It may sound a little strange, but making the switch from conventional tampons and pads to a reusable menstrual cup has been one of the best things I have ever done for my hormonal health...
And I have tried A LOT of stuff over the years.
Reading this, you either have no idea what the heck a period cup even is, OR you have heard about them, but you've been too scared to try one.
Don't worry girl, after reading this blog post you will feel informed, confident (and maybe even a little excited) to try one, next time Aunt Flo makes an appearance.
The average woman menstruates from age 13 until age 51, with her period lasting from three to seven days. That equals 456 periods, which over 38 years amounts to roughly 6.25 years (or 2,280 days) of your life spent bleeding.
Obviously this is a little different for everyone, depending if you are on a certain type of hormonal birth control, are dealing with a hormonal condition and/or regularly experience long, heavy bleeds.
The Problem with Conventional Sanitary Products...
Feminine hygiene products are a necessity for women, there's no doubt about that.
Research has revealed that British women spend as much as £18,450 on their periods over the course of their lifetime. A large percentage of the money goes of essential sanitary items and pain relief for cramps, while many of us also buy extra chocolate and new underwear because of our periods.
I need to let you know that symptoms such as pain, PMS and heavy bleeding are common, but they are NOT NORMAL. They are actually messages from your body that something is 'out of whack' and needs addressing.
But damn, sanitary products are so expensive these days! One of the reasons is because sanitary products are subject to a 5% tax, due to the fact they are classified as 'non-essential', 'luxury' items. (Hmm...I wonder if a man came up with this statement?)
A typical menstrual cup can last around 10 years if well cared for! The average cost is around £15-£25 in the UK.
Imagine all the money you will save if you switched from using disposable sanitary products AND worked on rebalancing your hormones, so that you didn't need to buy painkillers and take time off work each month!
In this survey, 24% of the women used only tampons, 31% used only sanitary towels, 39% used both tampons and sanitary towels, and only 6% used a menstrual cup.
Hopefully, these 3 reasons will encourage more women to give period cups a try!...
#1 Happier Hormones
Conventional tampons are typically manufactured using a blend of synthetic rayon and cotton because it’s cheaper to produce than cotton alone, and it has a higher capacity for absorbing liquid. Rayon is a cellulose fibre made from wood pulp and it has been associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS), which is a systemic, and potentially deadly, illness caused by bacteria associated with the use of tampons.
Conventional tampons and sanitary pads are also bleached to give them that fresh, 'clean' look. Although this process is technically 'chlorine free', dioxins (dangerous environmental toxins) are produced as a by-product and are released into the environment (and our vaginas!). Although newer formulations contain much less dioxin than products a few decades ago, many brands tested do still contain trace amounts.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), dioxin exposure causes cancer in lab animals and poses a high risk to humans as well. The World Health Organisation (WHO) states that dioxins are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and also cause cancer. Dioxin exposure can also be connected to conditions like PCOS, endometriosis and infertility.
I don't know about you, but this doesn't sound like something I want to be exposed to if I can help it.
Conventionally grown cotton is one of the most heavily sprayed crops and each year a whopping $2 billion is spent on pesticides to spray it! So many women are now aware of the benefits of organic food and are making the switch to non-toxic beauty products, but often overlook what they are using during their monthly period.
You know that distinct, perfumed smell that new tampons and pads tend to have? That tends to be a toxic combination of odour neutralisers and artificial fragrances. Ingredients that you don't want to be putting INSIDE (or even in close proximity of) your highly vascular and sensitive vagina.
Many of my clients have seen improvements in their hormonal health and symptoms such as menstrual cramps, yeast infections and U.T.I's after swapping from conventional tampons or pads to a period cup! (That being said, they may not work for everyone - see FAQ's at the end of this post)
#2 Environmentally Friendly
Did you know that it takes a tampon longer to degrade than the lifespan of the women who wears it and that the average woman will use over 11,000 disposable, one-time-use menstrual products in her reproductive lifetime?
There is no doubt that society will have to make some MAJOR changes over the next few years to reduce climate change and save the planet. Making the simple shift from using disposable sanitary products, to a reusable menstrual cup, will help to make such a positive impact.
Some menstrual pads are believed to contain up to 90% plastic, which is equivalent to four supermarket bags! It's not just a problem that they contain plastic (which is a known endocrine disrupting chemical) but it's also the volume at which they are being mass produced and disposed, of that is concerning. Especially as they can take over 500 years to decompose.
