Saying goodbye to single-use plastic, part 6: Plastic Free Periods

You may have seen me mention cloth sanitary pads/liners in a previous blog post, which I made the very comfortable transition to a while ago and have since expanded my collection. But how about menstrual cups?

Firstly, what is a menstrual cup?

There are several different types/brands, likely the one you’ve heard most about is Mooncup® but I have no idea if they were the first?! Essentially, menstrual cups are made from medical grade silicone and are designed to capture your flow during that dreaded week of the month, as a tampon would, except it sits lower down and is zero waste/low impact.

They’re very hygienic if cared for correctly (they need to be boiled to disinfect, but we’ll come back to that later) and being completely reusable, they are much more eco-friendly than ‘normal’ sanitary products which the average woman will use more than 11,000 of during her lifespan, amounting to a serious amount of waste – not to mention financial cost! Shocking, right?! Think about just how full your bathroom bin has gotten in the past… grim.

I must admit, when I first heard of them during my uni days, I thought it sounded gross too. Boiling a menstrual cup?! In the kitchen?! Obviously, you do this in a pan solely designated to your cup but the idea just did not appeal to me. Here I’ll try to outline the potential reasons against, for, and where you can find them. Any questions not answered below, please do leave a comment or message me directly!

Reasons why you may not like it

  • Habit
  • *Convenience* (I put this in asterisk because I hope to prove to you that it is, in fact, quite convenient after all)
  • Initial cost
  • Sounds gross
  • Never heard of it before…

Habit is a funny thing to break and convenience has driven us to the wasteful world we find ourselves in now; however, these things can be altered. What may initially seem inconvenient eventually just becomes normality. So, what changed my mind?

Reasons why you may LOVE it

  • Super easy to use
  • Very convenient
  • Much more cost effective over time
  • Kind to the planet
  • Easy to clean
  • No rushing to the shops to stock up on tampons when you feel the pain coming…

When I decided to take the plunge I still wasn’t totally sure if I’d like it or not. What if it hurt? What if I didn’t do it right and it leaked? Would it be messy? But since using it I can honestly say I’ll never go back, it’s one of my favourite sustainable swaps I’ve made so far! I love it! I’ll answer all these questions in the practicalities section…

Which cup did I choose and why?

TOTM, a Cardiff-based company, because these guys are recommended by one of my favourite Instagram ‘influencers’ Oenone (@uhnonee) and because I decided it was time to add periods to my single-use-plastic-free tick list. Plus, it’s pink. And local. What’s not to love? (Side note: If you haven’t listened to her Adulting podcast yet, I really recommend giving it a try. I’ve probably mentioned it before but it has opened my eyes to so many really important issues.)

My TOTM cup arrived super quickly, maybe even next day delivery, and their customer service on Instagram is fantastic; they’re very helpful, friendly and always seem genuinely happy to answer any questions you may have. I really recommend them myself, I don’t have a referral code I just love my cup and can’t fault their service! Plus, their size 2 cup is now available in Tesco stores! As well as a lot of their organic sanitary range.

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Screenshot from my Less Plastic insta-story

So, what about the practicalities…

Is it safe? Yes. Medical grade silicone, as long as you clean it properly in between periods (boil in a pan, dedicated to this purpose alone, for 4-5 mins) is completely safe. Also very important: don’t tug on the bottom when removing, the seal has to be broken for the cup to come out properly and safely so to do this you have to squeeze the bottom first – more on this later*.

How often do you have to clean it? Rinse it every time you change/empty it during your period, then once finished boil it as stated above and it’ll be sterilised ready for next time. They come with a handy little drawstring bag to keep them safe and clean too ☺

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Bubbling away peacefully in its special pot 🙂

How long do you keep it in for? General recommendation is max 8-10 hours as far as I’m aware and I’ve had absolutely no worries with leaving it in this long, however it does depend on your flow as well. For the first few days you may want to check it more regularly to get used to taking it out and putting back in, but also so you get to know your own flow a bit better; more often than not it’s nowhere near as much blood as you think. Honest!

Once you’ve gotten used to this then you’ll feel a lot more comfortable leaving it in for the full working day and not worrying about leakage or discomfort. And generally that’s what I do; put it in/clean it when I first get up and then again when I get home from work. So far I’ve had no issues with this but as I said, it does depend on flow; mine is pretty light after the first two days and I think that’s also due to the combined pill I take as contraception (risk of too much info there but I thought it might be relevant to some of you to know).

