You can't tap through Instagram without a period-haver singing the gospel of how they switched from tampons to a menstrual cup. After getting past the initial hump of learning how to care for this new device, many people find that menstrual cups are a much easier, cleaner, and safer method for dealing with their periods than the plastic-and-cotton option. And you can save some serious cash when you trade in your tampons and pads for a cup — one costs around $30 and can last for up to 10 years — while also doing Mother Earth a huge favor — they're way more environmentally friendly than any kind of disposable menstrual product.
"The best thing about a menstrual cup is never having to worry about being out of tampons again," Kate, 32, who has been using a cup for six years, tells Bustle. "At the end of my cycle I wash the cup and put it back in its little bag in my backpack. Then, whenever my next period starts I get it out and don't have to worry about whether I'm out of disposable products. Also, having a waste-free period is pretty great."
But as enthused as people are about life with a menstrual cup, it's not all rainbows and roses. Menstrual cups require you to get up close and personal with your body in a way that pads and tampons don't. Yes, you might get some blood on your hands. Yes, you may have to reach farther into your vagina than you're used to. But don't let that freak you out.
"There's inevitably a feeling of apprehension when trying something new," Lauren Schulte Wang, founder and CEO of the menstrual cup company Flex, tells Bustle. "Triple that when it comes to inserting a foreign object into your vagina, arguably the most sensitive area of your body."
If you've been a bit hesitant to toss those tampons to the side and try out your first cup because it seems too complicated, here are nine essential menstrual cup hacks to help you ease into the transition. As always, read the instructions on the package, and consult with your doctor if you have any questions about using the product.
1. Don't Forget The Fold
The first time you see a menstrual cup, you might think "Um... How is that going to work??" The trick is to fold it. "Folding the cup helps decrease the diameter of the cup, which makes it easier to insert into the vagina," Rachel Gelman, DPT, a pelvic health specialist and Bay Area regional director of the Pelvic Health Rehabilitation Center, tells Bustle.
Most cups fold into a kind of heart, compressing into a tube-like shape so that they can fit more easily inside the vaginal canal. Some use other folds, though, so follow the directions on the packaging of your cup for best results. For more ideas, check out the recommendations from Put a Cup in It.
2. Engage Your Kegel Muscles
Inserting and removing a menstrual cup requires a little more effort than tampons — and that's where your Kegel exercises really come in handy. When you're placing the cup inside your vagina, it might not settle in the correct spot right away on its own. But if you contract your Kegel muscles a few times, drawing them upwards, like you're holding in pee, it should shift the cup to the right place without you having to reach in and mess with it.
When it comes to taking it out, just do the opposite. If your flow isn't that heavy, then the cup might be lodged up further inside your vagina — but don't freak out if you can't easily reach the long tip on the end of the cup. Use your pelvic floor muscles to push down until you have pushed the cup far enough down that you can pinch the base and release the suction. Keep practicing and you'll be a pro in no time.
3. Give It A Twirl
According to Lunette, a good trick for getting the cup fully open once and sealed it's inside your body is giving a little twirl. "[Twirling the cup] helps make sure the cup has expanded and can help create the suction which keeps it in place," Gelman says. Literally: Just reach up and twirl the cup in a circle a few times. You'll likely feel it open up more and might even notice when it suctions up.
4. Get Good At Squats
If you're having a hard time getting your menstrual cup to open fully and suction, Menstrual Cups Australia recommend doing some squats. Get in the habit of doing a couple of deep ones after every time you put the cup back in. You'll almost certainly notice fewer leaks in the future. Bonus: It's a great butt workout, too!
5. Start With Cold Water
Everyone and their mother will tell you to wash your cup in warm water, and that's sound advice for making sure that it's properly cleaned. But if you want to avoid any permanent stains or discoloration, the menstrual cup company Lunette suggests starting your menstrual cup care routine with a cold rinse to ensure that the dark tints don't get set into the cup. Then you can move to a higher temperature for cleaning.
6. Keep It Sparkly Clean
Keeping your cup clean the correct way is essential, both for your health and the longevity of your cup.
"Cleaning a menstrual cup according to the manufacturer’s instructions is important to maintain the integrity of the material of the cup — so it doesn’t develop cracks or holes and result in the leakage of the menstrual blood," Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine, tells Bustle. If you use the wrong type of cleaning solution, it can the cup or not get it clean all the way, both of which can lead to a vaginal infection.
No need to spend money on a specially made cleaner to clean out your cup during your cycle. You can just grab some vinegar from your cabinet and dilute it with nine times as much water. Vinegar is a sanitizing agent that is just as powerful as the synthetic stuff you can pick up at the grocery store, yet it comes without all the gross artificial hoo-ha. Simply rinse your cup out with this homemade solution, and you're good to go.
There are a few tiny holes under the rim of your cup that are hard to spot if you don't know to look for them. Well, they're not there to add decoration; they play a vital role in creating the suction of the cup and keeping that seal intact when it is inside your vagina. These holes may turn a funky color after a few months of use — usually a sort of reddish-brown — and using an old toothbrush is the easiest way to clean them out.
Run the cup under warm water, gently stretch out the holes, and use the brush to remove any debris that you can't get to with your fingers. The holes are so teeny that some people are tempted to use a safety pin or needle to pick out the gunk, but this is a rookie mistake — using something sharp could damage the quality of your trusty cup. So stick to soft bristles, like those on a toothbrush — they'll get the job done.
After your period is over and you want to give your cup a solid wash before tucking it away for the rest of the month, heat up a small pot of water. Once it starts rapidly boiling, drop your cup in and wait around the kitchen for five to 10 minutes. The boiling water will remove the unpleasant odor, discoloration, and any nasties that shouldn't be living on the surface. After the time is up, remove your cup, let it dry, and store it.
However, don't use this downtime to paint your nails, vacuum the whole house, or zone out. You've got to keep a close eye on the whole boiling process, or else you could burn the cup and forever damage it. Setting a timer to remind you when it's time to get it out can be really helpful.
7. Use A Pantyliner Or Period Undies At Night
You can't know for sure what your period has in mind for you after you've turned in for the night. It could decide to kick in full throttle and release so that your cup might leak a little bit. Totally normal, so just be prepared — especially if you've been known to sleep in on a Saturday morning and wake up with not-so-white-anymore underwear. Combine a panty liner or pad, or period underwear, with your cup before you shut off the lights, and you're set for a long night of stain-free beauty rest.
8. Put It Under Sunlight To Restore Color
Menstrual cups are often a clear white/beige color when you unwrap them. But you're bound to run into some staining issues after you've been using that bad boy for several months. Don't worry — it's nothing that can't be fixed. Placing your cup under natural sunlight will help restore it back to its initial, happy color (and get rid of any icky smells), according to Lunette.
As you can probably imagine, sticking it on the rooftop patio of your apartment building isn't the best idea, though. Rather, place it on your windowsill, on a lightly-shaded back deck, or another place where it won't be under direct sunlight for hours and hours. That way, there'll be less chance of it melting down into an unusable wad of silicone.
These tips may make using and caring for a menstrual cup seem complicated, but it's not. Once you get into the swing of things, you'll likely wonder how you ever lived without it. And soon enough, you'll also be running around trying to convert menstruating people everywhere to make the switch.
Lauren Schulte Wang, founder and CEO of the menstrual cup company Flex
Rachel Gelman, DPT, a pelvic health specialist and Bay Area regional director of the Pelvic Health Rehabilitation Center
Dr. Felice Gersh, M.D., founder and director of the Integrative Medical Group of Irvine
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