How would you like to have a healthy, inexpensive and ecological alternative to pads and tampons during your period? Many women have discovered menstrual cups; a feminine hygiene product made of flexible medical grade silicone that is shaped like a bell with a stem. The bell-shaped cup seals around the cervix, and every 4–24 hours (depending on the amount of flow), the cup is removed, emptied and rinsed, and reinserted.
Menstrual cups have been around since the 1930s, but have recently increased in popularity. The first menstrual cup for U.S. use was manufactured in 1987, and they are marketed under various names: MeLuna Shorty, FemmyCycle, DivaCup, Lunette, Ruby Cup, or the LilyCup Compact. The cups can be reused for 5 years and come in 2 sizes: a smaller size for women under 30 who have not given birth vaginally, and a larger cup for those women over 30, who have had a vaginal birth or have heavy flow.
The cups are flexible which allows them to be folded for vaginal insertion. Some women may find the insertion somewhat difficult at first, but after some practice the cup should set against the cervix and create a tight seal. The stem of the cup is pinched to allow for removal and the cup can then be rinsed or wiped and reinserted. Specific cleaning instructions for between periods vary by brand.
Menstrual cups are safe according to several studies and do not appear to be associated with Toxic Shock Syndrome since they collect the menstrual blood instead of absorbing the blood like tampons.
Menstrual cups are kind to the environment considering that each year an estimated 20 billion pads and tampons are discarded in North America. Since menstrual cups are reusable, they help to reduce solid waste. Some disposable sanitary napkins and plastic tampon applicators can take 25 years to break down in the ocean or a landfill and can cause a significant environmental impact.
It’s true that some women may experience difficulty in inserting or removing the menstrual cup, depending on previous experience and certain physical factors. Remedies for this include: coaching from experienced users; selecting a different size, shape, or material; using a water-based lubricant to ease insertion; changing the folding method for insertion; and practice. For some women, these difficulties disappear with continued use, while for others they may remain. In addition, some women find menstrual cups to be uncomfortable. This may also lessen with practice and continued use. Selecting a smaller or softer cup, and/or trimming the stem of the cup, if there is one, may also help.
Women with pelvic organ prolapse may not be able to use menstrual cups comfortably or safely.
Many companies recommend that women using IUDs for contraception consult their gynecologists before using menstrual cups since there have been rare cases in which women have dislodged their IUDs when removing their menstrual cups.
Unfortunately, the removal of a menstrual cup can be messy. Sometimes menstrual blood can spill during removal, although many women remove the device while hovering over a toilet to catch such spillage.
Cleaning a menstrual cup in a public restroom can pose problems since sinks are usually, though not always, in a public space rather than in the toilet cubicle. Some manufacturers suggest wiping out the cup with a clean tissue and cleaning the cup at the next private opportunity. Some users carry a small bottle of water in their handbag to rinse the cup privately over the toilet. Since menstrual cups may only need to be emptied every 4–24 hours, many users do not have to empty them in public restrooms but can wait to do so in the comfort of their own home.
A menstrual cup costs around $25–30, depending on the brand. Since menstrual cups can stay in longer than tampons, which have to be changed every 4-8 hours, cups are a less expensive alternative.
As with all things, there are some drawbacks to using menstrual cups. Some women reported irritation of the vaginal tissues initially; however, the more they used the cup, the fewer problems they had. It can also be difficult for some women to find the right fit, due to their anatomy and medical history. And, as previously stated, removal and reinsertion can be messy.
However, if you’re looking for a change in your menstrual routine, menstrual cups are a safe, economical and eco-friendly option for you to consider.