When I asked my followers on Instagram to summarise how periods make them feel, there was no holding back. Emotions were split between a period making you feel “connected to life’s flow”, “powerful, sensitive and blessed” to “like being carved out with a rusty spoon”, “chaotic”, “cross” and “messy.”
One thing’s for sure: our menstrual cycles evoke strong feelings in us and deserve love, attention and respect. Periods are a powerful part of being alive – indeed, we purchase nearly 2.5 billion period products each year in the UK alone. Which is why they’re such a great starting point when it comes to making positive, plastic-free changes in our lives (tampons contain 5 per cent plastic, period pads contain 90 per cent plastic.) Making one simple switch and ditching disposable sanitary products saves up to 11,000 non degradable sanitary products going to landfill and the oceans. And don’t even get me started on those women who are flushing products down the toilet.
It’s world – changing stuff, and not just on an environmental level: switching to reusable sanitary products is better for you too, as a woman. There is no legal requirement for manufacturers to list materials on the packaging of period products so many are laden with chemicals. That sweet smell? Just chemicals going straight on to your vagina. Finally, making the switch to a reusable sanitary item is a money saver too. As with so many reusable products, the initial financial outlay might seem a little hefty, but it more than makes up for itself over time. Plus, gone are the days off panicking when my period comes and dashing to the corner shop – I just open my cupboard, and everything I need is there.
There are three main types of reusable period products: menstrual cups, washable period pads and reusable period underwear. Menstrual cups are made of silicone, which is safe for the body, and inserted into the vagina to collect blood internally. Washable pads are available in a variety of colours, shapes and designs for comfort and choice. Reusable period underwear can, depending on the flow, replace pads, liners, and tampons, or be worn with tampons and cups for extra protection.
Every person and every period is unique so it’s good to know your flow and what works best. Below I’ve listed the three methods I love and use every month (or so!) of my life. If you’re new to any of them, I’d advise trying them at home first, where you’re most comfortable to test how each method works for your flow.
Option 1: Menstrual Cup (£17.95)
I use this this menstrual cup which is made from 100% certified Fair Trade natural latex from Sri Lanka – which is a renewable material, free of plastic, silicone, BPA, PVC, phthalates or bleach. It’s also cruelty free and fairtrade (the first ever!) and the emissions released by the production of each Period Cup is neutralized through reforestation projects. The cup itself can be re-used for up to 2 years and works by collecting your blood throughout your cycle. It’s worth noting too that the cup can retain more than 3 times the amount of menstrual fluid than a regular tampon, and I wear mine for 12 hours without removing and don’t feel a thing. And yes you can pee and poop with it in. It’s flippin’ brilliant!
Here’s a little about how they work:
–When my period starts (it’s irregular so can come at any time in a 2 week period but fortunately it starts light), I sterilise the cup to thoroughly clean it by boiling it in a pan of water for about 10 minutes, making sure it doesn’t touch the edges of the pan. Make sure all the tiny holes in the rim are unblocked – these are what make the cup easier to remove
–To insert, my main piece of advice is to do so sitting on the toilet and with the cup slightly wet and slippery – this makes it tonnes easier. After a shower, when you’re cleanest and wettest, is an ideal time. Then I just wash my hands, fold it (I use the C type of fold but there a numerous kinds of fold so find out which works best for you), breathe slowly and insert. The end pokes out a little bit – just enough to be able to take it out again – but not so much that you feel it. If the baubles of the stem do cause any discomfort then you can shorten it by cutting a few of them off – though I personally haven’t needed to do this. Start by removing just one bauble – you don’t want to accidentally shorten it too much. In order to check it’s correctly inserted, run your finger around the cup to make sure it is unfolded or try a very gentle pull on the stem – if you feel a slight resistance, then the cup is correctly inserted. Yay!
