I was 10 years old the day I got my first period.

My mom handed me a maxi-pad and a book about menstrual cycles and said, "Let me know if you have questions." And that was it. There were no conversations about options for menstrual care, and my menstrual products were the same ones my mom used.   

Thankfully, that was ages ago and now the options are endless. So whether you’re ready to try something new, or guiding your daughter on her first choice, here's a quick rundown.  

OPTIONS 

Women now have options to use menstrual cups, menstrual discs, tampons with or without applicators, pads, liners, period panties and some even opt to free-bleed. But knowing your anatomy, your cycles, and your lifestyle will help determine which products best suit your needs on a particular day.  

Menstrual cups and discs are a great option that can help with a heavier flow, wanting to avoid that pesky tampon string during swimsuit season, or the need to wear protection for a longer period of time. With a reusable cup or disc, you simply insert and leave in for up to 12 hours. There are step-by-step instructions on how to insert, position to prevent leaking, and remove and clean. There are also different shapes and sizes for women during all stages of life. Many women try a few different types to see what works best for them. 

For a young woman first starting her menstrual cycle, knowing which product to use (and how to use it) can feel overwhelming. Are bulky menstrual pads the only choice? How do you insert a tampon into the vaginal opening? How do you find the opening? 

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS 

If a tampon is painful or uncomfortable, that can be a sign of pelvic floor muscle tension. Working with a pelvic floor physical therapist to get comfortable with your own pelvic floor anatomy and learn how to use a tampon can be helpful. In addition, yoga and some deep breathing exercises can help relax the pelvic floor muscles. 

After pregnancy, childbirth or with aging, tampons can start to feel like they’re falling out. This may be a sign of pelvic floor muscle weakness or pressure from your pelvic organs pushing them out. Working with a pelvic floor physical therapist to start strengthening exercises and learn how to avoid straining during bowel movements, urination, and exercise can improve pelvic floor muscle strength. And if tampons aren't working now, it's time to try a new product. 

ADDED PROTECTION

If you want a different or added layer of protection, pads and pantyliners can be great for menstrual hygiene. So can period panties. And if you have sensitive skin like I do, bleach-free and organic cotton products are widely available.  

However, I often hear of folks using maxi-pads for urinary leakage or incontinence pads as period pantyliners. But all pads are not created equal. Incontinence pads are designed specifically for urinary leakage to keep moisture away from your skin and prevent skin breakdown. If you have little urine leaks, use incontinence underwear, pads, liners, or internal and external prolapse supports. 

Finding the right products to manage this monthly visitor can be like an algorithm you or your daughter haven't quite mastered yet. But if we start having real conversations about menstrual health, we can make more informed decisions and help support our children in doing the same. Imagine the difference this openness can make not just in how we feel about our periods, but also how we feel about our bodies.  


Dr. Sara Reardon is a physical therapist and a board-certified women’s health clinical specialist. She is the owner of NOLA Pelvic Health, a pelvic floor physical therapy clinic in New Orleans; nolapelvichealth.com.

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