Today women have more menstrual protection choices than ever from tampons to thong pads and reusable cups that fit over the cervix. How do you know which product is right for your period?
The first step in deciding which menstrual hygiene product is the best choice for your period is knowing yourself and your period. Periods can vary from woman to woman, as well as from onset of menstruation to menopause; they can be lighter, heavier, longer, or shorter and still be considered normal.
What defines normal menstruation?
While most menstrual cycles are between 28 and 30 days long, periods that come anywhere from 21 to 35 days apart are considered normal in most situations by your clinician.
The amount of menstrual fluid lost during your period averages from 4 to 12 teaspoons for the majority of women; however there are many variations of normal among women.
Most periods last from 3 to 5 days, however it's not abnormal for a period to last for 7 days.
Always speak to your clinician if you are unsure whether your period is normal.
Picking Your Period Protection
Fortunately we have several choices in sanitary protection products today. Some woman may find that one product is right for them, while others may decide to use different products depending on their flow and lifestyle.
Commercial menstrual cups have been around since the 1930's according to the Museum of Menstruation. An unusual and painful-looking version of a menstrual cup was patented 1867, but it is know clear whether it was ever manufactured. Today both reusable and disposable menstrual cups are available for women.
The Keeper is a reusable menstrual cup currently on the market. It is made of natural rubber and can be used for up to ten years. It's a great choice for women who are concerned about the affect the environment may have on disposable types of period protection products. The Keeper holds up to one ounce of menstrual fluid and is simply washed out each time it is full and reinserted, or saved for your next period. The Keeper currently sells for $35 US which can equal a significant savings overtime. Picture of the Keeper
The first and only disposable menstrual cup currently on the market is the The INSTEAD SoftCup. It is made from a nonabsorbent, non irritating thermoplastic material that conforms to your shape to prevent leakage. Instead can be worn for up to 12 hours. My personal experience: Instead is unbelievably comfortable, I could almost forget I was on my period. Although the company claims it is easy to insert and remove, I found removal could be difficult and messy--otherwise I thought it was a wonderful product. Instead is available on their website, as well as from stores throughout the U.S. and Canada.
Sanitary protection pads have been around in one form or another for as long as women have had periods. Until 1921, when Kotex pads were introduced on the market, women often used cotton rags or knitted, washable menstrual pads like these 19th Century Norwegian menstrual pads on display at the Museum of Menstruation.
The advent of disposable menstrual pads did not entirely end the use of washable pads. In the early days of disposable pads, although they were inexpensive for some women, many other women could not afford such luxury and continued using various cotton materials. The influence of environmental awareness over the last 30 years has renewed the interest in reusable, washable menstrual pads. A search on any search engine for "reusable menstrual pads" will return a long list of vendors selling these products. Or if you prefer, you can make your own reusable menstrual pad.
Menstrual pads are available in a wide variety of sizes, shapes, and brands. There are maxi pads for heavy days, and mini pads for light days. Some pads are thick and some are thin. Some even conform to the style of panties you wear. And some have "wings" that fit over your panties to hold them in place. Anyone who's every given birth probably can't forget the largest pads--the maternity pads. A visit to your local grocery, drug, or discount store will provide you with a wide variety of brands and prices of disposable menstrual pads to choose from.
Tampons entered the American market in the late 1920's or 30's, according to the Museum of Menstruation. However tampon-like materials have been used by women probably for thousands of years. Many of the first commercial tampons did not have an applicator, and one did not have a string. Tampax was the first tampon to have an applicator in 1936.
Today women have a wide choice of brands of tampons available. Some have cardboard applicators, some plastic, and others no applicator. Some tampons contain deodorants to help reduce menstrual odors. There is much controversy about the safety of tampons and their possible connection to women's health conditions such as endometriosis and toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Women who enjoy the convenience of tampons but who are concerned about possible health risks can find all natural, organic, cotton tampons on several websites, as well as at your local organic market.
Tampon Absorbency Ratings
What all currently available tampons have in common is an absorbency rating system to help you determine which tampon is right for your flow. Some companies sell boxes of tampons with various sizes in one box so that you can use the smaller ones on your lighter days and the more absorbent tampons on your heaviest days.
Junior:The junior tampon will hold up to 6 grams of menstrual fluid.
Regular: Regular absorbency tampons hold between 6 and 9 grams of menstrual fluid.
Super:These super tampons have an absorbency rating of 9 to 12 grams of menstrual fluid.
Super plus:Super plus tampons are for your heaviest days and absorb from 12 to 15 grams of menstrual fluid.
1 gram of menstrual fluid equals about 1/4 teaspoon.
Tampons should be changed every 4 to 6 hours. If your tampon doesn't need changing in 4 to 6 hours, you are using a tampon with too high an absorbency rating and should switch to a lower absorbency tampon. Other signs you are using a tampon that is too absorbent include:
Tampon shredding upon removal.
Properly inserted tampons are comfortable to wear and do not cause pain or other irritation. You should not be able to feel your tampon when it is inserted correctly. If you can feel your tampon in your vagina then you will need to reinsert it deeper. Tampons are a great choice for women who are physically active. They do not interfere with exercise or swimming. You should not have an odor when you are wearing a tampon-- this could be a sign of infection. An odor can also be a sign that you have forgotten to remove a tampon. Tampons can be safely used by women and girls of all ages. If your daughter feels comfortable using tampons, she can use them beginning with her first periods.
Anytime you experience an unusual vaginal odor consult your clinician.
Not A Pad, Not A Tampon
Another option for women during very light days, or for women experiencing vaginal discharge or urine leakage is the nSync miniform. The miniform is not a pad or a tampon. It is designed to fit comfortably between the vaginal lips (the labia). It is currently available in stores in the Pacific Northwest and the Rocky Mountain states, or can be ordered by calling 1-888-8INSYNC. Reusable, washable menstrual sponges have been used for thousands of years. Today a silk sponge is available called Sea Pearls. The Museum of Menstruation recommends that sponges be boiled for 5 to 10 minutes to kill any bacteria that may survive regular washing.