Periods are no walk in the park. If you’re not dealing with cramps, you’re trying to make sure you’re well protected during your heavier days. Some women can wear just a tampon or a maxi pad. Others have to double up and wear both — and change them frequently. If you’re dealing with this month after month, you’re probably wondering if there’s a better, more convenient and eco-friendly way to go with your flow.
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Enter menstrual cups.
Menstrual cups have quickly become a popular alternative to tampons and pads. Some are long-lasting and reusable while others are disposable. But should you make the switch just because everyone seems to be doing so right now? Keep reading to learn more about these not-so-new feminine products and to get some helpful tips from gynecologist Erin Higgins, MD.
What are menstrual cups?
While it might seem like menstrual cups popped up overnight, they’ve actually been around in some form since the 1800s. The first patent for a menstrual cup design was awarded in 1867 and the prototype was pretty much a rubber sack that was attached to a ring. This early version was meant to be inserted into the vagina to collect blood. The menstrual cup could then be pulled out by a cord that was attached to it.
One of the first commercial menstrual cups was developed in 1937 by Leona Chalmers. She called her creation the “Tass-ette” and claimed that it made her monthly struggle more of a carefree experience. However, women during this time opted for menstrual pads instead of tampons and menstrual cups which were viewed as risqué.
Even though menstrual cups were around in the 50s and 60s, they still weren’t widely embraced. As a result, the menstrual cup category as a whole faded into the background until the late 80s.
Today, more and more women are using menstrual cups. They’ve been proven to be safe and very effective. Another benefit of using them — they’re more eco-friendly than pads and tampons. And while sales didn’t take off when they were first introduced commercially, the global market for menstrual cups is now expected to hit $1.89 billion by 2026.
How a menstrual cup works
A menstrual cup is a flexible cup that’s designed for use inside the vagina during your period to collect blood. The cup doesn’t absorb your menstrual flow like tampons or pads do. Most menstrual cups are made of silicone or rubber. If you are sensitive to latex, you’ll want to buy silicone cups to avoid any issues.
“You can use a cup all the way through your cycle, but you might need to change it more often on heavy flow days to guard against leaking. To do this, just remove and rinse your cup after 12 hours, or when leaking occurs,” says Dr. Higgins.
Advantages of using a menstrual cup
Here are a few pros for using a menstrual cup.
Lower costs and less landfill waste
Some cups are designed for long-term use – even years – providing significant cost savings over tampons and pads. Since you can reuse them, there’s less waste to clog up our landfills and fewer trees sacrificed to make the paper-based alternatives. Keep in mind that some cups are designed to be disposable. Make sure you read the label carefully before buying if you want a reusable one.
No embarrassing odor
With menstrual cups, you won’t have to worry about embarrassing odor wafting out at the most inopportune times since the fluid doesn’t get exposed to air as it does with pads and tampons.
Vaginal pH and beneficial bacteria also stay in place. Tampons absorb your vaginal fluid along with the blood, which may disturb the vagina’s delicate pH and bacterial balance.
Fewer visits to the drugstore.
Even if you replace your cup once a year, you’ll still make 11 fewer trips to the store than you would if you used disposable, paper-based methods.
More time between changes
You need to change tampons every four to eight hours, depending on flow. You can go up to 12 hours with a menstrual cup before having to empty it.
Easy to use
Dr. Higgins says that anyone who has used tampons, especially the kind without applicators, should have little trouble learning how to insert a menstrual cup. If you’ve ever used a NuvaRing for birth control, you’ll have even less trouble learning how to use your new cup. Simply fold it so it looks like a tampon, aim it toward the back of the vagina and give it a little push. It should actually draw itself up. When inserted properly, you shouldn’t feel its presence at all.
The disadvantages of using a menstrual cup
And here are some drawbacks to this form of feminine protection.
The main disadvantage that patients mention is how messy emptying the cup is. With practice, most women will work out a suitable technique and quickly get over the “ick factor.” Also, cleaning it in a public bathroom might present a challenge for some.
They can be difficult to insert
Younger girls and those who’ve never had intercourse may find it difficult to insert the cups. And, if you have an IUD in place, using a menstrual cup could pull the IUD strings and dislodge it. If you have concerns about insertion, talk to your healthcare provider.
Possible fit problems
Individual anatomy can make proper use of the cup difficult. For instance, if you have a dropped uterus or uterine prolapse, Dr. Higgins says that a menstrual cup may not fit in place properly. But to ensure that you feel more comfortable when it comes to insertion, she recommends talking to your provider and asking them to walk you through the process during an office visit.
They can be hard to remove
Taking menstrual cups out requires a bit of a learning curve. You shouldn’t pull on the stem when you remove it. Instead, pinch the base and pull and allow the collected fluid to empty into the toilet. You can then rinse it with tap water and reinsert.
Regular sterilization is required
After each cycle, sterilize the cup using boiling water or a sterilizing solution used for baby bottles.
But you won’t know if a menstrual cup is right for you until you try one
Dr. Higgins says the only way to know if a menstrual cup will work for you is to buy one and give it a try. They come in various formations and sizes, so sometimes, if the first one doesn’t suit you, the next size might do the trick. You can find menstrual cups at drug stores or buy them online. But it never hurts to do a little research. So compare the options that are out there and read the reviews to see what other women are saying.