Menstrual Discs, Period Underwear, And More

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The last time I wrote about reusable period products, I was mostly interested in their environmental and financial benefits compared with single-use tampons or pads. While that still applies, the recent tampon shortage made options like menstrual cups and discs, period underwear, and reusable pads all the more attractive.

At the moment, menstrual cups and discs are the only insertable, FDA-regulated alternative to tampons, said Dr. Barbara Wilkinson, an OB-GYN at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and instructor at Harvard Medical School.

There are some other products being developed using reusable tamponlike materials, like a menstrual sponge, but none have yet been FDA approved. This may be due to concern about those products absorbing and potentially allowing for the growth of bacteria, which could increase the risk of the rare but potentially life-threatening toxic shock syndrome.

“We generally advise people to use either disposable tampons or the reusable, body-safe silicone menstrual cups or menstrual discs inside,” Wilkinson said. “Other than that, you’re mostly looking at non-inserted devices and looking at things that are going to focus on absorption on the outside.”

Everyone’s body is unique, with different menstrual flows, Wilkinson said, so she advised trying a few to find a reusable menstrual product that’s right for you. While many of these options may seem expensive, it’s important to keep in mind that you’ll likely recoup the cost over time because you’ll be spending less on disposable products each month.

Menstrual cups and discs

One thing to keep in mind: If you have an IUD, you should probably consult with your doctor before using a menstrual cup. That’s because there’s a chance of dislodging the IUD when removing the cup, although it’s unlikely.

Wilkinson said that menstrual cups can still be appropriate for people with IUDs since they generally sit a little lower in the vaginal canal than where the IUD strings would reach, but most cups (and doctors) still advise consulting your physician before using.

She also acknowledged that people will have varying levels of comfort with the cups. Some, like those with IUDs or those who find the stems on menstrual cups uncomfortable, may prefer a menstrual disc.

Menstrual discs, like the Cora and Ziggy included in this list of menstrual cup options, have a slightly different structure. They tend to be wider and flatter in shape, and they do not rely on suction to stay in place, so IUD users may feel safer removing them without the risk of dislodging the IUD.

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