By Nora Albibi, Period Pro from Florida State University
The experience of getting your period for the first time is often overwhelming or even scary. While the most commonly used products are pads or tampons, there are other options to choose from! Options like menstrual cups and period underwear have become more popular in recent years. For many people, their first introduction to menstrual products are pads; however, your choice of menstrual products all depends on what makes you feel comfortable!
Pads are made with one side that absorbs menstrual blood, and a sticky side that attaches to the inside of your underwear to hold it in place. They come in many different shapes and sizes for different needs. Some pads have “wings” on the side that wrap around the crotch of the underwear to keep it in place and prevent leaking. Others are thicker and can be used when you have a heavier period flow, while some are thin best on days when you have light flow. If your period flow is heavier, you may find that you need to change your pad more often. Pads also come in different lengths. There are very long overnight pads that provide more period protection while you are lying down or sleeping. Some pads are scented, but they can cause irritation to the sensitive skin of the vulva. Pads should be changed at least every 4-6 hours, even if your flow is not that heavy to avoid bacteria from building up and to prevent odor because they absorb everything including sweat.
Reusable pads are also an option that are usually sold online or in natural health stores. They can be snapped or clipped onto your underwear and are meant to be washed and reused. It is all based on personal preference. Some people choose this as an environmentally friendly alternative or because over time, it is less expensive than buying disposable pads.
Tampons also are made of absorbent material that is compressed into a small tube-like shape that fits inside the vagina and absorbs period flow before it leaves the vagina. Just like pads, they come in different sizes and absorbencies for heavier and lighter periods. Some tampons are scented, but, in the same way scented pads can cause irritation to the vulva, scented tampons can irritate the vagina and are not recommended by most doctors. The most challenging part of using a tampon is learning how to insert it into the vagina. Tampons have applicators, which are plastic or cardboard tubes that help to guide the tampon into the vagina. Other tampons do not have applicators, this means you will have to use your finger to guide the tampon into your vagina. It’s always best to start by reading the instructions the first time you insert a tampon. Once a tampon is inserted into the vagina, there is a string attached to the end that allows you to remove the tampon just by pulling on the string. Always remember, even though you cannot see when your tampon is full, it is important to change it every 4-6 hours to prevent leaking. Sometimes when you come to change your tampon, the string may not be there. In this case, do not panic. The tampon is still there you may just have to reach in with your fingers and find the string, which may take some time and patience. You may be worried that the tampon can get lost inside your body, but the vagina holds the tampon in place and the cervix (the canal that connects your uterus and vagina) is too small for the tampon to go through. One more thing to understand about tampons is to change them frequently (every 4 to 6 hours) and to use the least absorbency needed for your flow that day . This decreases your risk for a rare but dangerous bacterial infection called TSS or Toxic Shock Syndrome.
Like a tampon, these are also inserted inside the vagina.. They are made of a soft rubber or silicone and catch the blood before it flows out of the vagina. Because you cannot see when a cup or disk are full, failure to properly empty them can result in leaking, so it’s important to empty them at least every 12 hours or more if you have a heavier flow. It’s important and helpful to read the instructions that come with the product on how to insert, remove ,and clean them. The first few times may be tricky so try to relax and maybe empty them in the shower when you are going through the learning curve. If the cup interest you, check out this blog for more info: Learning How to Use a Menstrual Cup
Period underwear is is underwear with a special absorbent panel designed to absorb menstrual fluid. They are reusable, absorb your flow, and work great to prevent from leaks. There are many different styles and options now that are effective. Depending on the brand you get you may have to change it based on their recommendation, but usually you need to change it about every 8-12 hours. Period underwear should be rinsed in cold water immediately after wearing, then most can be tossed in the wash with other laundry. Please check the label for proper washing instructions. Period underwear, similar to pads, may feel wet for a moment, but then the layers should absorb the liquid to leave you feeling comfortable and dry. These are a good alternative for people who are uncomfortable with pads and tampons or are looking for an environmentally friendly option. They are also a great back-up to prevent leaks from tampons or menstrual cups, and are especially helpful during sleep.
Everyone has their own period product preferences, so you should use the products that feel right to you! You can choose to alternate between all of the different options or you can choose the one that feels best to you and stick with that. Some people choose to wear tampons throughout the day and pads at night. You may choose to wear pads while your period flow is heavier and then tampons when it is lighter or vice versa. Remember, it is all about you and what makes you comfortable. Depending on what activity you are doing, where you are at on your period, and how heavy your flow is, you may be inclined to choose between any of these options!