Discs, Cups, and Period Panties...Oh My!
In recent years, reusable menstrual products have become increasingly popular due to environmental impact, reduction in toxin exposure, reduction of risk of toxic shock syndrome with prolonged use and for some, simply ease of use. You may have been intrigued by these products, but may have quickly found yourself overwhelmed with the vast number of products available. Here I will give you a quick rundown to help you out!
First and foremost, many woman who have painful periods find that switching to reusable products significantly reduces their pain. That has not been my personal experience, but it has been the experience of others. This is typically due to the reduction in toxins of disposable menstrual products. Of course, there are also less toxic products now on the market if that is your preference.
I have been using reusable products for over 10 years now. When my husband and I lived in West Africa for a year shortly after getting married, I purchased my first menstrual cup prior to leaving. I had lived in a developing country before and knew that options for tampons and pads may be limited, so I chose to try out the world of reusable products. Back then, the Diva Cup was the only option I was familiar with and was likely one of the few options available. It worked well for me, but I would occasionally find that it caused irritation. Since then I have learned that not all cups are created the same and have dabbled in different products.
Menstrual cups, such as the Diva Cup, sit low in the vagina, similar to a tampon. They are primarily made from silicone, but some are firmer and some are softer. Some are longer in length and some are shorter. Many have stems for removal, but not all and a stem really isn't essential. For myself I learned that my cervix lies lower so I need a shorter cup and a I prefer a softer material. The Diva Cup was too long for me resulting in it sitting too low and causing irritation. I also found the stem too firm and I cut it off to make the cup more comfortable. Since those days I now use the Sckoon Cup which fits me much better and does not cause irritation.
Discs are another option which function much like a cup, but sit higher up just under the cervix and lock into place behind the posterior aspect of the pubic bone. If you are familiar with a diaphragm for birth control, they work similarly. You can purchase the Soft Cup brand which is disposable and made from soft plastic, or there are silicone options. I actually prefer the comfort of a disc and how it sits up higher, however they can be messier to remove (sorry if this grosses you out, but hands do wash and this doesn't bother me). I also find that silicone options may become unsealed when I sneeze causing leaks, so a cup on a heavy day works better for me.
Lastly, we have washable pads or period panties/underwear. I began with washable pads as my backup as cups and discs can leak a bit. They do not absorb anything so if there is residue below the seal after insertion, if they are not sealed properly, or if they are overfull you may experience leaks so I prefer to wear a pad or period panties for my first 1-2 days. Washable pads work well, however they are bulky, like a cloth diaper in a sense. Period panties are much thinner, and as a special needs mom, I have heard of mom's preferring this option for their daughters with intellectual disabilities because they are easy to use. Personally I prefer period panties and just toss them in the wash with my regular laundry. If you choose to only use pads or period underwear, you may need to change them more frequently depending on heavy your period tends to be.
The moral of the story is, find a product you are interested in, do a bit of research and read reviews (this is how I learned about different cup sizes, materials, and cervix height). If the product doesn't work for you, don't give up right away and try something different that might work better for you. Do you use reusable menstrual products? What has your experience been?