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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Menstrual Cup: the solution

My menstrual cycle: officially revolutionized.

Can I share with you one of the greatest discoveries of my life?  This is a TMI post, but don't be embarrassed and stop reading even if you are a guy, because you might want to change your wife's life with this.

I'm into natural living for two reasons.  One, because it's the big fad right now.

Just kidding.  One, because I care about my health.  I want to consume foods and other products that do not introduce any toxins to my body.  (Beyond that, products and foods that nourish my body are highly preferred).  Two, because I care about the earth.  I really care about the earth.  And I realized a couple years ago that my way of living --- the standard American way of living --- was hurtful to the earth.


I have a long way to go in averting hypocrisy on both counts, but I've come a long way.  More on that some other time.

Today lets talk about my reasons for questioning my lifelong use of menstrual pads and tampons.

Even the ones made from "organic cotton."  

Even the ones with "biodegradable applicators."  

Even the "chlorine-free" ones.  

The catalyst to my research was the realization of how much WASTE I was creating every month.  (This book estimates that the average woman throws away up to 300 pounds of feminine hygiene products in a lifetime --- and that doesn't take into consideration the destructive production processes for these products).  But I soon realized there was so much more.

It came down to this: menstrual pads are slightly more destructive to the environment than tampons because of their plastic components.  (See this study done by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm); tampons are more destructive to the body because they simply make more contact with some of the most absorbent tissues in the body, exposing them to dioxins --- yes, even since bleaching processes have been changed to reduce dioxin content.  (See page 22: "Dioxins are known to cause cancer in animals, and probably cause cancer in people.  People exposed to high levels of dioxins may be at risk for a damaged immune system, increased risk of pelvic inflammatory disease, and reduced fertility."  Here's what the EPA has to say about dioxins.)  Both products are also likely to contain BPA or BPS, as most paper products do, as well as phthalates and DEHP.

All this in one of the most sensitive and absorbent areas of the body!  Not to mention that these plastic/paper products restrict air flow, promoting yeast infections and bacterial growth in the vaginal area.  Tampons also absorb not just blood, but all moisture in the vagina, including healthy fluids that are necessary to protect the vaginal walls and maintain the correct pH level and beneficial bacteria populations.

In this article by Dr. Mercola, a few other tampon/pad risks are mentioned:
  • Conventional tampons contain pesticides: A whopping $2 billion is spent annually on pesticides to spray cotton crops.
  • Conventional tampons probably contain genetically-modified organisms (GMOs). According the USDA, 94 percent of all U.S. cotton is genetically engineered.  
  • Tampons and pads with odor neutralizers and artificial fragrances are virtually a chemical soup, laced with artificial colors, polyester, adhesives, polyethylene (PET), polypropylene and propylene glycol (PEG), contaminants linked to hormone disruption, cancer, birth defects, dryness and infertility.
Finally, tampons have been known to cause Toxic Shock Syndrome on occasion, due to build-up of bacteria growth.  TSS is a life-threatening condition, and while it is rare for women to incur it from tampon-use, it is a noted risk.



So What On Earth Am I Supposed to USE?!

Rags, right?  You want me to use rags like the pioneer ladies.

Sure, use rags.

It may alter your gait for one week of the month, and increase your laundry pile a bit, and use a bit more water for cleaning, but rags are a great option.  Lots of people use homemade menstrual pads and love it.

But I use a menstrual cup.

Source
I ordered one, 2.5 years ago, and before I got the chance to try it, I was pregnant.  I gave it away --- since you need a bigger size after vaginal birth --- and a few months ago I finally ordered a new one.  Best buy of the year, maybe the decade!

Yes, it just fits right inside.  It catches the blood.  Then you remove it, dump, rinse, and replace.

Mine is a Diva Cup, although there are lots of brands out there.  Here is a forum for people to compare and discuss brands and trouble-shooting that might be useful to you.  (See?  I'm not the only one.)  Keep in mind that you will need a larger size if you have given birth vaginally.

You fold and insert, and give it a full turn so it opens up and suctions to the vaginal wall. Source.
These are the reasons I LOVE my menstrual cup:
  • No waste.  This thing will last for years, and I will not need to throw away a pad or tampon (or its packaging) ever again. 
  • This also means I'll be saving a lot of $$ on hygiene products.  It's a one-time purchase of $30 or so.
  • No paper or plastic.  Made of medical-grade silicone (non-latex).  Goodbye dioxins, phthalates, BPA, etc. etc. etc. etc.
  • You only have to change it every 8-12 hours, depending on how heavy your cycle is.
  • NO LEAKING.  Mine only leaked once the first cycle I used it, and that was because I left it in (overnight) longer than 12 hours, and it overflowed.  So it leaked just a tiny bit onto the panty liner I was wearing as an extra precaution.
  • It is completely comfortable: I don't even know it's there.
  • I went camping during a cycle, and didn't have to pack a whole bag of STUFF.  I just used my cup.  Thankfully we were car-camping this trip and there was a sink I could use for rinsing, but I think it would be just fine backpacking too.  You could use a water bottle for rinsing --- away from the camp so as not to attract bears.
  • Rinsing the cup is easy.  If you are in a public place and don't have access to a sink in your stall, you can put it back in as is and rinse when you get home.  Since you don't have to dump it more than every 8-12 hours, probably you won't need to rinse it while you are away from home much.
  • A lot of people say that it takes some getting used to, some trial and error.  Mine worked perfectly the first time.
  • It has been enlightening to know visually how much I actually bleed during a period.  As someone who charts, this data is somehow interesting to me.
  • While reusable cloth pads are great, this allows for freedom of movement (and swimming, etc.) the way a tampon does. 
  • It comes with a cute little bag for storage.  I put it in my purse when I know my period will be starting that day.  (I always know because I chart my temperatures).

