Menstrual Hygiene: What You Need to Know
As women and girls enter their reproductive years, they experience a monthly period (menstruation). According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the average North American girl gets her first period (known as “menarche”) around the age of 12.
Menstruation is when your uterine lining sheds through the vagina along with the unfertilized egg from the previous menstrual cycle. The average menstruation lasts about 5-7 days.
During this time, women and girls lose about 6 to 8 teaspoons of blood through the vagina, according to the NHS. So, while general hygiene is always important, there are certain steps you should take during your period to ensure proper menstruation hygiene. Among adolescent girls, it's especially important to learn menstrual management at a young age.
This article will help clear some things up with some major menstrual hygiene management (MHM) dos and don’ts.
Menstrual Hygiene Management MHM - Dos
Following proper menstrual hygiene techniques is important to avoid reproductive tract infections (RTI). According to the journal, BMC Infectious Diseases, there is a high correlation between poor menstrual hygiene and infections in the lower reproductive tract like Bacterial Vaginosis (BV) and Candida (yeast infection).
Follow these Dos and Don’ts to safeguard yourself against infection and discomfort related to poor menstrual hygiene management (MHM).
DO Use Feminine Hygiene Products
Feminine hygiene products are used during menstruation to collect and/or absorb blood and fluids from your period. They haven’t always been as accessible as they are now. Tampons first went on the market in the 1940s and adhesive pads in the late 1960s. Before then, women and girls of reproductive age used a cloth to absorb their menstrual blood they would then wash and reuse.
The global feminine hygiene market has grown A LOT since the 1940s and accounted for $30.43 billion in 2019 alone, according to MarketWatch. Lucky for you, with this growth comes innovation! That means you now have a variety of options to choose from when it comes to feminine hygiene products.
Feminine hygiene products can be both disposable and reusable.
Disposable Feminine Hygiene Products
Many women use disposable feminine hygiene products during their period to absorb the blood and tissue that comes out of the vagina. Examples include:
- Pantyliners: A thin strip of absorbent material that has adhesive on one side so it can stick to your underwear.
- Sanitary pads: A thicker pad used to absorb a heavier period flow. Like pantyliners, sanitary pads have an adhesive side that sticks to the underwear.
- Tampons: Tampons act as a plug of sorts. They are inserted into the vagina and have a long string that hangs outside and is used to pull the tampon out. Some tampons come with an applicator and others require you to use your fingers to insert it.
The Problem With Disposable Feminine Hygiene Products
As the world becomes more environmentally aware, disposable feminine products have come under some scrutiny.
Think about it: The average woman experiences around 456 total periods in her lifetime. That works out to about 240 tampons used per year or 9,600 throughout a lifetime. That’s a lot of waste! 250 to 300 pounds of waste to be exact. [Source].
It’s also a big expense if you think about how many boxes of pads or tampons you’ll have to purchase in your lifetime.
Reusable Feminine Hygiene Products
Reusable menstrual hygiene products are a great option for the environmentally and cost-conscious woman, Lucky for you, reusable feminine hygiene products have come a long way since the cloth women used back in the day. There are a variety of products on the market, including:
- Menstrual cups: A washable silicone cup that sits inside the vagina. It’s held in place with a light suction action and often used in combination with period panties. Depending on your preference and size, there are a variety of menstrual cups to choose from.
- Washable menstrual pads: A reusable and washable version of a disposable pad primarily made from cotton.
- Period panties or leakproof underwear: Absorbent underwear that can be washed and reused. Call us biased, but we think leakproof underwear is definitely a way to go when it comes to reusable MHM products (more on this later). They are great when used in conjunction with pads, cups, or tampons.
DO Change Your Sanitary Pad and Tampon Every 4-6 Hours
The general recommendation is to replace your pad or tampon every 4-6 hours. Letting menstrual blood sit near or in your vagina for too long is a breeding ground for bacteria and can lead to uncomfortable infections.
DO Wipe From Front To Back
Your vagina and your anus are located in close proximity to each other, as you’re well aware. An important thing to keep in mind is that these two areas harbor different types of bacteria—and you don’t want to mix the two!
