Gentlemen, this post is for the ladies.
So this is one of those topics that I can’t believe I’m actually talking about in a public setting. I thought of all sorts of ways to begin this post, but I think I’ll just begin by sheer begging.
- If you know me in real life, please don’t look at me funny when you see me next.
- If you are a guy, just stop reading now. Please. Stop. What you’re about to read you can’t unsee.
Alrighty. We good?
Today we’re going to especially focus on reusable menstrual care and bras. You ready?
So… let’s talk about having periods.
A Quick Minute On Menstruation
A few weeks ago KS posted an article on why girls are hitting puberty faster these days (and it’s not about the chicken!). It’s a good article. And I just want to add – if you got your period early, be aware that genetics can also play a role. I can name three generations of women in my family (myself included) who got their periods before or around their 10th birthday. Sometimes, it just happens.
So even though I’m only 30, I’ve had the “pleasure” of having a period for twenty years.
And, in my twenty years of periods, I assumed that disposable feminine care was my only way to go – particularly because I didn’t know anything outside that existed. I’m not a tampon girl, myself. So it was the Always brand pads for me. (Which reminds me — why on EARTH are they called feminine napkins?!)
I had heard of things like the Diva cup (a silicone cup one can insert like a tampon to catch blood flow) from participating in hiking/backpacking circles. But, as a staunch pad fan, I wasn’t too keen on trying it out.
It wasn’t until I was at a friend’s house for a playdate that I learned there were such things as reusable pads. We had been talking about cloth diapers and I made a joke about the truly “crunchy mamas” who could use cloth diapers on themselves for periods. I’ll never forget the look my friend gave me. “Actually, I use cloth pads. Surely you’ve heard of Mama Cloths, right?”
Cloth Pads & Mama Cloths
Go ahead and throw away the notion of cloth diapers right now. Cloth Pads (aka Mama Cloths) are actually quite chic. It’s essentially a cloth pad with a waterproof liner. You can find them anywhere from Etsy to professional companies.
And I was completely blown away.
- The cloth pads needed changed far less often than the disposable pad did. In my case, I found that I could use a cloth pad 4x longer than a disposable one, which is great on heavy-flow days. (Sorry, it’s gonna get a little personal here…)
- It didn’t smell like the disposable ones do (I know, TMI). Want to know why the smell happens? Find out more.
- The blood completely washed out without leaving any stains. In fact, cloth pads that I’ve been using for two years look brand new.
- I didn’t have a rash or agitated skin from the disposable liner — something I didn’t realize was happening each period until I switched to cloth.
- I stopped “overflowing” pads because the cloth handled clots and gushes so much better. (TMI alert. Again.)
- The prints are cute and adorable. Remember the “Have A Happy Period” campaign that Always did a decade ago? I’ve been impressed how fun print cloth patterns can actually boost my mood and self esteem.
- It saves massive money. It’s estimated that the average woman will spend $3,000 on products during the menstruating years. I know I was easily spending $12-15 per month. With proper care, cloth pads can easily last five years or more, making the long term savings awesome. You can see a cost comparison here.
- Some people find that they cramp less with cloth pads. Cramping is not an issue for me, but it’s worth mentioning.
How To Use Cloth Pads
Party In My Pants has an awesome FAQ page giving all sorts of details, like how to wash your pads, how often to change them, and how many you might need.
But here are my four special words of wisdom:
- Have a bag, bucket, or container to put your dirty cloth pads in. You can wash everything at the end of your cycle – or more frequently if you need to. (I know it’s easy to get grossed out by the thought of reusing pads from your cycle. But you don’t throw away your favorite pair of jeans just because you had some overflow. Once you get past the initial culture shock, you may be surprised how little it bothers you.)
- Wash the pads with warm water and add oxygen bleach. Oxygen bleach has the same compounds found in hydrogen peroxide, which is fantastic at getting out blood stains. Try to find an oxygen bleach without fragrances or dyes added.
- Make sure your underwear is snug fitting around the legs to help hold the pads in place.
