Talking About SRH: It’s Not Just One Conversation

Today, we unpack menstrual products –  How to choose them and how to use them.

First, try asking yourself these questions:

1. What does a typical period look like for you?

This is a major part of knowing what will work. Think about your flow – is it heavy or light? Does it vary? If this is your first period, don’t fret – it will take time to get to know your cycle. Ask someone close to you for help.

2. How much absorbency do you need?

Most menstrual products are categorized according to their absorbency capacity or thickness (thicker product = greater absorbency). Follow along the product description to find one that seems to align with your flow type. You may find that your ‘absorbency needs’ change throughout your period. Some prefer thicker products at night, to reduce the possibility of leakage.

3. What material works for you?

This depends on your preference and how sensitive your skin is. Products may contain fragrances, to help reduce odor during heavy flow – watch out for these as some may not suit your skin.

4. How active will you be during your period?

Exercising can help alleviate cramps – however, wearing the wrong product while exercising will cause discomfort.

Second, what are some products that you can use:

1. Disposable Pads: These are easy to use and the most commonly preferred, especially if you’re a first-timer. come with “wing” tabs, to keep the pad in place.

Directions: Unwrap and peel off the sticker paper at the back. The sticky side is pressed against your underwear, and the tabs folded around the edge. The soft, absorbent side is worn against your skin.

When to change: Some brands mention the “protection time”, to use as reference. It is however recommended to change pads every 3-4 hours, even if you have a light flow, to prevent buildup of bacteria and odor. Night-time pads can be worn for longer.

Disposal: Unstick the pad from your underwear, wrap it in toilet paper or the packaging and throw it in the bin.

2. Reusable Pads & Underwear: Just wash and re-use! It’s sustainable and comfy! Pads are commonly made out of cotton and the underwear has a special layer for absorbing blood. It is recommended to change them just as often as you would a disposable pad – so you may need a couple handy. Start with a cold-water rinse and then a thorough hot-water wash. Remember to properly dry before re-wearing, to prevent infections.

3. Panty Liners: Available in a variety of shapes, sizes, and absorbency levels – these are used to ensure that spotting and discharge don’t stain your underwear. They are stuck on and disposed of similarly to pads. Liners should be changed once they feel “wet” and worn no longer than a day, to prevent yeast infections.

4. Tampons: These are inserted into your vagina to soak up menstrual blood. The sizes are listed according to absorbency and thickness. Some have an applicator to aid insertion and others are pushed in with your fingers. If you’re trying a tampon for the first time, start small and do so on a heavy flow day – there’s more lubrication. If there are dry white patches when you remove your tampon, switch to a lower absorbency. If you bleed through the tampon, change your tampon more often or switch to a higher absorbency.

Directions: Always wash your hands before and after insertion. Find a comfortable position – squat, sit or stand with one foot elevated. Hold the tampon according to the grip marks with your thumb and middle finger. Relax, breathe and slide it in until your fingers touch your skin. If there’s an applicator, push the inner tube upwards using your index finger and pull the applicator out. Let the string hang, this is for removal. If you still ‘feel’ your tampon, you probably haven’t pushed it in far enough, in which case go back and use your fingers.

When to change: Every 4-6 hours. Leaving a tampon in too long is associated with toxic shock syndrome, however this is rare if proper hygiene is maintained.

Disposal: Gently pull your tampon out using the string and wrap it in tissue to throw into the bin. If you can’t find the string – that’s ok! It’s still there – gently reach in and grab it.

5. Menstrual Cups:
These are funnel-shaped cups made of rubber or silicone that are inserted into your vagina, to collect menstrual blood. They can be re-used for up to 10 years, providing an environmentally friendly option that is more affordable long-term. If it’s your first time – try inserting during your period for more lubrication. Remember to relax and take your time, it may take several tries but once you master it, it’ll work very well.

Follow the instructions on the box. Wash your hands before and after insertion. Wet the cup and fold in half to make a C-shape. Find a comfortable position and insert it into your vagina, so that it sits below your cervix (know your anatomy). Once in place, rotate and release your hand to unfold the cup. Unfolding creates an air-tight seal, preventing leakage.

When to empty: A menstrual cup is emptied 2-4 times a day, and used for up to 12 hours. The measuring lines help monitor your flow. To remove the cup, grasp the bottom (not just the stem) and squeeze to break the seal, then pull. Tip the contents into the toilet, rinse, and re-use.

When to clean: Before every re-insertion and after your cycle. Rinse under cold water first and then warm water with a cleanser (some brands have their own cleansers). Between cycles, thoroughly clean by boiling in water or using a sterilizing solution.