Managing Your Period
When you have your period, you need to use something to absorb and dispose of the blood. Pads, tampons, cups, sponges . . . there are many options available and they all have their up and down sides. Many women use more than just one product depending on their activities, their flow and their comfort level. All products come with instructions and important information about use. Remember to read these instructions and follow them.
What are my choices for managing menstrual bleeding?
Whatever you choose, remember to change or empty it regularly. Leaving any product in place for a long time allows bacteria to grow and is not very clean (not to mention smelly!). It can also cause an infection. Most products come with instructions that tell you how often to change it and how to use it. Read and follow these instructions.
Pads: Pads come in many different sizes and thicknesses. You wear a pad inside your underwear. It absorbs the blood that flows out of your vagina and protects your clothes. Some women wear a pad as a backup for a tampon or other methods so they don’t have to worry about leaks. Many use pads at night.
Pads can be disposable (made of soft absorbent paper) or reusable (made of cloth). You can find disposable pads in almost any store, including the corner store! There are so many different varieties that you might want to try a few before you find what is right for you. Some women keep different kinds on hand for different situations.
You can dispose of pads by wrapping them in toilet paper and putting them in the garbage. Pads should NOT go in the toilet since they can overflow them.
When you change a cloth pad, you replace it with a new one and soak the old one in cold water before washing it. This helps remove the blood stains. You can keep a small plastic bag with you for used cloth pads.
You cannot wear a pad while swimming since pads can absorb a lot of water and make you uncomfortable.
Tampons: Tampons are made with absorbent material and are about the size and shape of a finger. You place the tampon in your vagina (some come with a cardboard applicator) and it expands and absorbs your menstrual blood. Tampons are disposable and come with important instructions about how to use them and how often to change them. Tampons can be small or large, slender or thick. From “slender” to “super”, you can pick the size that matches your flow.
You can wear a tampon when you swim (since water won’t come in contact with it inside the vagina) or when you are doing other physical activities.
When you change a tampon, you should wrap it up in toilet paper and put it in the garbage. Some people do flush tampons down the toilet, but this doesn’t always work and the last thing you want is to overflow a toilet with a used tampon.
During the day, tampons should be changed every 4 hours. This helps prevent leaking and infection. Tampons can be used overnight for up to eight hours.
With tampons, there is a small risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome [link to SOGC section on TSS] (TSS). This is a serious and life-threatening syndrome. You can reduce your chances of getting TSS by changing whatever product you use to manage menstrual bleeding regularly.
Toxic Shock Syndrome is caused by a toxin (a poisonous substance) that builds up in your system.
Signs of TSS include:
- sudden high fever
- nausea and vomiting
- generalized aches and pains
- dizziness and feeling faint (especially when rising from a lying or sitting position)
- disorientation (confusion)
- a rash like a sunburn on the palms of the hands and the soles of the feet
- extremely low blood pressure, rapid weak pulse (shock)
If you have any of these symptoms, see a doctor immediately.
Cups: A cup [link to SOGC question on cups] is a small plastic cup-shaped container. You place it in your vagina over the opening of your cervix and it collects the blood that is flowing out. It can be worn for up to 12 hours at a time, depending on your menstrual flow. When you remove the cup, you empty it (into the toilet), wash it with warm water and soap, rinse it and put it back in your vagina. It can also be sterilized by boiling it in water for 2–5 minutes. The cup has been approved by Health Canada since 2002.
There are a variety of cups available (both reusable and disposable):
- The Keeper™ is made of rubber and can be used by women who are not allergic to latex.
- The DivaCup™ is made of silicone, so it can be used even by women who are allergic to latex.
- Instead® is a disposable cup.
Sponges: A natural sea sponge can be placed into your vagina to absorb the blood. You must take it out and rinse it at least every 3 hours. And you must boil it before and at the end of your cycle for at least 5 minutes to remove any bacteria.
How do I choose?
With so many menstrual products available, how do you choose? Many women use a combination of products – tampons or a cup and pads, pads at night time, different sizes of pads and (or) tampons during different phases of their period. Some young women might want to get used to having their period, and having a chance to explore their bodies, before they try a tampon. You are the expert on your body and your comfort level, but don’t be afraid to experiment and find out what works for you. To help you decide you might want to consider:
- what your flow is like during the day and at night
- how your flow changes from the beginning through to the end of your period
- how familiar and comfortable you are with your sexual organs
- which products you think you would be most comfortable using
- how much you travel or are away from home
- how active you are (how often you swim, ride a bike, dance or engage in other physical activities)
- your willingness and comfort washing and reusing products that have menstrual blood in them
- what is convenient for your lifestyle
It is always handy to keep a supply both on hand at home, and in your purse or knapsack.
What other options are there?
Some women experience irregular or very painful periods. While only a doctor can determine the cause, some women benefit from using some form of hormonal birth control (which controls and regulates the hormones that control your menstrual cycle) to make their periods more regular, less intense, and/or less frequent.. Talk to your doctor or health-care professional to find out if this option might work for you.