Ok, so I am new to cloth pads and to Menstrual cups, but since my gyno is also new to them, he asked me to write up what I have learned in the time I've worked with them. So, I wrote an essay. It is long, so I'm putting it under a cut, but I'd love your take on it. I tried to put in my opinion on use if I've used it, but I've tried to be as truthful as possible and as accurate as possible here. I haven't given it to him, so I have time to fix it if need be. I would so appreciate any thoughts, corrections, or anecdotes to add to it. I haven't used everything and have learned so much from this community (if you look at the bottom, I highly reccommend you guys for those starting out because of this), so I want to make sure I'm giving you guys credit to something that will help alot of women. Thank you!
When financial, health, and even environmental issues come about, many women look to find ways to avoid using the disposable sanitary napkins and tampons that many of us know as the “only” way to deal with our period. I’m going to try to give a “quick and dirty” rundown of some alternatives, and what I’ve learned as I’ve made the journey into reusable menstrual tools and alternatives myself. I can only tell you about what I have used, and what I have learned from some more experienced women I have met through this transition. I will give you my opinion of use as I can. On each product, please do a bit more research and learn your own needs before just jumping in. Your mileage may vary on any of these.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but I’ll tell about what I know the best.
Reasons for using alternatives:
Health issues: For some women, disposable products are simply not comfortable, or women have an allergy to some ingredient in it, such as the adhesive on pads or the cleaning products used to sanitize them. There may be other reasons, but these seem to be the most common.
Financial issues: In hard economic times, many people look for ways to save money, and many realize that this can require a slightly larger initial investment. This is true for menstrual products as well. Keep in mind when reading this and regarding prices, that in my experience, a package of pads or tampons costs $6-10 apiece, and I often had to buy one of each, per cycle, at least. I have found that I’m saving quite a bit soon after making that initial investment.
Environmental issues: Reusable products reduce waste. It’s that simple. And since products can be homemade in some cases, it can give you a chance to reuse some things that you think of to begin with.
Cloth Pads: Cloth pads are possibly one of the easiest ways to begin the transition to reusable products or alternative products. They are generally made of fleece, some type of filling (generally cotton, hemp, or bamboo batting), and a waterproof layer (locally available is Silence Cloth, a double-think, tightly woven cloth that breathes well, but doesn’t allow fluid through very easily). There are several types of pads, and as many shapes (and more, as there are creative makers) as there are of disposable pads. They can be easily made at home by even a novice sewer, and can be a good way to reuse cloth diapers and fleece receiving blankets (a favorite of parents among the cloth pad community). They are also available online through several Etsy shops (a website for people who make and sell many types of crafts, including cloth pads), and through a couple of major companies (a list will be at the end of this essay). These are a bit more standard sizes, but will still take a bit of trial and error to find the optimal pad for your flow, and the shape and style that is best for you.
Cloth pads have a couple of the same problems as disposable pads. The pad only covers a certain part of the underwear, and so one can miss the pad when moving around a lot or sleeping. If you are making your own, you can downplay this a bit by making pads that cover the areas where you tend to leak, and the commercially available cloth pads are generally made larger as to cover those areas a bit better as well. Also, if you wait too long to change, most pads will bleed through to your clothes. This can be combated by learning your flow as best you can and keeping an eye on how full the pad gets through the day.
The last thing that concerns most women about cloth pads is the cleanup and storage through the day. Most of us can’t stay home during that week, so we have to figure out how to do that. Simply rinsing the pad in warm to hot water until the water runs clear and placing in a plastic bag or a “wet bag” (a plastic lined bag to store used pads). I can tell you from experience that this does not smell, and is not as gross as you think it may be. Most of the time, people wouldn’t guess that I have a damp, used, cloth pad in my pocket. Keep in mind that if you rinse thoroughly, you are not carrying around something that is bloody, and the smell that is often associated with a menstruating woman is gone along with that. As long as you put it in the laundry or in your soak bucket when you get home (within a reasonable amount of time), mildew smell will not be a problem either.
When at home, there are a couple of ways to deal with the used pad. You can either place it in a bucket of water with baking soda and a little vinegar, or detergent (and you can add a drop or two of tea tree oil to either if you like) until wash day, or you can place the rinsed pads on top of the laundry in the hamper to air out a bit (to keep it from mildewing). If you wash every day, simply rinse and throw in with the hot setting in your washer.
There is one extra benefit to using the soak bucket method. If you use baking soda, vinegar, and/or tea tree oil (and even some detergents), you’ll have what they call “grey water” left over, and placing some pads in without rinsing adds many minerals to the water, and it’s great for watering indoor and outdoor plants. Many women who use this method only rinse the pads they’ll have to store for any amount of time, and simply drop in the pads the change while at home.
Cloth pads vary greatly in price depending on where you buy. I made mine, and spent about $30 on the first set of materials, which made enough pads that I was able to go through a complete period without having to wash (about 7 large, heavy-flow pads). To fill in, I will probably only spend about $20 per trip, as I have a lot of leftover materials. I don’t have to replace them, I generally just want new ones because I want new, pretty patterns. They are quick to make…a pad usually takes about half an hour for me from beginning to end, and can be less pre if I cut out several at a time. If you have a serger, it can be even quicker.
