Thursday, July 30, 2015

The love/hate with menstrual cups and why you should say goodbye to tampons

When I first heard about the Diva Cup I was really taken aback - What? You put a cup in you and it collects your menstrual flow?!  This concept was truly weird to me, especially in a culture where we're told how happy we will be using tampons with braids so that we can run and jump in the air as often as we like.

Don't get me wrong, I love running and jumping, but there were downsides to tampons that no one really told me about. We're well aware of toxic shock syndrome: You leave an absorbent material internally, it absorbs moisture, it sits there, bacteria grow, bacteria start "shooting out" toxins (so-to-speak) and your body goes into a toxic shock. Bad news bears. But I never really thought about how the "absorbing" part really affected my body.

The vaginal canal is lined with healthy mucous. It's a natural lubricant produced with the help of estrogen to keep the area moist. It also acts as a "vagina cleaner" by carrying away bad bacteria and allowing good healthy bacteria to flourish. Your tampon, although it absorbs your menstrual flow, is also taking up a lot of space internally, and while there, absorbs your normal vaginal mucous. So the loss of that great mucous can mess up the bacterial flora and your vaginal pH (which helps prevent infections!).

So now what? You can use pads; they make for a healthier vagina, but many women hate dealing with "the mess". Well-known brands often use bleaches, synthetic fibers and chemicals/additives which make them super absorbent, but they are in constant contact with your lady parts which can potentially take up the chemicals and additives.

Your best option would be a 100% cotton pad like Natracare or Organyc. They're less irritating than conventional pads for both regular menstrual use and postpartum when that area is particularly sensitive.

Another great option is the menstrual cup. I personally am a Diva Cup user, and if there's one thing I've learned it's that women either love it or hate it:

The Pros:
  • No waste! You're saving landfills by keeping your cup in good shape.
  • With good care, it can last up to 10 years. This means cleaning it with a gentle fragrance-free cleanser (or Diva Wash) after each emptying, and boiling in water for 5 minutes at the end of your period.  
  • You can monitor your bleeding. You can measure the volume of flow, the colour, clots, etc. This can reveal a lot of information about your cycles, which your naturopathic doctor can help you with. 
  • You can run, jump, swim with it in and never even know it's there. Swimming becomes more enjoyable when you're not worried about strings showing.
  • You don't feel it. When inserted and positioned correctly, you shouldn't feel it. It also shouldn't leak, unlike most tampons.
  • You only need to worry about "changing" it twice per day (with normal bleeding volume). Empty once in the morning and again before bed. No worrying about changing pads and tampons throughout the day. 
The Cons:
  • It only comes in 2 sizes so many women found that it just wasn't a good fit for them. This may be because of differences in a woman's anatomical structure, or due to the position in which the cup is inserted.  
  • If you suffer from major dysmenorrhea (painful periods) the added internal pressure of an object close to the cervix may increase cramping/pain.
  • If you have really heavy periods, there is a chance it can overflow.
  • Because you have an object inserted, there is added pressure on surrounding structures. You might notice that your urine is flowing a little slower than normal. 
  • Be aware of it during a bowel movement. The same muscles that help with bearing down vaginally also help with bearing down for a bowel movement. When you're in the bathroom, beware that the cup might be pushed down and may need to be readjusted. 
  • Yes, you have to empty it into your toilet and then clean it in the sink. Some women hate this part of it. But you should only have to do this 2x per day. 
Every woman should find the menstrual method that works best for them. I love my menstrual cup but realize it's not for everyone. We all deserve a happy, healthy vagina, so listen to your body.