Aunt Flo Cramping Your (sustainable) Style? Reusable Menstrual Products with Sarah

About Me – I’m Sarah and I am the coordinator at Greening the Rubble, a mother to my darling two year old daughter and a passionate reusable menstrual products advocate. I have written a few articles, lead a number of public workshops and talks, and ran a short lived business selling them. I currently run a Facebook group to support users in finding the right product/s for them, share their passions and hints and tips. You can find it here.


Welcome to the period post! All readers are most welcome. Guys, it is helpful to know what is happening and the choices women can make with reusables. If you are not quite there yet, you may find something they can start with or information they can pass on to a friend. And periods were crucial in the creation of all of us, so let’s not be shy! Hopefully this article will give you enough information to get started. If not, you are always welcome to join the NZ Lady Cloth (and Companions) discussion page. It is a safe space to crowdsource any questions or concerns and you are always welcome to PM an admin to post anonymously.

Why reusables?

  • The number often quoted is that the ‘average’ woman uses around 10,000 pads/tampons over her reproductive life. They take a long time to break down, and are, quite frankly, pretty gross for anyone sorting through rubbish. But, like most environmental options, reusables have a number of other advantages!
  • They are more fun! Whether you want your favourite colour on your pad or cup or maybe a galaxy themed ‘the whole world in your pants’ pad or a super hero pad to make you feel super or just funky pads that hide stains, there are a number of options for you.
  • They save money. This is another pickle for environmental choices: they will often save you money in the long run, but getting set up in the short term can be expensive. Luckily, there are a HUGE range of prices and styles for you to choose from. Nappy Needs has a $10 cup. It won’t last as long and some people find the join uncomfortable, but if you can get a couple of months out of it, you will have saved money. They also have a range of liners and pads from $2.50. Even choosing some of the fancier, top of the range pads will save you money in the mid term and save you a lot in the long term. I’ve seen the term of 6-10 months (depending on a few things) being the time frame you pay back your investment, with most items lasting 7-10 years.
  • They lower the risk of infection, and are rumored to help with painful periods (although not much scientific research has been done on this). Cups are generally made from medical grade silicone or latex and do not absorb blood, or anything else, such as your vagina’s natural defense fluid. TSS is extremely rare with cup use. There are no bleaches or chemical products left over from processing to irritate your vagina and cause infections such as thrush. Cloth pads are also far less chemically processed that cotton tampons. If you are particularly concerned about the products used to treat fabrics, a few washes before use wash it all away (and help get absorbtion up!).
  • They are not nearly as messy as perceived! Cups can be changed in the shower and pads can be put straight in a soaking bucket if you really don’t want to touch any blood. Even if you change your cup/pad while out and about, there is not much a quick toilet paper wipe and hand wash doesn’t clean up.
  • You become much more aware of your body and your cycle, especially with the use of a cup. You can easily see how much blood you are losing, the colour and consistency. It can help you learn about how your cervix changes throughout your cycle and even prompt you to find it. You will learn a little more about your beautiful, special vagina. Of course, if you’re like, “Dude, time out, I just want to save the planet, none of this self love, hippie crap”, no worries, read the above point on how to dispose of blood with as little interaction as possible and we are all happy.

So what are they and what do I do with them?

Let’s start with Cloth Pads

snails-500x500

Using cloth pads should hopefully be common sense – put the pad in your panties, snap it in and away you go. Do check when you buy it which side goes against your skin and which one against your underwear. Some are beautifully made and gorgeous on both sides, so it can be confusing! When it is time to change your pads, it’s good to give them a good rinse, then throw them in your container with some cold water for a soak, or in your wetbag. Soaking is not needed, but if you don’t soak, a pre-rinse before washing is recommended.

When it is time to wash, throw them in the washing machine and add enough other laundry to get good agitation for the water level. Wash with your detergent of choice, one with enzymes and enough for a ‘soiled’ load is generally recommended. Avoid any with built in fabric softeners – these can reduce absorbency. If you have a child and are cloth diapering, you can wash them all together, using your method of choice. Sun is the best stain remover, so once your period is finished, leaving them for a few days on the line can help reduce those stains A LOT. Stain removers can be used too, but do check they are safe. It is also important to remember that stains don’t stop the pads from working, so don’t stress if the odd one pops up. Minky stains less than cotton and patterned pads will show less discolouration.

How many do I need?