Once they have been disposed of, the chemicals used in conventional sanitary products ultimately get soaked up by the earth and are released as pollution into groundwater and air.
In 2010, a UK beach clean found an average of 23 sanitary pads and 9 tampon applicators per kilometre of British coastline. Two billion period products are flushed down the toilet a year, which is responsible for 75% of all cases of blocked drains, resulting in removal costs of around £14 billion each year.
I can think of much better uses for money like that!
#3 Period tracking
Your period is your monthly report card. When we use tampons and pads we don't really get chance to analyse the look and quality of the blood we have expelled, and this can tell us a lot about our current health! In fact, in 2015 the American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists declared the period as a woman's 5th vital sign, alongside pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate, and blood pressure!
If you don't already, pay attention to your period! It's not dirty, 'gross' or something to be ashamed of. It can teach you so much about your overall health and what works for your body.
When using a period cup, you get the chance to track the QUALITY of the blood (is it dark, light, clotted etc), but also the AMOUNT of blood lost. This is a great habit for all women to start implementing, but especially women dealing with health issues such as anaemia, endometriosis, infertility and oestrogen dominance.
More women are now recognising the importance of hormonal health and are taking a more holistic approach in their lifestyle. Alongside fertility awareness methods, BBT charting and period tracking, paying attention to the quality of your monthly bleed can help you to become more connected to your body and feminine wisdom.
Frequently Asked Questions...
- Tips for using a menstrual cup for the first time?
The key here is to RELAX, because it's going to make the whole process easier. I recommend that you check out this article, as it gives you detailed, step by step instructions on how to insert a menstrual cup. I recommend giving yourself 1-3 cycles of using one, before you decide whether it works for you or not.
WikiHOW - Using a Menstrual Cup
- What can go wrong?
Many women fear that it's going to look like a scene from a horror movie when they first use a period cup. There will likely be some leakage and discomfort on the first couple of attempts, so just make sure that you are home and put on a pad as 'back up' protection. If you feel discomfort after inserting your menstrual cup, it could be sitting at the wrong angle or may not have opened up properly inside of the vaginal canal. Just remove it and try reinserting, following the instructions linked above.
- Which brand do you recommend?
I personally use a Mooncup with great success, however other UK brands include the Diva Cup, Intimina, OrganiCup and Lunette. There are all different shapes and styles of cup too, so do your research and try different brands if one doesn't work for you. Most of them come in 2 different sizes depending on whether you have had children vaginally or not.
- What are menstrual cups made of?
I recommend choosing cups that are made from medical grade silicone, NOT PLASTIC! Because of this, most brands will last around 10 years if they are well cared for. Obviously, the most 'non toxic' option would be to not use any period products at all, but I think the menstrual cup is the next best option we have.
- How often do you need to empty it?
This depends on how heavy your flow is. For me personally, I have a 'regular flow' and only need to empty my cup once every 12 hours! Most cups hold around 3 times as much blood as a super absorbent tampon.
- How do you clean it?
During my period, I just empty out the blood down the toilet, then rinse out with warm water before reinserting. At the end of my cycle I boil my cup in a pan of filtered water for 5-10 minutes to make sure that any bacteria has been destroyed. I then let it dry and keep it in a little bag that it came with.
- What shall I do if I need to empty it when out or at work?
This can put a lot of women off, but sometimes you can time it so that you can just empty it when you get back home. If not, I recommend that you take a small bottle of water into the toilet cubicle with you, empty your cup into the toilet bowl, rinse with a small amount of water and re-insert. Or just wipe the cup with toilet paper and re-insert.
- Is it safe to sleep and workout in?
- Does it hurt?
It may be a little strange or uncomfortable at first, similar to the first time you inserted a tampon. Some women with severe endometriosis, UTI's, thrush or fibroids may not tolerate menstrual cups at all, likely due to the inflamed tissue inside or around the vagina.
- What are some other non-toxic alternatives?
If menstrual cups just don't work for you, I recommend using organic, unscented tampons and/or pads. Try to purchase tampons without plastic applicators if possible and for the environmental aspect consider reusable cloth sanitary pads or period underwear (like ModiBodi, THINX & WUKA)
Are you a period cup convert? Let me know below!