19 May 2011

Menstrual Alternatives

*Warning: If you are a man, there is virtually no need for you to read this post.*

If you read my post about the fabulous things I purchased while I was visiting my mother, you know that I was able to get a few mama pads as an alternative to the disposables I've used my whole "adult" life. Since switching to cloth diapers for both Heidi and Piper, I have wanted to try cloth pads for myself as the next step in "greening" my life.

Before I go on, let me put this in perspective, just in case you have an "ick" factor about cloth menstrual pads. If every disposable diaper that has ever been changed is still out there, that means that every disposable pad you have used is also still out there. It takes 150-200 years for a disposable diaper to decompose. If your parents were in disposable diapers, you can go and visit each and every diaper that was on them. If you put your children in disposable diapers (as I did for a while), when they have children, you can also take them to go and visit every. single. diaper. that they wore because they. will. still. be. there.  THAT is gross.

So first I wanted to make sure that H & P had enough diapers before I got myself any alternative menstrual solutions because, well, they do cost money and the start-up cost for these two ventures can be daunting. Also, I was lucky enough to have a delayed period for 9 or 10 months while nursing Piper so I did not have a need for any of that. Then I had to burn through all the disposables I still had because I really hate to waste anything and didn't think of donating them at that time (is that even possible?). Finally, when we got our tax return this year, I was able to start this greening process.

I started with the DivaCup and in hindsight, I really have no idea why. I think I was lured in by the fact that you can leave it in for 12 hours, take it out, empty it and put it right back in for another 12. I'm sure busy moms everywhere will also see the appeal of this particular item as we don't always have the opportunity to go to the bathroom and make the sanitary switch.

What is a DivaCup? It's a menstrual cup that sits in your vagina and simply collects the blood. It is minimally invasive and works similarly to that of a tampon so if you are a regular tampon user, this might really appeal to you. However, unlike a tampon, you can reuse your DivaCup for a whole year. Yes, it does cost between $30 and $40 (and there are other brands though I am unsure of their names/costs), but that is a once yearly payment and you are not adding to the landfill mess.

Although I have had some difficulties with the DivaCup, I would still recommend it to anyone who was really interested in trying it. My main problem is that it "rides up" on me quite significantly even though I am wearing the right size. I've been trying to work on my Kegels, but most often forget so I'm sure that is part of the problem. Perhaps if I had delivered vaginally I might not have this problem so if you have, this might really work for you. I have tried tying a string around the base to pull it out and that helped quite a bit. Unfortunately, the string needs to be replaced often so Steve told me he would get me fishing line, but that has yet to happen. I don't want to spend half an hour taking this cup out every time I put it in, so that is where cloth menstrual pads come in.

The larger blue pad is esbaby and the other two are ImseVimse.
If you read my post describing things I bought in Ithaca, you'll know that I have two pads made by esbaby and three from ImseVimse. I decided to try the esbaby ones first and found it to be incredibly uncomfortable, so much so that I had to take it off. And then...I realized I had it on the wrong way. :) When I eventually put it on the correct way, it felt a million times better. It was still just a tad bit bulky though not unpleasant or unbearable. Of the two products I have, I do prefer the ImseVimse to the esbaby because they are much less noticeable yet still very absorbent. I really enjoyed wearing them and actually looked forward to changing to the next cloth pad (is that even possible?).

When it came to washing, I decided to wash them much like I do my diapers. First I ran them through a cold wash with Rockin' Green detergent and then through a hot wash with some vinegar. Then I dried them in the dryer with medium heat. I only have one pad that ended up staining significantly so I stuck that one in the window to get some sun (sorry passersby!). I'm sure if you care about stains you can pre-treat in whatever fashion you choose (as naturally as possible), but I choose not to focus my energy on stains because especially for things like this, it makes absolutely no difference in terms of how the product actually works.

In a nutshell, here are the reasons I think you should switch to mama cloth (or a menstrual cup) over disposables:

Softness: Obviously, having real fabric against your skin is much more enjoyable than plastic. (And having specially crafted silicone inside your vagina is a lot better for you than bleached chemically treated processed cotton.) It might take some time to get used to this feeling, but I really think you will prefer it over disposable pads.

Absorption: My first day is usually extremely heavy but I still only had to change pads twice (put one on, change, put one on, change, put one on - DivaCup/bed). Even the unassuming ImseVimse pads were really absorbent and the only reason I "leaked" (I didn't really, just got a bit on my underwear) is because I had the pad positioned a little weird.

No yuck: OK, this may sound a little weird, but for those of us who have hair in certain places, have you found that with disposable pads the menstrual fluid gets trapped/clotted and stuff there? (Yes, this is an odd thing to discuss, sorry :) ) This always happens to me and it drives me nuts! But, when I wore all cloth this past cycle, I did NOT have this issue! I was really, really clean each time I went to change the pad and this made me very happy.
They're Moveable: Have you ever put a pad in your underwear and realized it was incorrectly positioned, yet when you tried to move it found the stickiness to not work as well? With cloth, you will never have this problem again! The pads are held onto your underwear with snaps (or maybe velcro?) and are fully moveable! You can slide it up and down to wherever it feels best as many times as you want. However, this does not mean that the pad will slide around all over the place while you're wearing it. It might move a bit, but for the most part it stays put unless you act upon it to make it move.