A menstrual cup might not be for everyone... maybe.  

But for now, it is the only thing for me.  I know I won't be going back.

8 comments:

  1. I'd never heard of a menstrual cup until I just read about it at Weed'em and Reap. Sounds pretty great all around to me. I'll have to try it out.

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  2. I have several friends who use menstral cups, and they all without fail love them. I bought one and tried it out for two periods, and it was extremely uncomfortable for me. Beyond extremely. My cervix is quite low, and though I've read on the menstral cup message board that there are many women in my boat who are able to use them very comfortably, it just didn't work for me. I was so sad!

    Having done a bunch of research, though, I am looking into using a sea sponge after this next baby. They are still absorbent and are worn inside the body, but from what I have read they are not as thirsty as tampons (what does that phrase mean exactly? i haven't found anything scientific to support this claim, this is strictly what the happy customers are all saying...) and so have caused many fewer problems. Also because they are simply a sea sponge they are dioxin, BPA and BPS free. You wear them inside, rinse, and reuse -- similar to the cups. They have been used historically, which also makes me feel more comfortable with the idea. You need to replace your sponge every six months, but that is much better than using several tampons a day. You can purchase a three pack (one of each size) from the Jade and Pearl website for $18. I also like that company is committed to sustainable harvesting practices. Part of their sales platform is actually about reducing pollutants through clean feminine hygiene products.

    One more thought, many women even use them as contraception with spermicide -- which sounds handy for when one is nursing, and cannot rely on FAM alone.

    So in short, I was so bummed about physically not being able to use a menstral cup. And then I was very relieved to find there is another option open for the very few women in my shoes. I'll let all ya'll know how it works out once I'm actually able to try them.

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  3. I learned about this last year but was pregnant. My daughter is 7 months old now and because of our nursing relationship my cycle has not returned yet but when it does, I am very excited to try this out!

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  4. Thanks for posting this, I'm excited to give it a try!

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  5. I bought one for a great deal with a local co-op but didn't have a chance to try it out before I got pregnant. I'm excited to try a cup when my cycle starts up again.

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  6. For my last two cycles, I have been using the Mooncup (www.mooncup.co.uk/), which I got from Azure for about $25 (what can't you get from Azure?). May I ask, Meredith, why you went with Diva Cup in the end? You were the one who recommended Mooncup to me in the first place.

    I really love it. I stopped using tampons with applicators some time ago, but it's SO nice to further reduce waste. And this is so easy.

    Love your thoughts on these two issues:

    1) I have had some negligible leaking, and I'm wondering if the reason is a) that this particular cup is the wrong size for my particular body type or b) that my post-3 children pelvic floor muscles are weak. I'm hoping it's b, and that with the right kind of exercises (thanks Katy Bowman), I will solve this problem.

    2) Occasionally the cup turns slightly and the part at the bottom ends up poking rather uncomfortably. I should peruse the forum you posted to see if anyone's had anything similar. I'll continue using it to see if I just need to get the hang of it better. If not, maybe I'll try a different brand.

    One thing I love about the menstrual cup is that it removes the barrier to my body's cycle. You have to at least see your blood, but I've found myself actually examining it. By what seems a cultural aversion to menstrual blood, I feel we've lost touch with some good ancient wisdom about the healing and life-giving properties of this blood. Since I've started using this method, I have used some of the blood as fertilizer for my plants. My midwife told me a story of one of her mamas whose husband siphoned the water from their birth tub into rain barrels in the backyard so they could use it in the garden. And of course blood meal is a very common soil amendment, so I figured, why not (diluted) menstrual blood? (Here is an amusing, interesting thread that presents positive and negative reactions to this practice: http://greenthumbs.tribe.net/thread/58a9da21-8393-4f89-9278-61cbafb5eaa2). I must admit, it's nice sharing this rich goodness from my body with the earth. A brief google search will lead to a wealth of fascinating information on beliefs surrounding menstrual blood in traditional cultures.

    I just discovered this article on the spiritual power of menstruation, and I rather liked it: http://laraowen.com/articles/womens-wellbeing/the-sabbath-of-women/. (At the end, she mentions her own practice of saving her blood to feed the earth.)

    Okay, this one was interesting, too. An article explaining that menstrual blood has been found to be a great source for stem cells. I don't know about Menstrual Blood Banking, but this blood is definitely special! http://www.cafemom.com/group/110703/forums/read/16053760/Save_Your_Menstrual_Blood_Ladies_piog

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    1. I just barely read this comment, Nonie. I just wanted to add real quick that it makes sense the blood would be so laden with good things, it's meant to help grow new little humans! Make total sense to me. Thanks for sharing these ideas.

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  7. It is worn inside the vagina during menstruation for about half a day menstrual cup

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