kinds of disposable products can I find?

Disposable products are easy to find in most stores, and easy to use. You throw them away after one use.

They include:

  • Sanitary Pads: Wear these inside your underwear. The pad absorbs wetness away from your body. Pads come in many sizes and kinds of absorbency. You may wear one by itself or as a back up for other methods if you are worried about leaking. Do not use pads while swimming.
  • Tampons: These are made of absorbent fibres in the shape of a finger. Tampons usually come with printed instructions about how to use them. You put a tampon into your vagina by hand or by using a disposable cardboard or plastic tube called an applicator. The tampon grows to fit the natural curves of your vagina as it absorbs your menstrual blood. A ‘regular’ tampon holds the same amount of blood no matter which brand you use. ‘Super’ tampons are for a heavier flow. You can wear tampons while swimming, doing sports and other physical activity. You can wear a tampon if you are a virgin (have never had sexual intercourse).

Tampons and sanitary pads are made from cotton or a cotton/rayon blend. Women who prefer products made without chemicals can use organic cotton pads and tampons.

With tampons, there is a very small risk of developing Toxic Shock Syndrome. To help prevent TSS, change your tampon as often as needed, but do not leave it in for more than 6 hours. Wash your hands and fingernails well with soap and water before putting any kind of menstrual product into your vagina.

There is also controversy over the possible health risks of wearing tampons because of Dioxins. Dioxins are toxic (poisonous) chlorinated chemicals found in very small amounts in the environment, including in the air, water, soil and in some foods. Large doses of dioxins can cause serious health problems, including cancer, in laboratory animals. It is not clear what the impact is of smaller doses of dioxin on people. Because of this, the level of health risk from dioxins is controversial. At one time the wood pulp used to make tampons and pads was bleached using small amounts of dioxins, but manufacturers are no longer using this process.

Some women use both a tampon and a panty liner when they have a heavier flow. Whatever works is right for you.

  • Feminine Protection Cups: These are made of a flexible plastic. You place the cup into your vagina over the opening of your cervix. The cup collects your blood. You can use a cup for up to 12 hours before you empty it and throw it out. Although the cup doesn’t protect you from sexually transmitted infections or from pregnancy, you can use it during sexual intercourse when you’re having your period.

What kinds of reusable products can I find?

Reusable products save money and create less waste. Some women use them because they find they are more comfortable, while some young women use them because they are concerned about possible health effects from the chemicals used in making disposable pads and tampons.

Reusable products include:

  • Cloth Menstrual Pads: These are usually made of cotton or flannel. Some brands have many layers of fabric to absorb the flow; others have fewer layers with a water-resistant lining next to your underwear. Some women choose to make their own. You rinse or soak the used pads in cold water before washing them with your regular laundry. You can reuse cloth pads for several years. You may need to soak them right away and possibly bleach them if you want to remove stains.
  • Sea Sponge: You put this sponge into your vagina to absorb the blood. Take it out and rinse it at least every three hours. Be sure to boil it before and at the end of your cycle for at least five minutes to kill any bacteria. A sponge can be reused for about six cycles. Sea sponges can be found in the make-up department of any pharmacy but they will not come with instructions for menstrual use. You may find detailed instructions at commercial sites on the Internet.
  • Menstrual Cup: This is a cup made of gum rubber. You place it in your vagina and fit it over your cervix to collect the blood. You can wear it for up to 12 hours before you empty, wash and put it back in. The cup will last up to ten years.

Where can I go for more information?