Always remember to wipe from front to back (rather than from the anus towards the vagina). This will help avoid passing bacteria from your anus to your urethra and can help avoid painful urinary tract infections (UTI), according to the Mayo Clinic.
This is a good rule of thumb to follow at all times, but especially during your period when there is a lot more wiping happening in that general region.
Menstrual Hygiene Management MHM - Don’ts
DON’T Use Feminine Cleansing Products
There is a misconception that having a period is “dirty” which is why some women choose to use feminine cleansing products.
According to a study by the University of Guelph, over 95% of women and girls have tried vagina hygiene products but it also suggests they do more harm than good. The study shows that women who use these products are more prone to things like UTIs and yeast infections.
It’s advised you try and stay away from the following types of products:
- Douches: A fluid used to flush out the inside of the vagina.
- Feminine wipes: Moist, sometimes scented cloths used to wipe in and around the vulva.
- Scented Soaps: Antibacterial and scented soaps mess with the pH balance of your vagina and should be avoided, warns The Mayo Clinic.
DON’T Use a Menstrual Sponge
More recently, sea sponges have been touted as a great reusable alternative to pads and tampons. But they could potentially be very dangerous. The FDA tested sea sponges in the late 1980s and found them to contain substances like sand and grit that could lead to a lot of complications and infection if inserted into the vagina.
Medical professionals agree: Dr. Jen Gunter, OBGYN says: “I’m the expert and I say women should not use sea sponges in their vagina. They are potentially very dangerous. They don’t even have the most basic of safety testing.” [Source]
DON’T Flush Disposable Products Down the Toilet
Tampons, pantyliners, and pads are not to be flushed down the toilet. Always dispose of your menstrual hygiene products safely by wrapping them in toilet paper and putting them in the designated bin.
The Benefits of Period Underwear
When it comes to the world of period panties, there are many options to choose from. They all have slightly different designs as well as unique value propositions and innovations.
It’s the proprietary technology used to produce the fabric that makes these panties so revolutionary. Period panties solve many of the problems caused by other types of menstrual hygiene products, like:
- They are absorbent but not bulky
- They are made with moisture wicking fabric keeps you clean and dry
- They use a fabric that is anti-odor and breathable so you don’t have to feel embarrassed by unwanted odor or uncomfortable sweat “down there”
- They are free of harsh chemicals that can disrupt the pH balance of your vagina to help avoid uncomfortable and painful infections
For example, the patented technology built into Knix underwear is 100% free from PFAS and is OEKO-TEX® certified. Learn more about how period panties work from Joanna Griffiths, Founder of Knix, Canada’s leading period underwear product.
Period underwear isn’t designed to be a replacement of all forms of feminine hygiene products, except for on your lightest flow days. But they are the perfect complement and an ideal backup solution to catch those annoying leaks!
When To Wear Period Underwear
You can wear period underwear all day, every day (whether you’re on your period or not).
But there are limits on how much period underwear can absorb.
For example, Knix Leakproof Underwear absorbs 3 tsp of liquid, which is actually more than a regular tampon can hold—about 1 teaspoon. This makes Leakproof Underwear ideal for light days or as a back-up solution on heavy days.
What Happens When You Don’t Practice Good Menstrual Hygiene?
If you don’t practice good menstrual hygiene, you run the risk of irritation or infection. Some examples include:
- Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS): In rare circumstances, TSS can arise if a tampon is left in the vagina for too long. When blood sits in the vagina for too long it becomes a breeding ground for bacteria that can lead to infection.
- Irritation: If you disrupt the pH balance of your vagina using cleansing products like soaps with fragrances, it can lead to inflammation and irritation in and around the vagina.
- Lower Reproductive Tract Infections: Yeast infections, Candida, and Bacterial Vaginosis are all infections that happen when the pH balance of your vagina is out of whack and leading to bacteria growth.
If you are experiencing pain, itching, or any discomfort around your vagina it’s always recommended you reach out to your doctor for medical advice.