10 February 2020

Plastic-Free Periods: All About Menstrual Cups



So whenever I talk to my friends about this, I get mixed reactions; notably weird looks and groans from anyone who hasn't converted. For a long time, I too thought menstrual cups sounded disgusting and cumbersome. But once I started using one successfully, it honestly changed my life. It feels so much cleaner, it's so much less hassle, and it's so reassuring to know I'm not contributing to the world's waste and plastic pile. Here is all the info I can give you.

WHAT ARE MENSTRUAL CUPS?

Menstrual cups are a safe, hygienic, and re-usable alternative to disposable period products. They're little vessels made of medical-grade silicone that collect blood, and can be sterilised and used over and over again. There are many brands - mine is a Mooncup, but there's loads of others you can try if one doesn't work for you.

WHAT MAKES THEM BETTER THAN PADS/TAMPONS?
  • Conventional pads and tampons contain all sorts of nasty stuff like bleach, aluminum, alcohols, and hydrocarbons. Tampons can do serious harm if worn for long periods. In contrast, menstrual cups are made of medical-grade silicone, so they are completely neutral and don't cause any irritation or health risks, even with prolonged use.
  • Cups hold much more than tampons, so they need to be changed less often (along with the fact that they are not toxic).
  • Pads and tampons contribute hugely to our waste and plastic problem. And because they are single use, using them throughout life is a WHOLE LOT of waste. In contrast, menstrual cups are designed to be used for up to ten years. That's about three or four in a whole lifetime.
  • You buy one menstrual cup for about £20 and then never have to spend any more money on period products (at least for another 10 years)

HOW DO THEY WORK?

They sit in the vagina, where a tampon would go normally (or sometimes a bit lower, depending on the person). They have a seal which, once open, fits snugly to the vagina's inner walls, preventing the cup from moving around and/or leaking. Blood is collected in the cup, then emptied and rinsed out before it's re-inserted.

HOW DO I PUT ONE IN AND TAKE IT OUT?

There are different techniques for insertion, all of which involve 'folding' the cup onto itself so that it can be pushed in smoothly and painlessly. There's plenty of info on the internet, here's one guide. If those particular folds don't work for you, there will be others that do.

Read this article from the BBC with a video on safe removalRemoval can be daunting the first couple of times. There are different ways of doing this, but it's about breaking the seal by folding the cup, and then easing out out slowly.

Practice insertion/removal before using it on your period, so you can get the hang of it without the mess.

YOU'RE SAYING I HAVE TO FINGER MYSELF?

Pretty much, yes. I have to say using a menstrual cup gets you closer to your vagina than you've ever been - consider it an education. And once you get the hang of it, you'll do it with your eyes closed in seconds. You'll honestly laugh at the whole idea of tampon applicators.

HOW OFTEN DO THEY NEED EMPTYING?

This is different for everyone, but I find I need to empty mine twice on period day 1 & day 2; from day 3 onwards it's just one change. I know some women who can keep it in all day from day 1, but that doesn't work for me (I start to leak after about 6 hours, so I empty it before that happens)

CAN YOU SLEEP WITH A MENSTRUAL CUP IN?

Yes, absolutely. Wearing them for prolonged periods is totally fine, no need to worry like with tampons. Although I've found mine sometimes leaks at night (more in the troubleshooting section below)

IS IT ONE SIZE FITS ALL?

No. Every menstrual cup has a slightly different shape, and not all of them will work for you. So if one really isn't working, or sealing, you can try another one. Most manufacturers run two sizes, for women who have or haven't given birth.

IS IT HYGIENIC?

Yes, it is. Just make sure you wash your hands before and after using it, and sterilise the cup between cycles by boiling it for about 5 minutes.

TROUBLESHOOTING
  • Help! My cup is stuck inside me. I can't get it out.
    This is totally normal the first few times you use it. I had the same moment of panic. Don't worry - there's no risk even if you can't get the cup out for now. Try to relax and read about removal techniques. If you can't relax, just take a break and come back in an hour or so. I promise this will get easier and easier.
  • I keep leaking. What's going wrong?
    Your cup probably isn't sealed properly. Make sure that once it's in, you run your finger along the outer rim to make sure it's fully open. You can also 'press down' on the cup a bit with your pelvic floor muscles to encourage it to open. You'll know when it is.
  • The directions say the cup should sit low, but this feels uncomfortable and I'm leaking.
    The right position really depends on you, your shape, and that particular cycle. After trial and error, I realised it works much better for me if it's pushed a little higher, closer to my cervix.
  • I'm making a huge mess every time I take the cup out.
    Until you become an expert at this (and you will!) it can be a bit messy. Make sure that you empty the blood directly into the toilet, then hold a hand under the cup while you move it to the sink to rinse it out - ideally while you're still sitting on the toilet. If the sink is far away, be conscious that you might 'drip'.
  • My cup leaks at night.
    On some cycles, this happens to me as well. I think lying down changes the position of the cervix and can break the cup's seal. This can be uncomfortable and cause leaking. It's just one of those things I've learnt to live with when it happens, but I find sleeping on my side with a pillow between my legs helps to prevent it.
  • I can't poo when the cup is in!
    A very common problem! I'd advise removing the cup before pooing. It just makes life a lot easier, even if it's 'off schedule'.
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