Reusable tampons: There are a couple of types of reusable tampons. I have not used them, but know about them through friends and the aforementioned more experienced ladies I have met. These can be bought on Etsy, and through some commercial sites (although I have only personally seen the Sea Sponge from commercial retailers). They can be knit or crocheted from cotton, hemp, or bamboo yarn, and stuffed with either extra yarn or with batting. Some people also use two or three cotton baby socks stuffed one inside the other and inserted into the vagina. The Sea sponge is a spongy material that one inserts, and then takes out, rinses, and washes before using again, similar to a reusable pad. These are not as popular as the cups in the next section among the women I know. The one site I found selling these sells two for $12-14.
Diva cup/Moon Cup/Lunnette/Lady Cup: There are other brand names for this type of cup (also called a “bell cup” due to its shape), but these are the ones I know about. This type of cup sits inside the vagina, in a similar place as the tampon, but they simply “catch” the flow. The Diva cup is made of silicone, and the Moon cup is made of latex. The Diva is generally preferred, as there is less of a chance of allergic reaction. Both are of a similar bell shape and similar size. The cup is folded and placed into the vagina, and “pops” open as it is pushed inside. It does not sit over the cervix, but down just a bit from it, just over the vaginal muscles, which hold it in place. They come in two sizes-Model 1 that is for women who have not had children under the age of 30, and the Model 2, which is for women who have had children or are over 30 (whether one has had children or not). One popular feature is that the Diva cup has measurements on it, so one can have a better idea of the flow, both regular and when it may become irregular (overly heavy or overly light). Many disorders can be diagnosed by knowing this information.
Another reason these are popular is that they can be safely worn for 12 hours at a time. The risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome is greatly decreased by correct cleaning and disinfecting of the cup when it is emptied. It can also be placed the night before the period is expected (if you are regular enough to know when to expect it) so there is less likelihood of a leak. Also, measuring the length of your vagina (from the opening to where your cervix sits) during your period over the course of a couple of periods is a good idea, as women are different and our cervix moves a bit during our cycle. There are some brands of cups that are shorter than other, and some that are more flexible.
The Diva and Moon cup website touts that there are no leaks if placed properly. I know several women who do not have leaks, and some that occasionally do. I am still new to it, so leaks sometimes happen. They aren’t very bad leaks, and are generally barely enough to stain my underwear, but I do wear a cloth pantyliner (thin pad) with it. There is a bit of a learning curve, as there are with all types of inner menstrual products, so work with it and keep trying. The Diva is $30-35 depending on the size (remember…that’s probably only 3 cycles at the cheapest of pads and tampons). Different cups are different prices, but most I have seen are also in this price range.
Instead softcup: Instead is not reusable, but it is the brand I tried of this shape of cup. It is generally a bowl shape, and sits over the cervix, behind the pubic bone. I have not found a reusable cup that fits this description, but Instead is sold as an alternative for women who are very active. It can also be worn up to 12 hours before being changed. It is generally expensive (at my store, it was about $10 for a box of 12 cups). However, it might be the option best for you. The cup is a rubbery band with a thin plastic cup coming off the bottom. There are many women who swear by Instead. I did not like it, but I think that that is because I am smaller than some women. The cup didn’t sit over my cervix and there was no way there was enough room for it to sit behind the pubic bone. I include it because it is an alternative, and because I know people who do like it a lot. Again, knowing where your cervix sits during your period is a good idea when trying this.
http://www.goddesspads.com/japeseasp.html for the reusable sea sponge tampons…there are also links to several reusable pad companies, such as Luna pads, Glad rags (VERY popular among the groups I know), and Lotus pads. Also links to Diva Cups and Keeper cups.
www.etsy.com crafter/seller site. You’ll have to search, as there are many many women who sell handmade pads and tampons here.
www.divacup.com to buy the Diva or Moon cup. They will link you to drugstore.com to actually buy, but it is a wealth of information on the use of this type of cup.
www.livejournal.com There are communities for both cloth pads, menstrual cups, and other alternatives. The ones I recommend are menstrual_cups (http://community.livejournal.com/menstrual_cups/) and cloth_pads (http://community.livejournal.com/cloth_pads/). I am a member of both, and many of the members overlap. In order to post (and in order to read some posts, since each person can list her post as “friends only”), you will need a livejournal account, and to become a member of the community. The account is free and easy to set up, so it is a good place to ask questions you are having trouble finding answers to. Also, there are several Etsy sellers that advertise their specials and sales, and buyers who find good shops, who will link to Etsy sites.
http://www.lunette.fi/en/ for the Lunette cup. Also a lot of information on the use of the cup, as well as ordering information.
www.google.com Simply searching menstrual cups, or by a brand name will usually take you to several sites. If you search just “menstrual cups”, it’s interesting to note that several of the first entries are livejournal posts to the above communities. The brand name of the cup will usually take you directly to the site for it, so it is a very good resource. You can also find tutorials on how to make cloth pads, but I’ll warn you…some of the materials are only available online (such as PUL) and your mileage may vary on each of them. I like Hillbilly Housewife, but there are several that I came across that inspired what became my own final design.
x-posted to cloth_pads (mostly lol)