- Don’t be afraid to try it, even if you keep using disposable pads. As Katie suggested in her amazing cloth diaper review even if you only use ONE cloth item, that still adds up to a lot of changes over time. So consider this your baby step and consider giving cloth a try. 🙂 And cloth pads are great for those fighting incontinence or struggling with discharge.
If you’re the type of person who likes to reach for disposable wipes on your period to help clean your nether regions, consider using a peri bottle for an easy wash. These bottles are frequently given to women post-birth to fill with water and spray their underparts for easy cleaning. Simply put water in the bottle and give it a squeeze. The bottle is inexpensive and gives all the benefits of a private bidet—but one that is portable and easy to clean!
This is also great for just giving your downstairs a water cleanse.
Lastly, let’s take a quick look at bras.
Do you know how to decipher the mystery of that combination of numbers and letters when you go bra shopping? Let’s crack the code.
Say you’re a 36C. The number represents the width of your rib cage where the band of your bra would sit. Go ahead and measure yourself. The letter is found by measuring around the fullest part of the bust and SUBTRACTING that number from your band measurement. Each 1” difference between band and bust steps you up to the next letter.
- 36 in the ribs and 38 in the bust (difference of 2)? You’re a 36B.
- 38 in the ribs and 42 in the bust (difference of 4)? You’re a 38D.
- 40 in the ribs and 46 in the bust (difference of 6)? You’re a 40F.
Obviously it’s important to know your bra size when you go shopping. But – as you well know – not all bras are created equal!
Breast Health and Lymphatic System
A few months ago, KS highlighted the lymphatic system and its important role in the body. The lymphatic system plays such a valuable role in your body, but it is definitely possible to impair your system with tight pressure, causing a “kink in the hose,” if you will. One can get lymphatic swelling from poor drainage (along with other problems).
Guess where some of the highest concentration of lymphatic nodes and glands are? Pretty much everywhere a bra touches, from the breast itself to the band area under the armpits. When one is breast feeding, it is discouraged to wear an underwire bra for better breast health (that is, a bra with a hard wire in it for extra “support”). The underwire can impair the flow of the milk ducts – and, at a deeper level, impair the lymphatic system which is in hyperdrive while nursing and is intricately tied to hormones.
So I knew that nursing women shouldn’t wear underwire bras. But I was also surprised to hear from my friends who have survived breast cancer that their doctor recommends they don’t wear underwire bras, either. Apparently breast cancer frequently starts out in the lymph nodes/glands of the breast. (source 1, 2)
But What About My Favorite Underwire Bra?!
I confess, for 15+ years I was an avid underwire fan. When I started nursing, I discovered the amazingly comfortable Bravado Nursing Bras. The bras have such incredible support that I never noticed I wasn’t wearing an underwire. And so, after weaning my second child, I returned to my beloved underwire bras.
But then I started having problems. A year after weaning I noticed that I would get painful lumps in the underarm area. They went away when I wore soft bras. But by the end of the day with an underwire, I would just hurt. After checking it out with my doctor, it turns out the culprit was my underwire bra! Although it hadn’t been a problem before, my body was now negatively reacting to the underwire which impaired my lymphatic system and caused swollen glands. Oy.
So I called up my favorite nursing bra company, Bravado. (You can talk with a female fitting specialist for free when you call their help line.) I sheepishly asked: do you have any nursing bras that would work for non-nursing women? Surprisingly, she said that their bras are gaining in popularity with the non-nursing crowd because their bras are designed so perfectly to promote breast health. So she gave me suggestions for this bra and it was perfect!
If you’re a large size or a hard-to-find size, consider checking out Bravado. They know their bras – and specialize in fitting all sizes. You can find the bras on Amazon for a discount, too.
The Last Mention of the Unmentionables
You might be in a life stage where you can’t use cloth menstrual pads. But did you know that women around the world are in desperate need of them? There are many, many organizations working to supply women in impoverished conditions with cloth pads so they don’t have to leave school or work for the week of their period. If you don’t want to try a cloth pad for yourself, maybe consider donating so others can? You can find a variety of organizations here: