Ah, Aunt Flow, The Woman Flu, Code Red, The Crimson Wave, “That” Time of the Month, My Cycle, The Painters are Coming this Week, Moon Cycle, and my personal favorite: Shark Week. No matter what you call it, your menstrual period is a monthly reminder that your body is cleaning house and keeping your reproductive system healthy. However, most women tend to portray Shark Week as a horrifying mess filled with pain and mood swings scary enough to keep anyone out of the water, so to speak. You’d think that aside from using tampons, your period couldn’t possibly get any easier or more comfortable, but you would be wrong.
When I was first introduced to the idea of a menstrual cup and cloth pads, I thought my cousin had lost her mind and surely must also be replacing their plumbing with composting toilets or knitting a burka with drain hair. However, after getting sucked into the world of cloth diapers and embracing the power of my washing machine, I found that cloth pads and a menstrual cup changed my period in ways I never would have imagined:
1. I have little to no cramping now. (What?!) It’s true! After switching to a Diva cup and cloth pads, I no longer feel the need to curl into fetal position and curse my body every month. Many of the chemicals found in disposable menstrual products (things like fragrances, odor neutralizers, and chlorine dioxide-used to bleach the products white) are linked to hormone disruption, which in turn causes inflammation in your cervix, which translates to “MY GOD, WHY!?” kind of cramps by those who use them or allergic reactions for some. BONUS: Some women say their period is MUCH shorter since switching to cloth/cup!
2. I don’t have to run to the bathroom every hour and a half because I fear revealing to the world the contents of my uterus. Reusable menstrual cups can be used for up to 12 hours at a time with no risk of toxic shock syndrome because they don’t contain the chemicals that cause TSS. Many cloth pads are more absorbent than disposable pads, and far more breathable making them comfortable for a longer period of time. You simply change them when you need to, same as a regular pad.
3. I feel clean and comfortable all week long. Cloth is breathable and absorbent while wicking away moisture without putting a plastic sheet between me and my lady bits. There’s no chafing or irritation and no fear of ripping out hair when a wing goes astray. I don’t want to exaggerate too much, but wearing a cloth pad is kind of like straddling a cloud compared to mounting a raincoat. Which would you rather do?
4. I feel confident being in close proximity to others. Menstrual flow doesn’t smell unless it’s exposed to air, so wearing a menstrual cup prevents any odor during your period! Cloth pads, too, prevent odor much better than their plastic encased disposable counterparts by allowing adequate airflow, which decreases moisture and reduces odor. On days you’re using pads and need a little freshening up below deck, I highly recommend the Taylor’s Pure and Natural Muffin Mist to prevent #swampcrotch.
5. I save money. The average woman spends approximately $5,600 on her period over her lifetime, and that calculation doesn’t include the cost of new underwear, chocolate, acne medication, heating pads, birth control, or pain killers. The average woman spends around $200-$250 on products for her period each year. I’ve spent approximately $150 in the past year on reusable menstrual products that will last me for many years to come, and I never have to run to the store because I’ve run out. (And if I find I need/want more, I can just click and my favorite retailer will ship my order before my cycle is over.)
Getting Started With Cloth Pads:
Not just for your period, you can use cloth pads for postpartum urinary incontinence (thanks, child of mine) and even postpartum bleeding.
First you need to decide: are you going to use just cloth? Or are you going to venture into using a reusable menstrual cup? If you plan on purchasing a cup and going green all in one red (HA sorry…) you’re going to need far fewer pads, especially if you only plan on using them as backup while you’re learning how to use your cup. If you plan on using only cloth pads, you’ll obviously need more. And if you plan on using cloth pads for urine incontinence during or after pregnancy, you’ll really be saving a boatload of money, but you may need to purchase a few more than those just using them during their cycle.
How Many Do I Need?
Once you know what your plan is, buy accordingly. Determine how often you change your pad during the day, and multiply that by three. That’s how many pads you need in your stash. Why? You will want to wash your pads every other day, so you want to have pads available for use while you have some in the wash. So, if you use 4 pads a day, you want 12 pads in your stash.
What material should I use?
This is totally based on personal preference. I personally really like the ice-dyed bamboo velour pads from Pink Lemonade but the minky topped are also wonderfully luxurious. Both minky and bamboo are stain resistant. Other mommas prefer the jersey cotton topped pads. Regardless of what you choose, all pads are backed with water resistant Windpro Fleece, so it will not leak through onto your underwear.
What Size(s) Do I Buy & How Many of Each?
How many of each size you purchase is going to be determined by your personal flow and preference (and choice of underwear, as they even make thong friendly cloth pads). For example, you may want four pads that are for light flow, four for medium, and four for heavy/overnight. Or maybe your period is heavy til the end, then you just need to buy 12 heavy/overnight pads. However, I will warn you, when you switch to reusable menstrual products, you realize very quickly that your flow is often not as catastrophic as you think, so you may need a smaller size than you imagine.
What if I just want to use a cup and use cloth as a backup while I’m learning how to use my cup?
You need to buy a cup (obviously) and about 6 panty-liner sized pads (6″ pads). You can absolutely use your cup overnight, but if you are a pad girl at night, like me, then also pick up 3 overnight pads. My personal favorite is the Dream Diaper’s exclusive Pink Stardust.
Washing and Storage:
Regardless of how many and what size pad you buy, you’ll need somewhere to store your used cloth until wash day. I recommend buying one or two wet bags that have a strap so that you can hang it on a 3M hook in your bathroom next to your toilet, or set it on the floor using a flat bottom wet bag like this one from Lalabye Baby. I also LOVE the Logan and Lenora diaper clutch for taking cloth on the go (or this adorable Colibri mini wet/dry bag) because it has separate compartments for clean and dirty. Bonus: No more loud crinkly wrappers giving you away in the bathroom!
To wash, you can either throw them in with your kid’s cloth diaper laundry (it won’t hurt anything either way, I promise) or wash them separately with a similar routine: cold rinse, hot wash with cloth friendly detergent, and line dry or dry on low in the dryer. Wash every other day at least. Sun them to remove any stains, or you can rinse your pad with cold water in the sink before sticking it in your wet bag each time if you wish (I never do, and mine all look just fine). Remember when choosing a detergent for this item that is going the most delicate of all places, avoid perfumes, dyes, optical brighteners/whiteners, and do not use any fabric softener or it will cause repelling and your cloth won’t be absorbent- not good! Choose a free and clear version of your favorite detergent, or use your cloth diaper friendly detergent.
To prep new pads, simply wash once and wear. No need to do excessive prepping, even for natural fibers, because your flow isn’t fast and furious like the Niagara Falls of urine your toddler unleashes six times a day. The more you use and wash your pads, the more absorbent they will become.
Once you’ve begun using reusable menstrual products, you can see if you’re officially someone who’s “Made the Switch” and you can become a #vagangelist like Kim Rosas of the Dirty Diaper Laundry Blog, Amanda of The Eco-Friendly Family, myself, and all the other women who have learned to just #putacupinit or become a #cloudsitter.
Now, go forth and don’t let the sharks ruin your week! Have a happier period!