Hey Laura, what are some alternative feminine hygiene products?

******* Hey boys! If you’re uncomfortable reading words like BLOOD! VAGINA! PERIOD! CERVIX! CRAMPS! and the like, go do something manly and check back later ************

Okay ladies, let’s chat.

Can I just start by saying that sometimes I amaze myself at the breadth of my experience? Tee hee.

Hey Laura,

With the news reporting on scary chemicals in diapers and feminine products, I’ve begun to wonder if there is an alternative to traditional pads and tampons?  What products would you recommend for a woman with a medium-to-heavy monthly flow?

Sincerely, my Aching Vagina ;)

Her Aching Vagina is probably referring to the dioxins contained in bleached cotton sanitary products - tampons and pads alike. While the FDA assures us that sticking known carcinogens next to our lady bits won’t cause them any harm, this may be a case where it’s better to be safe than sorry. Since safer, more natural feminine hygiene alternatives are just as, if not more, effective - why not make the switch?

I hate to direct you away from my awesome blog, but honestly, someone has already done most of the work for me here. (Besides, I just want to say the words Vagina Pagina!)

Seriously, though, Vagina Pagina is an excellent resource for all your “down there” questions. They have a very active forums and LiveJournal page where you can get real-time, personalized help, too, if your question is too embarrassing to ask here, of course! :)

If you haven’t jumped ship and still want to hear about what I’ve put where, here are my recommendations!

Pads
Your pad options are two-fold. You can avoid the dioxins by choosing a chlorine-free pad from Maxim, ORGANYC (these are compostable), Seventh Generation, or Natracare (which are also 100% organic). I actually haven’t used these, because I went waaaay more hippie from the start (ooh! Foreshadowing!). But they don’t seem to lose any efficacy for being natural. Maybe someone with experience can weigh in on these in the comments.

Or, you could go old-school and try reusable pads. They’ve actually come a long way since your pioneer ancestors were washing out their rags in the creek!

I’ve actually really loved the reusable pads I’ve tried (and I’m not typically a “pad-girl” to begin with). They are so cushy and comfortable - a real treat for your nether region! Plus, you don’t have to worry about your pubes getting pulled by the sticky backing of disposables. Don’t tell me that’s never happened to you!

I got a sample pack of Fuzzi Bunz pads free with a diaper purchase I made, and I got to try them out post partum. I was amazed by their absorbency (these are microfiber with a fleece top for comfort - microfiber directly against the skin draws out too much moisture from your body and is painful!). They have a waterproof backing and snap around your panties so they stay in place. I found that the shorter ones shifted a bit, and I wouldn’t use the pantyliner size for anything but the very lightest spotting (actually, I wouldn’t even use it; it was too short for my comfort).

(Speaking of post partum pad needs, the thing I used and liked the most - at least for the first few very heavy days when I wasn’t up and around much anyway - was Indian cotton unbleached prefold cloth diapers (infant size). I kind of draped them across the crotch of my undies and never had to worry about bleeding through. They were definitely not something I wanted to wear under jeans, or go to the store in, but neither of those are things I was planning on doing in my first week post partum anyway! I’m a big advocate of new mamas being in bed and being waited on hand and foot for at least the first week!)

Glad Rags is a well-known brand of cloth pads. They are highly rated and available on Amazon.

If I was going to invest in cloth pads, however, I would choose the ones from Mom and Me Creations. They are made from super absorbent and delightfully soft organic hemp fleece, with a waterproof backing. They also have a pocket for additional inserts on heavy flow days. The construction of the pads is well thought out and they have wonderful feedback from their customers.

Of course, if you are handy with a sewing machine, you can save a lot of money by making your own cloth pads.

And speaking of saving money, even buying cute custom cloth pads with an initial investment of about $100, you’re set for the next few years (most say 5-10) of menstruation. A conservative estimate is $85 per year on disposables (use this calculator to find out how many you’ll use in your lifetime!). If you don’t have the money up front to go full cloth full time, just buy one pad a month and build up a stash slowly; you’ll still be saving money!

