Let's get to it!
Why Green Your Cycle
I am not the most environmentally-friendly person, but I care and I attempt to pursue the green endeavors that I feel help make the biggest impact. It's why we cloth diapered for a while, try to remember to take reusable grocery bags to the store, and use dryer balls instead of dryer sheets. If we could prevent thousands of one item from going to the landfill, then why not?
It's those recurring additions to the landfill that make me pause and think maybe reusable would be better. And, it's why I sought a solution to the waste produced from my monthly cycle--anything used and thrown away that frequently is worth reconsidering.
There's also health benefits to choosing greener options. Greener for the earth often means greener for our bodies. Especially when it comes to self-care like that required on a monthly basis for most women.
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Natural Period + PMS Care
Essential OilsFor cramping, I use lavender essential oil and a muscle relief essential oil blend diluted with a carrier oil like almond and rub into my lower stomach and back where the cramping is. Depending how bad the cramping is, this provides almost instant relief that lasts at least a few hours. I also often get headaches with my cycle, so I use peppermint essential oil at my temples and the base of my neck (that's the only time I use it "neat" with no carrier oil; I just touch my finger to the top of the bottle so not even a full drop is used).
Heat PadWe have a Carex Bed Buddy microwavable heat pack that feels so good on my stomach or back. The handles make it easy to hold wherever it's needed. Before that, I used our simple ice bag and just put hot tap water in it. That worked good enough, but the Bed Buddy is easier to hold on my back.
I avoid baths when I'm on my cycle. But usually I feel the moodiness and achiness before the period starts, so I try to get in a calming bubble bath. The Epsom Salt and warmth soothes muscles both in my stomach and in my neck/head. Dr. Teal's has a calming bubble bath that I was gifted and love.
Epsom Salt Bubble Bath
VitaminsI forget to take my vitamins a lot. But when I'm dragging for a few days each month, I especially like to take an Emergen-C that has lots of natural mood- and energy-boosting vitamins--especially the Bs. And I try to keep up with a daily Vitamin D, too.
TeaI'm not a tea drinker. But there's something about feeling moody and under the weather, especially on my achiest days at the beginning of my cycle, that just begs for a warm cuppa. Since I don't normally drink tea, I only keep Throat Tamer Tea on hand. It's sort of a cure all anytime I'm feeling under the weather--cold symptoms, nausea, PMS. It's soothing and good.
IndulgencesI get monthly cravings. I usually give in, especially if I can opt for something with a little added nutritional value like a chocolate peanut butter smoothie, oatmeal peanut butter cookies, or dark chocolate covered almonds. Can you tell I crave a lot of chocolate peanut butter? They're not exactly healthy, but they're better than most things I'd grab from a drive-thru.
Menstrual CupWhen I first thought about greening my monthly cycle, I thought the only solution would be "mom cloth" or cloth pads. I don't use pads, so this option in no way appealed to me. Tampons are greened up a bit when you buy the O.B. versions that come without applicators. That takes care of only half of the waste problem. Enter the menstrual cup.
It's a soft silicone cup that collects rather than absorbs flow, which is then periodically disposed in the toilet. The cup is then cleaned and reinserted. After the 5-7 days (more? less?) of use, the cup is thoroughly cleaned, sterilized, and stored until next month. I've used The Diva Cup before and now have the Lena which I love even more and share more on below.
Cloth Panty LinersI have yet to experience the world of cloth panty liners. Use of liners is only precautionary, so throwing them in the wash doesn't concern me like it might with the mom cloth. There are options on Etsy, cloth diaper stores, or could be DIYed. If I were going to try them, I like the design of the Moonpads liners. The seam is sewn such that the wings fold in automatically, whereas the wings on many others seem as though they'd feel bulkier because they were made to lay straight out.
Both The Diva and the Lena cups work so good against leaks, I usually only use a couple liners a month, so I don't feel too guilty about using disposable for now.
Why I Love The Diva & Lena Cups
Beyond being green, I've found so many benefits to using the menstrual cup, and especially The Diva and Lena cups (those are the two I've tried). Here's why they're so great...
Saves money.The menstrual cups on Amazon range from $17-$35. The product companies usually recommend replacing the cup each year, but I've used mine longer with no issues. Most women usually spend far more than $35/year on feminine hygiene products, so even with replacing every year, the cup is still cheaper.
Limits waste.At most you dispose of ONE cup throughout the year versus hundreds of tampons. I had my cup a few years before throwing it out, so the only waste during that time was a couple liners each month.
Bleach-free.Tampons are often bleached--a concern for products being inserted into your body--and come with the risk of TSS. To my knowledge, there are no major concerns with the contents of menstrual cup products. And since I first wrote this post, many more companies have also come out with a menstrual cup.