My recommended starting point is 3 heavy, 5-7 regular, and 2-4 liners, obviously dependent on your cycle! I would recommend washing every day or two and drying overnight (in a water cupboard is great!) for an average 5 day cycle. This amount would last most of your cycle anyway, but washing gets you a few back ups. If your cycle is reasonably heavy, you might want to wash after your first day to get them going. You can buy them all at once, but there is a lot of variation in materials and styles, so some people find it useful to start small and figure out what they like.

My standard suggestion is getting five regular pads from different vendors and/or in different styles and toppers. Some people really prefer quilting cotton tops, while others prefer the softness of minky or cotton suede. There are a number of other options too. It is also worth considering if you bleed to the back. Some styles are designed for this. What sort of underwear do you wear? Some designs are narrower or wider to allow for it.

When it comes down to it though, just get started! If it is all too confusing (“how am I supposed to know if I bleed to the back?!! It’s not something I pay attention too!”), find a vendor (listed below) you like and buy some. While I prefer some pads over others in my ‘stash’, they all do the job perfectly well.

When you first receive your pads, throw them in the wash with your laundry to increase absorption capacity and remove any potential chemicals left over from the fabric/pad making.

Accessories

  • A wet/dry bag is essential if you need to change your pad while you are out and about.
  • A bucket/container/wetbag for used storage or soaking. If you travel a bit, get a decent watertight sealed container.
  • Something to store them in. Anything will do – a tote bag, drawer, box, treasure chest, just something that keeps them together.

Cups

image9Cups, the true underdog of the menstrual product community! I’ve started #menstrualcup4lyf in our Facebook group to show the transition people go through of “OMG you put what where? Why?” to “I can see why you would do that, but it’s not for me” to “I’m just going to buy some cloth pads because disposables are starting to gross me out” to “I just bought a cup” to “Ugh, how do I use it? I’m not sure I’ve got it in properly” to “OMG you all need to use this now, it has changed my life!” Cups tip a lot of what you know about menstrual products on it’s head. You can leave them in for 12 hours, you can do a LOT with them, they can reduce your pain. You can get glow in the dark ones, sparkly ones, large capacity ones and multiple colour options. If you are super regular, you can even insert them at the start of the day, before your period starts so you don’t have to worry about remembering it later on.

What do I need?

You only need one cup to get started, or ever, really. Some people end up with two (or more) but one will easily met all your menstrual needs. Decent branded ones should last around 10 years, although some of them are designed to have a slightly shorter life span. The hard bit can be picking which one. It really doesn’t need to be! I always recommend you buy from a reputable New Zealand vendor and a well known brand. Other factors to consider are price and materials (mostly important if you have a latex allergy).

For sizing, the general advice is if you are under 30 and have not had children vaginally, then you will go for the smaller option (most brands have two sizes, if they have more, use the description to get the size equivalent). If you are over 30 OR have had a child vaginally then get the larger of the two sizes. This is a rough guide but this seems to be the best way to determine. If you want more information, check out this chart at Environmenstruals. If you need help, join the NZ Lady Cloth and Companions group and crowdsource your cup options.

To insert, you will need to choose a fold in order to make it a shape that easily fits in your vaginal entrance. The most popular folds are the C fold or the punch down fold, and here is a good link for viewing the different folds. Dirty Diaper Laundry also has a great video on how to insert it (using a vagina alternative, there is no R18 viewing, but it is still not what I’d consider ‘work suitable,’ unless you work where you discuss menstruation options…or you would like to start).

It can take a few tries before you know the right place you need it to be for you. Once you insert it, it is a good idea to do a slight rotate to make sure it is sealed. Then you can go about your business. The great thing about cups is that you can swim in them, do yoga, exercise and have a lot more movement, as they move with you. When you think it is full, remove it, tip it into the loo and give it a wipe or a rinse and reinsert. Wait, reinsert with only a quick toilet paper wipe? Yes! As they do not absorb anything, you do not have sterilize it in between uses. I like to give it a thorough wash in the shower each morning, but that is not necessary.

Removal

So, how to remove it? Reach in and grab the base of the cup. If you can’t quite reach it, use the stem to pull it down slightly. BEFORE you pull it out, ‘break the seal’ of the cup by pushing your figure against the rim/side of the cup. Insertion and removal will vary from person to person as all of our vaginas are special, unique snowflakes. Don’t worry if you do it different from the instructions you read on the internet. As long as it works for you! (Just make sure you break the seal somehow).

If you find that the stem is uncomfortable while you are wearing it, you can remove it. I recommend cutting a little bit at a time as I NEED mine (see below), but most people in our Facebook group have just lopped the whole thing off with no issues. However, watch for the base of the cup – you don’t want to weaken it or make a hole there.