How about overnight? Yep, no problems there either in my experience. You have to consider that some people only sleep a few hours a night (how they live I do not know) but even if you’re a seriously heavy sleeper like myself, don’t worry, you’re covered. The seal makes sure of this. I always used to find that when I slept with a pad during the night it was generally lighter than during the day anyway so assumed it was to do with being horizontal but I have no scientific justification for this, just an observation.

How easy is it to put in and take out? It does take some getting used to and I think it also depends on how comfortable with yourself you are down there. In my opinion, the more comfortable you can bear to get with that area the better, so as to avoid feeling unnecessarily awkward in situations where exposure is required, such as during a wax, smear or medical exam. It drives me nuts that so many people are afraid of getting a smear test for this very reason – please remember that these are professionals. They don’t care what you look like down there so neither should you. I digress.

There are several different types of fold you can do to insert the cup effectively (here’s a useful YouTube video) and different folds will be more suited to different people/shapes & sizes. You also need to make sure you’re relaxed down there otherwise it’s not going to be comfortable. Some people do find them uncomfortable to insert and wear and if this is the case for you I would recommend seeking professional advice just to be sure; remember that babies are meant to come out of there ladies… there should be plenty of room if you can relax. If need be, it’s generally recommended to get graceful and cock a leg up on the bath or assume a squat position to ensure easy insertion (those last two words sound gross, I know). The cup should sit comfortably just inside, so that the chord is right at the edge but not protruding, you just need to be able to access it easily for removal. Do not go putting it up as far as a tampon.

Screenshot 2018-11-19 at 5.31.51 PMIn terms of removing* and cleaning it you need to make sure to break the seal before bringing the cup out, otherwise you’ll risk serious discomfort and possibly even some injury in severe cases. Simply squeeze the base of the actual cup, above the cord at the end, and it kind of folds back a little as you remove (you may even hear a gross noise as the suction breaks). Do this over the toilet or in the shower to avoid extra mess, rinse in the nearest sink/in the shower if at home, then reinsert and crack on. In a public toilet be sure to take a water bottle into the cubicle and rinse in the loo, or worst case scenario wipe down with loo roll and rinse when you get home. It’s worth nothing that you should wash your hands before and after you empty your cup to make sure everything stays clean.

You can also practise putting it in and taking back out again a few days before your period actually begins just to get used to it – there’s no rule that says you have to be on your period!

Does it hurt? No, most people I’ve spoken to agree with me that you can’t really feel it to be honest because it sits lower than a tampon, quite close to the edge (close enough so that you can feel the cord to remove it). You may feel it at first but it’s very quickly forgotten about!

Can you exercise with them in? Yes, they’re perfectly safe to exercise in due to the seal it creates which prevents leakage and means it’ll work in all positions! Just rinse and clean it as normal and crack on!

How do I know which cup size is right for me? This varies depending on the brand, some have more options and some less, but TOTM’s guidance is that if you’re below 18 years old and do not have sex regularly then go for size 1. Size 2 if you’re under 25 and/or haven’t given birth vaginally. If you’re over 25 or have given birth naturally opt for the size 3, although I recently had a friend ask me about this as she wasn’t sure which category she fit in and when referred to the TOTM online team she told me they were a great help, so don’t be afraid to ask them for specific advice.

Where can I buy a menstrual cup?

As previously mentioned, TOTM now have availability in some Tesco stores, whereas Mooncups can be purchased from my friends at Natural Weigh. Also, Ripple once open on Albany Road will be stocking Hey Girls! cups, where one is donated for every purchase to help end period poverty, as well as reusable pads. Some brands are even available at Superdrug stores. There are all manner of different ones to choose from and this post isn’t sponsored by TOTM, it’s just that this is the brand I went for and am very happy with.

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Source: TOTM Organic

So, how do you feel about them now? Convinced to give it a go yet?

If there are any questions I haven’t answered here, please do leave them in a comment or send me a direct message and I’d be happy to help or point you in the right direction. There’s also a good amount of advice online (I was inspired by my friend Hannah’s blog post on her site The Feral Lady) and in plastic-free/eco forums on Facebook etc. One I use regularly for tips and advice is Zanna Van Dijk‘s ‘Living Consciously Crew’.

Here’s to more plastic-free periods! I honestly wouldn’t be without my TOTM cup now.

Diolch i chi a hwyl am nawr,

Charles xx

 

*Acknowledgement: some of the images used are from TOTM’s website because I’m not really artsy enough! 

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