I recently had a really interesting discussion online with a bunch of people wanting to know more about reusable menstrual products. Many of them were initially freaked out by the idea, which is completely understandable when you realise that we are drip fed the message from childhood that periods (and therefore our bodies) are dirty, embarrassing things that ought to be hurriedly flushed away and not spoken about in polite company. But after posting some basic information for them, they gradually started to accept the idea. Some were even interested in switching!
Anyway, I thought I’d address one of the more common questions I am asked by nervous people, unsure of whether cloth is for them – “will cloth sanitary pads be able to cope with my heavy periods?”.
How heavy is heavy?
This is a bit like the old “how long is a piece of string?” saying. What one person considers a heavy flow, might be regular for someone else. The problem is that it’s rarely spoken about, so we have no points for comparison.
I always thought my periods were quite heavy but since hearing about the experiences of others, perhaps they aren’t all that heavy after all. Even pre-cloth, I never soaked straight through a pad or had any disastrous leaks. I never had to change my pads every hour or two for fear of flooding. But these are all very real scenarios for some.
This infographic from www.bepreparedperiod.com is helpful in establishing just how heavy your flow is, and from there you can begin to think about what your requirements are for dealing with that flow.
Will cloth pads be able to cope with heavy periods?
In all likelihood, yes. This is such a common worry for people currently using disposable products. If new fangled, chemical-filled, technologically advanced, scientifically proven disposable pads are struggling to absorb your blood, how the heck is a bit of fabric going to do the job?!
The simple answer is, some fabrics are now just as advanced as disposable pads but without all the toxic nasties lurking within. I’ll discuss specific materials in a minute but cloth pads exist in ALL absorbencies, from panty liners right through to super heavy postpartum or night time pads.
They also have a big advantage over disposables because they are generally not mass produced. They are designed and made by small scale makers, usually work-at-home mums. This means that there are countless shapes and lengths available to choose from. They are literally tailor made to suit your particular bleeding pattern and body shape.
Do you bleed mostly to the front or back? Buy a pad with a flare at one or both ends.
Do you leak off the sides of disposables? Look for a pad where the absorbent core extends into the wings.
Do you have sudden gushes? Opt for a pad with a fast wicking top fabric and extra thirsty central core.
Do you need protection for stress incontinence? Buy a pad with a hidden waterproof layer for extra security.
The possibilities are endless!
Which topping fabrics are best for heavy periods?
Again, it depends on your own flow. Even on the heaviest two days at the start of my period, I can quite happily wear cotton topped pads during the day without worrying about leaks.
Some people do experience sudden gushes that happen too quickly for cotton to absorb fast enough. It is also common to experience this at night, when blood can pool inside your vagina until you turn over in your sleep. For this situation you might want to consider a fabric with a longer pile to it, such as bamboo velour, cotton velour or plush minky.
It is slightly bulkier to wear but more efficient at catching your flow, minimising surface run-off, and helping the liquid to seep more quickly into the absorbent core.
Which core materials should I look for?
Makers use all sorts of different materials in the absorbent core of their pads. For example, a Busy Little Bee night pad contains two layers of zorb and one layer of hemp fleece. Whereas a postpartum Environmenstrual pad has two layers of bamboo fleece and a layer of waterproof PUL.
Hemp is great for avoiding compression leaks, while wearing tight jeans or lying in bed.
Zorb is an amazing fabric that requires a few washes to reach its full absorbency.
Bamboo is a super absorbent natural fibre that sucks up liquid fast and holds onto it.
PUL is a synthetic waterproof material that is great for very fast or heavy flows. It tends to be hidden underneath the absorbent material inside the pad. It is less breathable than other materials but will help to avoid leaking straight through onto your underwear. It is also used in cloth nappies for babies so is perfect for containing fluid.
These are just a few examples. Pad makers have a whole arsenal of fabrics available to them to make cloth pads just as absorbent or in some cases more absorbent than their disposable counterparts.
Will cloth pads make my flow lighter?
There is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that ditching the disposables and all the toxins they contain, for chemical-free reusable products may lessen the amount of blood loss during your period. The synthetic absorbent materials used within disposable tampons and pads do not only absorb blood. They leech all moisture from your most delicate area, including the natural lubricants your body produces. There is speculation that this “drawing out” effect, might cause heavier and more painful bleeding for some women.
However, there have been no scientific studies into this and there is no concrete proof that you will have a lighter period as a result of switching. Do not make the choice to switch in anticipation of lighter periods because you could end up disappointed. Make the decision to switch in the hope that you will have a happier, more comfortable cycle and a healthier reproductive system, free from chemicals and the risk of toxic shock syndrome (TSS). You are far more likely to find what you are looking for.