If you go to remove it and can’t find it, don’t stress! Those kegels you have been doing are about to pay off. If you haven’t done them, well you are about to start. Just ‘bear down’  like you are doing a poo, but in your vagina. You will soon be able to feel it and can follow the instructions as above. This happened to me the first time I used a cup, in pre-smartphone days. So I was stuck in a mall toilet cubicle, at Christmastime, on a work break, with a cup in an undisclosed location, with an undisclosed amount of blood in it. I eventually got it out, emptied it, reinserted it and continued on with my shift. I learnt a lot about myself in those ten minutes and realised (without getting too self-lovey on you) that reusable menstrual products have a side benefit of making us more aware and more comfortable with our bodies. And that, my friends, is important.

As you are taking the full cup out of the vaginal entrance, you will need to be a bit careful to avoid spillage. I highly recommend the first few months doing it over a toilet or in the shower until you get used to the angle you need. At the end of your cycle, clean thoroughly and sterilize using your method of choice and pop it away for next time.

Accessories

  • A few liners/regular pads are always great. I still always use a cloth liner pad with my cup, but some people only need them when starting out and learning when to change it.
  • Cloth pads for overnight if you do not want to use it over night (you can leave it in for 12 hours, so it is personal preference rather than a safety issue). 2-3 heavy pads would suit most people, washing daily to allow for drying time if you need more nights that the amount of pads you have.
  • Storage for between cycles.
  • It’s great to have a small bag (most cups come with one) that you can use to have in your bag when you know your period is due. Or all the time if you aren’t that on to it remembering when your period is next coming (“oh you’re here today, period, I thought you just came last week? It was four weeks ago? Oh, ok welcome, luckily I was prepared!”).
  • A way to clean it after your period is finished. There is a huge variation in how people clean them, you can get special cup cleaner, you can use baking soda or vinegar, you can use soap, you can boil it. If you are travelling, leaving it soaking in a Milton tablet solution for 24 hours can be recommended. Some of these can degrade the cup faster, so do check the manufacturer’s recommendations and use your common sense.

Troubleshooting

Smells

It happens, we are talking about blood here, which starts to break down very quickly in the presence of oxygen. So how to avoid smells? Keep used pads in a covered container. If soaking, change the water regularly, I recommend twice a day or whenever you add a new pad. A few drops of an antimicrobial essential oil such as tea tree or eucalyptus can help, as can a dash of white vinegar. Plenty of time in the sun and rain is also great for smells.

For cups, changing them at least every 12 hours is important. While they are medical grade silicone that is not absorbent, they can start to smell if not changed regularly. In between cycles, let it get some fresh air for a couple of days or I would add a tablespoon or two of baking soda to the storage bag. Some people choose not to use them overnight or have an overnight cup for this reason.

Leaks

Leaks can happen! However, both cups and pads are more absorbent than their disposable cousins, so it is generally a fit issue or not knowing when to change. If leaking is a concern, then change as regularly as you changed disposables as a starting point, you can then extend the use as you become more comfortable with what they can hold. If your cup is leaking and not full, join the Facebook group or ask Dr Google to problem solve the best fit. If you are finding your pads are moving or bunching, my top secret is to wear a second pair of underwear over top of my others to ‘hold’ everything in place. It seems to work pretty well!

Any others? Join the Facebook group and ask away.


Vendors

Mama Cloth  www.mamacloth.co.nz  www.facebook.com/mamaclothnz  – Sells Skchoon cups and a range of pads

EnvironMenstruals www.environmenstruals.co.nzhttps://www.facebook.com/EnvironMenstruals – Sells a range of both cups and pads.

Tinker and Turtle https://www.facebook.com/TinkerandTurtle – Sells her homemade pads.

Whatakrakka Fancy Pads https://www.Facebook.com/whatakrakkafancypads – Sells her homemade pads

Bitti Bums www.bittibums.co.nz www.facebook.com/bittibums – Sells Charlie Banana pads

Neon Dreaming www.facebook.com/neondreaming – Sells and makes custom cloth pads

Nappy NeedZ www.nappyneedz.co.nz – Sells low cost cups and pads

Ecomoon www.ecomoon.co.nz. https://www.facebook.com/EcomoonBoutique – Sells cups and pads

Resources

Women’s Environmental Network ‘Seeing Red’ report http://www.wen.org.uk/2012/seeing-red-sanitary-protection-and-the-environment/

Environmenstruals – a New Zealand based retailer with lots of information about general cups and pads http://www.environmenstruals.co.nz/

6 thoughts on “Aunt Flo Cramping Your (sustainable) Style? Reusable Menstrual Products with Sarah

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