Easy to use.There is a learning curve. But after a period or two, I got the hang of it and find it super easy to use.
Simple and minimalist.When I think I might start my period while on a trip, I have ONE item to bring along with me. Once I've already started and am using the Diva, there are ZERO embarrassing products to tote along in my purse. Except, of course, a couple panty liners that I always have on hand just-in-case.
Leak-proof.You can leave it inserted for up to twelve hours. Women with heavy flow may need to empty it every 2-4 hours, while those with lighter flows or during the lighter days can forget about it for most of the day. (I empty it once in the morning and once at night on the last couple days of my cycle.) When I insert it properly, I have no leaks (which also happens to make panty liners less necessary).
No mess = Husband-approved.When I first told my husband about it, he was grossed out simply because it's period-related. But he approves after realizing there is no more gross or stinky tampon waste in our trash! Plus, no wasted money on tampons every month. And he doesn't have to go out and buy those products for me.
Getting The Most Out of a Menstrual Cup
There are a few considerations to disclaim so you know what you're getting into, and to help you have the best experience.
Shop around.There are even more brands now than when I first got The Diva in 2009. A quick search on Amazon (where I bought my Diva) came up with Dutchess, Eva (made in the USA), Lunette, Crystal (2 for under $20), Lena (made in California), GladRags, and more.
Be sure to check reviews. When I was ready to replace my Diva I browsed around to see what the other options were. The Lena cup had slightly better reviews specifically from previous Diva users, so I gave it a try. It really is more flexible and easier to use, while still being strong enough to open back up and get a proper seal. (Pay attention, some cups are reviewed that they're too soft and flimsy and don't open fully or seal correctly.) Whatever your concerns are, you can likely find answers in the Amazon reviews.
If you want to buy in person, they aren't usually available in the average grocery store. I've seen them in some green grocers, pharmacies in green-friendly locations, and cloth diaper stores. You can also purchase online from the factory website, or save a little money by buying on Amazon. Even if you pay full price, it will still be cheaper than a year's supply of tampons.
Softcup will show up in search results and is cheaper, but it's meant to be thrown away after each use or the Evofem is thrown away at the end of each cycle. So they're not entirely reusable. It apparently can be worn while having sex if that matters to you.
Check sizing.The Diva and Lena cups, and most others I've seen, offer two sizes. 1-2, A-B, or Small-Large. The smaller size is if you've never had a baby vaginally and the larger size is if you've had any vaginal births. Pay attention and make sure you're buying the right size.
I was skeptical because I'm small/petite and when I first bought The Diva I had only had one 8-lb baby. The size 2 (larger size) fit fine, and still works great after having two more babies that were 11- and 9-lbs. There did seem to be a little more leaking immediately after having my third baby, but that evened out after a few months and now I'm back to minimal if any leaking--which I attribute partly to flow evening out with hormones and partly to tightening up post-baby.
Insert it properly.Follow the included pamphlet to insert properly (fold it into a "U", insert horizontal to the ground, make sure it opens all the way and rotates a full 360 degrees to create a proper seal). Since posting this, I've also noticed more resources showing different ways to fold and insert. So if it's not working, doing a search and try a different method. If you insert it right and be sure the rim is fully opened and sealing, it will be effective at protecting unnecessary leaks and you won't feel it anymore than you may feel a tampon. Being able to rotate it really does make a difference to be sure it's sealing. The times I noticed leaking in the first few uses were because I was in a hurry and didn't make sure the rim was a full circle.
Remove it properly.The first time I used the Diva, I had a mini freakout the first time it needed to be removed to be emptied. There is no string like a tampon, and the stub of a "stem" is too slippery and short to be at all useful in pulling it out. It is possible to remove and does not hurt when done properly. Tighten your muscles (the ones you use to push out a baby), squeeze the base of the cup to break it's seal, and fold with your fingers as you pull it out. Any "pain" would come if you tried pulling the cup out without first breaking the seal (like a suction cup in your vagina--ow!).
Establish your wash routine.At first it will seem strange figuring out whether you should wash it with soap and water after each time you empty it or if it might be okay to reinsert without washing. The instructions recommend washing with a special soap before each time reinserting. I personally rinse it thoroughly before reinserting when I'm at home; just empty and wipe with a toilet paper before reinserting when I'm in a public restroom or at someone else's home; and wash with a gentle soap then boil for twenty minutes before storing when my period is over.
Because of my rather lax routine around washing, there was some staining, but that didn't bother me. When I bought the Lena, I was sure to get a pink one and the staining isn't as noticeable.
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