Menstruation is heralded by women everywhere as a “coming of age” in which a girl becomes a woman. While this may sound like it’s supposed to be a wonderful, exciting time in a young girl’s life, it can be scary or overwhelming if you don’t know what to expect or have the proper supplies.
What is Menstruation?
Before we dive into the various types of hygiene products to deal with your menstruation, it’s important to talk a little bit about what it is and why it happens.
Menstruation is referred to by many different names, such as a period, a monthly, “Aunt Flo”, or a cycle. For most women, it happens at roughly the same time every month, so these nicknames make plenty of sense. Menstruation is the process of your uterus shedding all the blood and unneeded tissue that made up its inner lining that month.
The normal life cycle of the uterine lining is roughly 28 days, so at the end of that span of time, your uterus must shed the old tissue. This allows for new, healthier tissue to take its place if you aren’t pregnant.
The entire process can take anywhere from two to seven days for most women, and every woman experiences different levels of bleeding and discharge during this time.
What Products Are Available to Help Me Deal With Menstruation?
Thankfully, there are many products available to help make your period easier to deal with. There are several different types of feminine hygiene products, and they are all intended to give you as much choice and comfort as possible when dealing with your flow.
These products include tampons, reusable silicone cups and a broad range of sanitary napkins, which is what this article will primarily focus on.
Sanitary napkins are more commonly referred to as sanitary pads or simply pads. They come in a variety of shapes, sizes, thicknesses, types, and materials, so you can decide for yourself what will best suit your needs. Below are the six main types of pads you’ll see in a store.
1. Panty Liners
Panty liners are the thinnest type of sanitary napkin available. They can be short and slim to fit into petite underwear or thongs, or they can be long and wide enough to cover the entire crotch area of a regular pair of bikini or brief-style panties. Panty liners will typically have a thin layer of adhesive on the underside to ensure they stay where you put them.
These are typically available in unscented or fresh-scented material. While it is completely normal for your vagina to have a slightly different or stronger smell during your period, some companies understand that this can be a source of discomfort for some women and choose to offer panty liners with a subtle fragrance.
Panty liners are best for days when you are experiencing a little bit of spotting or you simply want to feel extra protected when wearing a tampon or cup.
2. Regular or Medium Flow
This is the most common type of pad that you will see in a store. For most brands, the “regular” pads are marked with a pink or yellow pouch to make them easier to locate. A regular pad is usually the same length as a long panty liner, but it will be much thicker because it is intended to absorb more blood.
Like panty liners, regular pads will have a thin layer of adhesive across the bottom, though this adhesive is usually a bit stronger to help keep the pad in place. Some companies do offer scented regular pads, but these are not as common as scented panty liners.
A regular pad is best for days when you are not bleeding heavily. Regular pads may also be a good choice for women who prefer to change their pads frequently regardless of flow.
3. Heavy Flow
Heavy flow pads are not the same as regular or overnight pads. Some brands make these a bit longer than regular ones, and in general they are always thicker than a regular pad. These can feel a bit bulky, so it is best to wear them with loose-fitting clothing when possible.
Many brands of heavy flow pads have adhesive “wings” in addition to the adhesive on the bottom of the liner. These wings are just sticky flaps that secure around the sides and outside of your panties for extra security. Some brands even make the wings somewhat absorbent for added protection against leaks.
4. Overnight Pads
Overnight pads tend to be the thickest and offer the most coverage of any type of sanitary napkin. This is because manufacturers understand that you are not going to be getting up frequently to change your pad during the night, so you will need extra protection to help you sleep soundly.
This type of pad is generally very long and wide to cover as much of the inside of your panties as possible. Most overnight pads are very thick and will also have the adhesive wings like heavy flow pads.
Overnight pads can be worn at any time of day, of course, they are simply called “overnight” to denote that they are extra absorbent and offer more protection than other types of pads.
5. Organic Cotton Pads
Most pads are made from bleached, industrial cotton and feature a special, absorbent gel to help wick away blood and discharge. However, if you prefer the all-natural route or have a latex allergy, organic cotton pads are available for light, medium or heavy flows.
These can be a bit more difficult to find than traditional pads, but they typically cost about the same as their non-organic counterparts, so you don’t have to worry about shelling out even more money for them.
6. Washable or Reusable Pads
This might sound strange or unappealing, but this is a great, eco-friendly option that’s also totally customizable. Each washable pad is made from a soft and sturdy material with a slit for inserting the absorbent liner. Many brands allow for insertion of multiple liners, so you can adjust your protection level as needed.
They can be changed just as often as traditional pads and kept in discreet “carry bags” when you’re out.
How Often Should I Change a Sanitary Pad?
This is something you should never be lazy about. Pads should always be changed every four to six hours at the most. On heavy flow days, you may need to change more frequently. For lighter flow days, it is best to simply wear a thinner pad or a panty liner rather than leave a pad on for longer.
How Should I Dispose of a Sanitary Pad?
Never try to flush a pad. They must be wrapped up well and thrown away in the nearest garbage can.
Shopping for pads mostly comes down to the patterns of your menstrual flow and personal preference. If you are too nervous to shop in a store, you can order any type of pad imaginable from online retailers. You can also learn more about each brand’s styles of pads from their online shops, which can help you decide what pads are right for you.