Update, April 2019: This post was written after using cloth pads for menstruation for the first time. It took a while for my period to come back after my son was born and I started getting into all things reusable. It’s been almost exactly 5 years since I wrote this post, and since then I have probably only had 5 more periods … and of course I had a daughter and twin sons as well.
I’ve continued to use cloth pads exclusively as panty liners and for postpartum bleeding and when Aunt Flow returns for the last time, I’ve got my substantial stash waiting with their wings. While I make a few jokes in this post about the embarrassment I felt about my period as an adolescent and how a lot of that could’ve been avoided thanks to the surprising convenience of cloth, what I’ve come to realize in the half decade since I started on my reusable pad odyssey is how much more accepting and in tune with my body reusable menstrual products have helped me become. And while below I talk about wanting to spare my hypothetical (now real) daughter the embarrassment of the noisy pad wrapper in a bathroom stall, what I now hope is that my open and unabashed use of cloth pads will normalize menstruation for her so that the idea that I used to turn on the hand-dryer in the bathroom so no one would know I was changing my pad will seem ludicrous.
What I’ve come to realize is that using reusable pads hasn’t just been about changing my environmental footprint; it’s been about changing the conversation around menstruation entirely.
So, I’ve posted before about my love of washable panty liners. I stopped using throwaway liners almost a year ago and haven’t looked back. But I’ve also been advocating reusable menstrual pads for menstruation when… *gasp*…. I still hadn’t gotten my period back post partum! Be jealous, I know… Cub is 20 months old, and I only just got my period back!
Of course, as fate would have it, I have been wanting my cycle back since he turned one. We’d like to have another Cub sooner rather than later. It took night-weaning and a super boost in protein in my diet to bring back dear Aunt Flow, but now that she’s here, I get to give you my honest and candid appraisal of being literally on the rag.
First of all: ew! Before using cloth diapers, the thought of using washable menstrual pads was just repulsive to me. How much grosser could you get? Well, turns out, I’m now 200% more grossed out by all the icky stuff hiding in regular disposable pads and tampons and the waste they generate than I am of washing blood out of my pretty Mama Cloth.
I gave away all my Tampax and Always months ago, knowing it was go cloth or go home for me once my cycle started up again. I can very truly say that I have no regrets.
On Monday I went to work all day using just my reusable pads and I had no issues whatsoever. I wasn’t uncomfortable at all. A fellow cloth-curious Mom recently asked, in my local cloth diapering group, whether or not you feel like you’re “dans le jus” when wearing a cloth pad. (Even if you don’t speak French, I’m sure you can get the gist.) You know what? With my hemp and bamboo topped pads, I can honestly say, I did not feel wet. (I felt the wetness more with my cotton and flannel topped pads, but not intolerably so.)
I don’t know about your disposable sanitary pad habits, but I hate going to the bathroom and not changing my pad, even if it’s not totally soaked. I hate pulling up my pants and knowing I’ve got a bunch of dried blood sitting under me. That being said, it’s expensive and very wasteful to change your disposable pad every time. Guess what? Change your cloth pads as often as you feel like!!!
While at work on Monday (I tutor at a high school), I thought of a bunch of reasons why I like using cloth better, and why I wish I’d used cloth even as an adolescent.
Let’s face it, as a Mom I have lost pretty much any sense of modesty regarding bodily functions. But do you remember in high school hiding a tampon up your sleeve? Waiting for someone to run the tap or the hand dryer before unwrapping your pad in the bathroom stall? Freaking out about the swish-swish noise you were sure EVERY boy could hear as you walked by their desks with your pad on? Realizing, only when it’s too late, that there is NO trash can anywhere in the bathroom you are using?
If I ever have a daughter, (which I did just over a year after writing this post) I’m sparing her all of that anxiety by giving her cloth pads and normalizing menstruation!
1- They’re pretty, and you can get funky little carry-cases for them. They make zero noise to snap on and snap off …
3- The make zero noise when you walk.
4 – You tuck your used one into a zippered, leak-proof pouch in your purse, no stress! Please tell me I am not the only woman who has had to wrap up a used pad in a wad of toilet paper and hide it in her purse until a subtle opportunity to toss it presents itself? Whether it’s because there’s actually no trash can in the bathroom (usually in someone’s home), no bag in the trash can or because you don’t need your boyfriend’s Mom to know you have your period…. you’ve probably done it. Lest we imagine what a future partner of one of my children will experience when I give her cloth pads for Christmas … I’ll have come full circle from the embarrassed teen to the menstruation-obsessed mom! And if the conversation around menstruation has changed as drastically by then as I suspect, she’ll be thrilled!
All those practical reasons go alongside the environmental and health reasons. I had very naively believed that the products I was using in the most sensitive area of my body were safe and strictly regulated. (They’re not.)
What about washing them? Isn’t that nasty? Well, if you’re already washing cloth diapers, menstrual blood probably doesn’t gross you out. If you’re considering cloth and you’ve not cloth diapered, then have you ever been surprised by your period and had to wash your bedsheets or your clothes? It’s no grosser than that! Most women know to rinse their sheets or clothes in cold water before tossing them in the machine. I can recall many-a-pair of undies soaking in the sink… Washing your pads is no different.
I put an empty ice cream tub with a lid in our bathroom and let my pads soak in cold water. So far, since I do laundry so often any way, I’ve just been tossing whatever pads are there in with our regular wash. They don’t come out perfectly white, this is true. I have ordered some pads that have a printed top layer, so this is a pretty great stain-hiding solution. If I was super concerned about stains, I’m sure I could get them out with a stricter soaking/wash routine. My plan is to sun them at the end of my cycle. (Like I said, zero modesty here!)
My flow this first cycle on the proverbial cloth horse has been moderate. I know what it’s like to have a ridiculously heavy flow, and I know they make some pretty heavy-duty pads that should be up to the job. (I’d love to hear your experience if you’ve got a heavy flow and use cloth pads.) I also plan to try a menstrual cup, but haven’t gotten the nerve up yet to put it in! (Though I know, once you get the hang of it, it’s an awesome solution.)