You’ve probably heard a lot about menstrual cups lately. They are quite trendy right now and a lot of women are making ‘the switch’.
If you never heard of it, a menstrual cup is a collection method for females to use during their periods. It’s a cup-looking, flexible object, that helps collecting the menstrual fluid, instead of absorbing it – as tampons and pads do.
Menstrual cups are gaining more and more popularity because they are very convenient:
- cost-effective: you can use one cup for years, so no need to buy pads or tampons every month
- comfortable: you can swim, workout and do all the things you would normally do while not on your period
- environmentally sustainable: they can easily be recycled and since they collect the menstrual fluid, they don’t result in any waste
But if you’re already here, you already know some things about menstrual cups and you’re probably thinking about making the switch, but you still have quite a few unanswered questions about them.
Here are some things you have to know about menstrual cups before making the switch and while researching how to chose one.
1. Make Sure you Check the Material They’re Made Of
There is a huge variety of brands to choose from. It can get tricky and confusing choosing a menstrual cup, for sure.
You have to make sure that you are choosing an actual menstrual cup that will be safe to use and won’t affect your health. Plastic is definitely a no-no when it comes to the list of things to put inside your body. 🙂
All real menstrual cups will be made of:
- rubber or
- medical grade silicone
So, if you’re allergic to latex or rubber you can choose a cup that’s made of medical grade silicone. If a menstrual cup is not made of either rubber or medical grade silicone, think of crossing it off your list.
I also want to make a quick note about the coloured cups. Yes, some come in different colours. And while they look cute and might help with the staining (will talk about that too) I personally don’t feel comfortable inserting dyed objects in my body. So be aware of the dyes cups too.
Again, make sure you check if and what type of dye is used in case you choose the coloured version.
2. They Usually Come in Two Sizes
You might think menstrual cups’ sizes should be based on your flow – similar to how pads and tampons are categorised. But that’s not the case here. Since menstrual cups collect, not absorb the liquid, their size is related to… well, your vagina pretty much.
All the brands I’ve researched so far, usually offer two sizes for the menstrual cup. The “size guide” is pretty straight forward and you really can’t go wrong with it:
- a small size – is recommended for women who haven’t give birth
- a large size – is recommended for women who – you guessed it – have given birth
Some brands will market the size based on flow, but make sure you check each brand’s guide on how to choose the right size. I still think that your flow should not matter for the size, since you can clean the cup multiple times per day, in case you need or want to.
3. Make Sure You Thoroughly Read the Instructions
And I mean it!
I know we’re prone to skipping the “Read the Instructions First” part, and go straight to action, but please don’t do this with a menstrual cup.
I use the OrganiCup and they have instructions on how to use their cup everywhere: inside the packaging, on their website, and in their e-mails.
Even if you used tampons previously, using a menstrual cup is a little different. Inserting and removing it can be tricky and weird at the beginning.
Reading the instructions will give you more clarity on how to use it and what to expect. For example, you’re not supposed to pull the stem when you want to take the cup out. I’ll explain a little more below.
When inserting, you need to make sure the cup doesn’t remain folded inside. This will cause leaks. To check if the cup unfolded completely, gently pull the stem. If you feel resistance, it means a vacuum was created and the cup is properly in place. Also, the vacuum is created due to the small holes the cup has on the upper side – make sure you clean them well, otherwise the cup might leak.
When it’s time to remove it, as I already said – don’t pull the stem! The vacuum needs to be broken first, otherwise removing the cup with the vacuum ‘on’ will rip your lady parts apart. You have to pinch the base of the cup to release the vacuum (you’ll feel it when it’s released), then you can pull it out using the stem. You can flex your abdominal muscles, to push the cup – it will be easier to pinch this way.
I’ve watched the instructional video a few times to make sure I got everything right and it truly helped to have a really nice experience from the very first beginning. I highly encourage you to watch it a few times as well!
4. Your Cup Will Get Stained. But You Can Clean It
After a couple of uses, you might notice that your cup is not as sparkly white-ish as it used to be when it was brand new.
This is normal.
You’ve probably learnt the hard way that blood stains things. The menstrual fluid contains blood as well so the rubber or the silicone will stain in time. This is normal and you don’t have to worry about it or change your cup.
If you want to keep it as stain-free as possible, let your cup soak overnight in water mixed with hydrogen peroxide.
5. Different Folds for Everyone
There are a lot of different ways of folding a menstrual cup. They are flexible, so you can fold them as you wish to ease the insertion.
Some of the most popular folds are:
- punch down
- seven fold and
- the C fold
You can research multiple types of folds and try those that you think are the best for you. For me for example, the punch down fold works the best.
6. You Can Keep it for 12 Hours, But Try Not To
If you’ve read a little about menstrual cups, you probably already know that one of the major concern around them is that they may cause Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS).
TSS is basically a bacterial infection. A bacteria called Staphylococcus Aureus gets into your bloodstream and can cause TSS, which can be deadly if not treated right away. The symptoms make it look like a common cold, which is one of the main reasons why it’s so dangerous.
Usually, TSS is associated with tampon use because they sit inside your body with all that menstrual fluid absorbed for a few hours. Menstrual cups just collect the fluids and they stay inside the cup, thus not touching the vaginal wall.
As far as I know, there has been only a couple of TSS cases of women who were using menstrual cups. And TSS infection is quite a rare disease.
There is still a mild risk that they can cause Toxic Shock Syndrome. So just to be extra safe, remove and clean the cup 2-3 times a day even if your flow is low and you wouldn’t need to change it that often. Here are the top tips I found so far about minimising the risk of TSS:
- change the cup every 4-6 hours
- some even advice to not wear it during the night (but what’s the beauty of it if you wouldn’t?!)
- wash your hands very well before and after inserting and removing the cup
- wash the cup (with mild soap) very well between uses
- try to boil it between uses as well (preferably every 2 days)
- make sure you always boil the cup before and after your period started/ended
The main hygienic concern is that women might skip washing their hands or boiling the cup accordingly, which means you might be ending up inserting bacteria from your hand in your vagina.
Tampons and menstrual cups themselves, don’t cause toxic shock syndrome. But because they need to be inserted and removed by hand, the risk of inserting bacteria is higher than when using a pad. So wash, wash, wash. And boil.
7. First Time Will Be Weird
Even if you used tampons before and read and watched the instructional video, things will be weird anyway.
Using a menstrual cup is a totally different experience than using tampons. You’ll get to see the actual menstrual fluid and inserting and removing it doesn’t come naturally to many of us.
You have to feel truly comfortable with your body and you have to know it very well in order to not feel that much pressure.
But the important thing is that it is ok if it feels weird. We all have been through this and we made it. Talk to someone about it if you want and I hope that this article gave you more clarity and confidence.
Last but not least, make sure you document yourself before deciding to make the switch.
Although my experience with the menstrual cup was quite positive (more to come in a future article), never fear to seek a doctor’s opinion and ask more details and insights about it. Also, don’t forget that you shouldn’t force yourself using it if it doesn’t work for you.
Have you tried a menstrual cup so far? What were your top fears and questions about making the switch?
I’m working on writing about my experience switching to a menstrual cup – would you like to know anything in particular about making ‘the switch’? Let me know in the comments!