Some drawbacks:

Washing: Those of you who do not use cloth diapers might find washing these a bit of a problem. But don't you already wash  your underwear if it gets stained? Don't you wash your clothes if they get dirty? The best thing to do is not think about it. Just throw them in the washing machine and let that contraption do the work.

Start-up Costs: As I said before, the start-up of anything cloth is daunting. You might look at the prices and think "Holy cow! That's so much!" But, if you add up all the money you spend on pads/tampons for 5+ years, the cost of these pads is so minimal in comparison because they will last for 5 years or more with only a one-time investment.

Are there other drawbacks you can think of? I'd love to hear them :)

Now, if you are interested in trying this method, here are a few avenues for you to check out.

  • Lunapads has a lot of kits where you can try a variety of sizes/absorption levels.
  • Talulah Bean is another option with packages and they have a lot of different patterns to choose from.
  • Glad Rags also has a number of kits, but I believe they are more expensive than most I've found on other pages. 
  • There are also a lot of WAHM shops on Etsy where you could find more inexpensive pads to try.
How many pads do you need? If you do laundry every day, as I did, depending on your flow I think you could get away with having 5 or 6 regular daytime pads and 2 overnight pads. Even on light days you can wear the regular pads and later on, whenever you have the money, you could add some lighter, smaller panty liners to your stash. So if, for example, you decided to go with ImseVimse pads (like the ones I have) and you buy them through Jillians Drawers you could get two 3-packs of regular pads at $14.50 each ($29) and one 2-pack of overnight pads for $18.75, bringing your total to $47.75 - for the next 5+ years of your menstrual cycle. Don't you think that's worth it?

Some final thoughts:
- If you cloth diaper your baby, why not cloth pad yourself? Don't you deserve to have the feeling of real cloth against your skin, just like your baby does?
- If you don't cloth diaper but are considering it, why not test the cloth idea out on yourself? You already make self-sacrifices for your children on a daily basis; consider yourself the eternal experimentee!
- If you have a daughter, imagine how enjoyable you can make the experience of getting her first menses when she picks out the pattern or color pad she wants?
- Water is a renewable resource; land is not.

So, have I convinced you yet?

*Also worthy to note that I have not been compensated in any way for the opinions given here; I simply enjoy sharing things I'm passionate about. *


  1. I bought mine on Etsy from Canada hehe....I am still looking for ones that can withstand my first day though, I have been putting diaper doublers underneath mine just in case. After that it is smooth sailing though. I am thinking I want to try some Talulah Bean for the first day of "Aunt Flo". I hate tampons though so I have never tried the Diva cup.

  2. O yea, and sea sponges are also a popular tampon alternative...you can buy those on Gladrags website.

  3. Great points. I've been weirded out by the mama cloth idea for awhile, but I think I may grab a few to have on hand in case of, er, leakage. I am just coming off of a two year break courtesy of pregnancy and breastfeeding, so I bought the keeper cup, like the diva but made from natural rubber. It was a few bucks more, but for some reason amazon wanted like $30 for shipping me a diva, so the Keeper won! Anyway, so far so good.

  4. I've been waiting for this post! I was starting to look into mama cloth and the Diva Cup before I got pregnant. I have no need for them yet, but I anticipate 3-4 years before I'm pregnant again so I imagine I'll get some use out of them! I will definitely take your advice in mind when I start looking around for things.

  5. Sponges..interesting....hmmm. Thanks, T.

    I get you M. I'm not necessarily promoting the DivaCup per se, but more so the idea of a cup at all (at least that's what I'm attempting to go for but it might not have come across like that). I know Lunapads sells underwear with the pad built right in so maybe you'd be less weirded out by those? Or not.. :)

    Thanks Stephani! :)

  6. I use the Diva cup, and on light days at the end, I wear a cloth pad. It's such a small thing and yet makes such a big difference. :)

  7. yay! So glad to hear such positive things about the cloth pads, etc. I was hoping they work well and are comfortable. I will definitely try them out when the time comes... :-)

  8. My experience was that there's a huge learning curve with the Diva cup, so you might not want to give up yet. POsitioning is everything. And rotating it once it's in is crucial.

    Don't know what size you have, but the vendor I bought mine from recommended the larger size (2, I think) even if you've never had a vaginal delivery.

  9. Yeah rotating is on the more difficult side, but I've been getting better. I do have a size 2 and was hoping that was the right fit for me ( I think it is but I probably just need to do more Kegels).

  10. Maybe the Keeper would fit better than the Diva Cup? It's possible. I don't even notice the Keeper at all.

  11. Interesting Erin, I've never heard of it. Thanks! I'll definitely put it on the back burner :)

  12. I FINALLY got my DivaCup when they had a very short 50% off sale last month! And then, just as I thought might happen, I got my positive pregnancy test! I'm thrilled to finally HAVE it, but also happy to wait longer to try it.

    Then last week I won one for my daughter who only got her first menses recently. Woot!