-To remove, again I do this sitting on the toilet. To remove the cup you need to break the seal against your vaginal wall that keeps it in place. And again – remember to breathe! Remove it slowly, gently twisting and lowering it and keeping it upright. Hold on to the top lip of the cup and don’t let it ping out and don’t pull on the stem – ouch! Whilst still sitting on the toilet, with the cup between my legs, I tip the contents in to the toilet and then rinse the cup in the sink, ready to re-insert. Obviously this works best when you’re alone in a toilet cubicle with a sink (and ideally without any children hanging off you or people watching) but honestly, I’d be comfortable doing this with colleagues in a workplace too, though I understand this is very personal. I think the main thing is that the environment you’re washing the cup in is fairly clean. Remember: the blood goes down the toilet (or here, if you fancy that) not in the sink. That’s just for light rinsing. You can wear the cup day and night and you don’t have to remove it to go to the toilet. You’ll need to empty it every 4- 12 hours, though this really depends how heavy or light your period flow is / at what stage of your cycle you are in.
–When my period ends, I make sure to sterilise it again using the same method as above and store it away in the nifty little cloth bag it comes in ready for next time. Oh, and if you have a contraceptive coil inserted, please seek advice from your GP before using a mooncup. P.S I’d never even worn a tampon before trying the cup!
Option 2: Washable pad (£7 for one, £14 for a starter pack)
If you’re already using washable nappies as a mother, then using cloth sanitary towels is seriously a no brainer, especially when we consider that disposable sanitary pads are the worst offenders of all when it comes to the environment – that plastic part takes around 800 years (ie. never!) to decompose. I’ve tried a few different brands but my current fave include these pads from Etsy made my mega mum of four (they are ridiculously soft), these by Mama Designs Vicki which I love for being so slim fit and the Bloom and Nora ones which just do the trick really well, though I do find them quite bulky and they can slip out of place a little.
Cloth pads sit the same as any disposable pad, are super comfy and work by absorbing your blood with several different thickness options depending on how heavy your flow is.
They’re seriously beautiful and have a patterned jersey side which sits next to your body, a fleece base and a popper fastener underneath which sits under your knickers. Once used, I rinse it afterwards with cold water and fold it inwards into a neat little pouch until I chuck it in the wash (I just throw it in with the normal nappy load and as usual, I just steer clear of bleach and fabric softener). Maybe it’s the cute patterns, but these feel so nourishing and womanly to wear – I usually wear them at the end of my cycle when it’s a little lighter.
Option 3: Reusable Period Underwear (From £24)
Period pants are a total game changer. I love mine which hold up to 2 tampons’ worth and look and feel like regular underwear. They work by having a 4 layer technology designed to avoid any leaks and smells and allow for softness, breathability and dryness. Depending on your flow (light, medium, heavy), these pants can fully replace any normal disposable sanitary product or they can be worn with a cup for extra protection. I always reach for mine as soon as I come on – they just give me a hug down there, if you know what I mean as they’re just really cosy and comforting. They’re basically like regular underwear, but so much better and are totally washable, and just like with the pads, I rinse them and wash with the rest of my laundry. They also actually feel quite luxe and even make me feel a little bit sexy when on – which I dig.
If you’re not yet ready to make the switch into reusables, please consider something organic. Ohne (starts at £5.80 per box) are a great option for someone wanting to stick with something a little more mainstream but know that whatever is going into their vagina is 100% organic cotton, toxin and chemical free. Light or heavy, regular or irregular, applicator or without, Ohne will deliver a custom box through your letterbox in time for your period (and cover the shopping costs and tampon tax) and the company are also doing great things in the health education arena: they’re partnering with the School Club Zambia to help build new toilet blocks in rural Zambia and educate schoolgirls around menstruation. Oh and their cardboard applicators are biodegradable, too.
Which kind of sanitary items do you use? What are your thoughts on the ones I’ve talked about? Ready to make the switch? Oh, and if you want to be even more eco-friendly, check this idea out for what do with the actual blood…