Back in sixth grade, our class was separated into two groups, boys went to one classroom and girls went to another. We all got the puberty talk, complete with embarrassing question and answer session. We were given the menstruation breakdown, shown pads and were told who to ask if we needed one.
While with our friends, we giggled and rolled our eyes when the teacher turned around, because how uncool was this? Most of us had been given some version of, “The Talk” by our mothers, or at least overhead the one given to our big sisters.
How much of that information we giggled at, have we used to take care of ourselves since those painfully awkward puberty years?
If you’re most women, you’ve been using the same pads and tampons for years. What do you know about them? How are the plastics made? The cotton?
Truth is most of us don’t know, because feminine hygiene products fall under the classification of a medical device, so companies don’t have to disclose what ingredients are in their products. What we do know is that 90% of conventional menstrual pads are plastic. The plastics from pads and tampon applicators are not biodegradable, and will stay in landfills and waterways for hundreds of years. A few other ingredients we've found include poly-acrylate superabsorbents (SAPs), petroleum derivatives, synthetic ingredients, latex, and perfume.
That's not taking in to account the pesticides used in the cotton industry.
Not cool when the vagina is a mucous membrane and will absorb the chemicals around it into your body.
With the number of women fighting endocrine issues and cancer, it's time to clean up our products and reduce the toxic load on our bodies. Simple switches can reduce our exposure, and improve the experience of our monthly cycles.
Here’s a breakdown of the latest menstrual products on the market:
1) Thinkx : These are undies that are absorbent in their own right with an antibacterial layer. Simply rinse and wash them in your washing machine. They are completely reusable. You can wear them alone or pair with a menstrual cup, sponge, or tampon. Pairing them with a menstrual cup means absolutely no waste products! Thinkx comes in different cuts and fits all body types.
2) Menstrual cups: Made of medical grade silicone, cups catch the blood by circling the cervix. A small learning curve is there in the beginning as you learn to insert it. Otherwise they come in multiple sizes and shapes, to fit all individuals. They can be worn for up to 12 hours, and then you simply empty the cup into the toilet, wipe out, and reinsert. Pair a menstrual cup with a pair of Thinkx and you have a waste free combo to cover you through your cycle. For more info on cups and how to pick the one that’s right for you, check out putacupinit.com.
3) Mama cloth: These are washable, reusable menstrual pads. They secure around your underwear with snaps, and can be made with various materials, including bamboo, felt, velvet, and organic cotton. They come in all price ranges, and can be found all over the web from Amazon to Etsy. Some of my favorites are made by WAHM’s using beautiful upcycled material like Mama Scissorhands. Some large companies like Lunapads, make an excellent pad with portions of sales going to provide hygiene products for girls in underserved areas. Often menstruation gets in the way of these girls educations, and Luna pads is doing something to change that.
To clean your pads, you can store them in a wet bag, and when you have several ready to wash you can add them to a load of cloth diapers. If you aren’t cloth diapering, you can run them through a hot rinse cycle and add in a load of towels. Wash and dry as usual. A stash of 10-12 pads can last at least 2 years, keeping tons of plastic waste out of landfills (and out of your body).
4) Organic disposable options: While reusable options are awesome, it may not be a fit for every family. Plus, life happens and we need disposable options for times like vacations and busy seasons when one more load of laundry could be a deal breaker on the 'ole sanity. Some great brands using organic cotton and plant products include Natracare pads and My Lola. Natracare caught my attention especially. Their pads are completely biodegradable, using 100% organic cotton tops, wood pulp filling for absorption, and corn starch. Even the wrapper around the pad is made of corn starch! This company gets the stamp of approval from The Ethical Company Organization and Vegetarian Society. They carry pads for all flows, include postpartum.
5) Sea sponges: Available in various sizes to absorb heavy to light flows, sea sponges are a cool alternative to tampons and cups. Simply rinse them out and insert; there are no tricks to learn and they last for several months before needing to be replaced. It has come into question though if there could be an issue with bacteria, sand, and other debris since they are sea animals. Risk for toxic shock syndrome is similar to tampons, but something to look for if you’re considering using them.
Resources for when something feels off with your period:
1) Your OB-GYN or midwife: if you’re experiencing extra painful, irregular or missing periods talk to your care provider. They may request blood work and hormone panel to check thyroid, estrogen and progesterone levels. In some cases a transvaginal ultrasound may be needed to diagnose cystic ovaries and other pelvic issues.
2) WomanCode: Perfect Your Cycle, Amplify Your Fertility, Supercharge Your Sex Drive, and Become a Power Source by Alisa Vitti. This book blew my mind. Author Alisa Vitti breaks down how our endocrine system works to balance our hormones, and how we can wind up with a full hormonal breakdown. She explains the resulting issues like PCOS, endometriosis, depression, anxiety, unexplained infertility, and PMS. The best part: the book breaks down how to heal your body with food. I’m on this journey myself now, and am seriously amazed at how much better I feel. (More to come on that soon!) Alissa Vitti can be found at FLOliving.com and the My FLO app.
3) Period Repair Manual: Natural Treatment for Better Hormones and Better Periods by Lara Briden ND: Written by a naturopathic doctor, this book breaks down the hormonal balance that occurs in woman’s bodies, and what happens when it is disrupted. Facing the, “Birth control band aid” most patients were dealing with, she created natural solutions and a means of creating body literacy. It’s a great companion alongside Woman Code.
What products do you use for that time of the month? Questions? Comments?