While doing my cloth pad research, I ran across this nifty invention: LunaPanties, made by the cloth pad company LunaPads. LunaPanties are kind of like a pocket AIO….panty, if you know cloth diapering lingo. Basically, they have a little bit of absorbency built in plus a sleeve into which you can stuff inserts for added absorbency. Interesting idea, but very pricey! I can see them as useful tampon backup in lieu of a panty liner, or maybe nice for sleeping - you wouldn’t have to worry about your pad shifting!

If you’re going to go the cloth pad route, you must have a way to tote the used pads home safely and discreetly. This double zippered clutch from Talulah Bean is just the ticket. One pocket is lined with waterproof material so you won’t have any leaks. Talulah Bean also makes some adorable cloth pads in designer fabrics - cloth pads don’t have to be boring!

Tampons
If you don’t want to have intimate relations with dioxins, Natracare, ORGANYC, Maxim, and Seventh Generation also make chlorine free (and some organic and compostable) cotton tampons.

People also make reusable cloth tampons, believe it or not!

Somewhere in the no-man’s-land (har har) between cloth pads and reusable tampons is the “Interlabial Tampon.” From what I can tell, it is newly patented and not yet created, but it’s essentially a tampon you wear externally, held in place by…your labia. Sounds totally weird and uncomfortable to me - like the worst of both worlds of pads and tampons! But, hey, who am I to judge; I’m here to inform!

Another tampon alternative is the sea sponge. One of our dear readers, who has experience with Sea Pearls, offered a testimonial for us:

I won’t say [sea sponges are] perfect for everyone, but using them feels so natural. They’re comfortable and I love washing and reusing them. I do still use [chlorine free organic] tampons because SP aren’t good for heavy flow days when one doesn’t have a private bathroom to use. However, I never have a super heavy flow, so they’ve always worked really well. Also, keeping them clean is VERY important. During the day I just rinse with water and pop it back in. Right now I use tea tree oil to disinfect them at the end of the day. Then at the end I use hydrogen peroxide because it bleaches them and they just look more clean.

Sea sponges typically only last 6 months to a year before needing to be replaced. They can also double as a contraceptive device, when used with spermicide (taking care to use a natural spermicide that won’t destroy the sponge…or poison you!).


Menstrual Cups
Many of you probably have had the unique pleasure of my Diva Cup evangelism speech. I am a huge fan; I have actually bought Diva Cups for friends whom I’ve tried to convert (and convert them I did!).

Do you remember the thrill of liberation when you switched from (messy, shifty) pads to (clean, discreet) tampons?

Switching from tampons to a menstrual cup is like that, only about 10 times better. There’s no string hanging out of you, nothing growing longer as it absorbs (and inevitably “kissing” your panties if you go too long between changes - ew), no weird vaginal dryness from stuffing all that cotton up there…you get the picture.

Menstrual cups could be your new best friend!

You can read all about menstrual cups on this very informative page (again, someone has done all the work for me!). This LiveJournal forum is an excellent place to get info or troubleshooting for your menstrual cup needs.

Now, there are a lot of menstrual cup options out there, and this amazing (and totally obsessed - here’s a picture of her stash) person has gone and rated a bunch of them!

Of course, since no vagina is the same, we have to remember that these are very subjective ratings, but it could certainly give you a place to start. Here’s a nice picture comparison library as well. (There’s a good reason people get obsessed with menstrual cups - they’re awesome!)

If you’re not so sure about the menstrual cup, you could try the sort of gateway drug - the Instead 12 Hour Feminine Protection Cup. It’s kind of like a disposable menstrual cup. I tried them years ago, before I went Diva, and personally dislike them quite a bit. I never got a consistently good fit, and even when I did they were apt to tip over and leak - something you do not want to have happen after several hours of bleeding into it!

To be fair, that was before I was as intimately acquainted with my cervix as I am now, post-pregnancy and childbirth, so they actually might be alright. I’m just not sure why you’d use a disposable when there are so many great reusable options. Oh, here’s one….bonus: the diaphragm-like design of the Instead does have the bonus of allowing for (mess-free) sex during your period, if you like a little action along with your cramps. Maybe that’s a big incentive for some people. I dunno.

Anyway, if you are already using tampons and want an alternative, the menstrual cup is definitely my recommendation. If you’re squeamish about sticking anything (non-human, anyway) up there, then try out cloth pads - I think you might really like them!

Hey Laura, I think... Hey Laura, what are some alternative feminine hygiene products?

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