Menstrual hygiene is the need of the hour. Studies have reported that girls and women in India have very little knowledge about reproductive tract infections caused due to ignorance of personal hygiene during menstruation. There are a lot of menstrual hygiene products available in the market such as sanitary napkins, cloth pads, tampons and menstrual cups. But most women prefer sanitary napkins, especially the ones who live in the urban areas. In rural areas, reusable cloth pads (made from old clothes or saris) are still commonly used.
So let us help you understand better about different menstrual hygiene products and decide the ones suiting your needs.
1. Sanitary napkins
Sanitary napkins are the most commonly used hygiene products during menstruation (among women who use menstrual hygiene products).
How to use: All you have to do is stick the pad in your panty using the sticky strip present on the back of a pad.
How often to change: You need to change your pads at regular intervals depending upon your flow. In general, it is advised to change at least every 3-4 hours to prevent infection and itching as menstrual blood can act as a growth medium for microbes.
Nowadays, sanitary napkins made from jute, banana fiber, water hyacinth, and wool are also available, which are eco-friendly.
It is easy to use.
It is easily available.
It can cause constant friction, which increases the risk of vagina irritation leading to redness and itchy skin.
Currently, there are scented products available, but choose these with care as they might alter the pH and can lead to an allergic skin reaction. Also, the cotton used might not be 100% natural.
They are non-reusable.
Sanitary napkins are not environment-friendly because they are non-biodegradable in nature and thus, linger in the environment for long.
Where to buy: These products are easily available at local stores, chemist shops, and online stores.
It is commonly used in the Western countries. However, in recent times, women are open to using it. It is gaining popularity among swimmers and athletes.
How to use: A tampon is a small cotton plug with a string, which is inserted into the vagina. Once inside, it expands like a flower to absorb menstrual blood. The string helps you to pull out the tampon.
How often to change: It is advised to change tampons every few hours (preferably every 5-6 hours). This is because it can increase the risk of infection as they absorbent contains chemicals.
Tampons with different levels of absorbance are available, allowing you to pick as per your blood flow (light to heavy).
Reusable tampons made from natural materials like bamboo, wool, hemp, and cotton are also available in India.
They are easy to carry around due to their small size (not bigger than the index finger) and fits in your pocket.
They do not bulge under clothing.
They are odorless.
As tampons need to be inserted into the vagina, there is a fear of pores in the hymen or its breakage in adolescent girls.
They are not advised to use during the night time as it needs to be changed every few hours.
If you leave it inside the vagina for more than eight hours, it might increase the risk of toxic shock syndrome, which could be fatal.
Tampons not only soak menstrual blood but also absorb vaginal fluids and bacteria, which can increase the risk of irritation and possible infection.
They are expensive and not easily degradable in nature, hence not eco-friendly.
The use of scented menstrual products is not recommended as it can irritate the skin and increase the risk of sexually transmitted infections and gynecologic cancer.
Where to buy: You can get tampons easily online stores.
3. Menstrual cups
These are other common alternatives to sanitary pads and tampons, which needs to be inserted into the vagina.
How to use: Menstrual cups are soft, bell-like cups which are made from medical grade silicone rubber. This makes it easy to fold the cup and insert it into the vagina to collect blood. The cup is folded at its mouth and inserted into the vagina until the stem of the cup is just half an inch inside the vagina. It is then rotated to position it properly.
To remove the cup, you have to pinch the base of the cup and pull it out slowly.
How often to change: Menstrual cups can be worn for up to 6-12 hours depending on the menstrual blood flow. All you have to do is remove the cup, empty the content, wash with soap and hot water, clean and insert it again.
As it is worn internally, there is no external discomfort and thus, preferred by sportswomen.
You can wear the cup overnight as it does not cause leaking or spilling.
They are reusable and environment-friendly.
They are practically maintenance free.
They are cost-effective as they can last for at least a year.
Just like tampons, inserting a menstrual cups can also rupture the hymen. Hence, parents need to discuss with their gynecologist before using this product for their teenage daughters.
Do not use a menstrual cup if you suffer from a yeast infection as it might worsen the condition.
It is a strict no-no for women who have experienced toxic shock syndrome.
There is a lack of awareness on how to use menstrual cups.
It is not a feasible option in areas where there is a lack of proper water supply and hygiene conditions.
Where to buy: There are different types of menstrual cups which are widely available online.
4. Cloth pads
Cloth pads have been used since long, but due to the advent of sanitary napkins, these were put on a back burner. As sanitary pads and tampons are expensive and not eco-friendly in nature, most women are open to using reusable cloth pads.
How to use: The modern reusable cloth pads are similar to sanitary napkins in use. They have wings with pins or buttons which help secure the pad.
How often to change: Just like sanitary napkins, you need to change cloth pads every five to six hours.
Cloth pads are made from cotton and lack chemicals, which reduces the risk of skin irritation and rashes.
They are reusable and eco-friendly.
They are easily available.
They are cost-effective as you can buy a pack of 6-10 pads which might be sufficient for a year.
You have to wash cloth pads under running tap water to drain out blood, which is not always a feasible option.
These pads need to be hygienically washed with use of disinfectant to sterilize it, which could be a daunting task
They have to be dried properly under the sun, which is not a feasible option in rains and winter.
You may have to carry a soiled cloth pad in your bag when traveling or at work.
They have to be stored properly like a cool and dry place to avoid contamination.
Where to buy: Numerous organizations are marketing reusable cloth pads, so look online to get one. You can also buy these from e-commerce sites.
In addition to these, there are period panties and sponges available as menstrual hygiene products. However, it is wise to discuss with your gynecologist before you choose these products during periods.
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