Warning, this is a post that most men will NOT want to read! If you're a man, I suggest you stop now, we're about to discuss "female things" and from my experience, men prefer to not hear such conversations.
And with that warning. . . I'm finally going to post about something I've been wanting to do ever since I started this series, but somehow I thought we needed to work up to it LOL. And that would be reusable menstrual products!!!
First the facts. Environmental impact is obvious, stop filling the landfills with disposable pads or sending tampons through to the water waste processing plants! Economic impact is also pretty straight forward, you make an initial purchase and then have little to no on-going expense. There are too many variables for me to try to put a per month price tag on disposable menstrual products, but figure it out for yourself, and see how quickly you'll re-coup the cost of reusable products and start saving money. The health benefits are probably the least obvious/well known, because we've all grown up using disposable products and it would never occur to us that they might not be healthy (despite that little TSS warning plastered all over the tampon box), and I'll admit I've never found anything "scientific" about this, but I've heard it from enough other women to know it's not just me. Using cloth pads or a menstrual cup is likely to give you a lighter period, less cramping, and a shorter period. Why? Because you're not laying something full of toxic chemicals (that are designed to "draw fluids" to the "lock-away core" (or whatever each brand calls it) right up against yourself. I'm totally convinced that those chemicals are messing w/ our periods, but nobody notices because the chemicals have been added gradually & pretty much across the board, so none of us currently menstruating have ever NOT had the chemicals unless/until we switch to re-usable products. Then many, many, many, MANY women have found they have less PMS, less cramping, lighter flow & sometimes a shorter period then when they were using the chemical laden disposable products. (if you just can't quite wrap your mind around the idea of reusable products but want the health benefits, there ARE a few brands of chemical free disposable products, Seventh Generation is one, I'm sure there are others, but they're pricey).
So now my story . . . I first came across the concept when I started researching cloth diapers (another great topic, though one that's not currently relevant to my life LOL) at that point, there were a variety of cloth pads available as well as the Keeper. But since there's a different size for pre & post childbirth, I figured I'd wait to get a keeper until after I'd had a baby. As I started buying cloth diapers I also bought a selection of cloth pads and began using them, just washing them with a load of towels. I found that I preferred all in ones and, about a month before I got pregnant (murphy's law being alive & well) finally found the brand I liked & ordered enough to use full time. I used them after the first week post-partum (first week the girls were in NICU and dealing w/ cloth pads while sitting in a hospital waiting room was more than I could tackle) and then they sat waiting until my period came back when the girls were toddlers. By then, the Diva cup was also an option & I liked the idea of silicone (Diva) vs. latex/rubber (Keeper). But, some reviews indicated that the Mooncup, available only in the UK, was a better shape/size than the Diva cup, so I held off for awhile. I also figured that this was something I'd prefer to learn w/o a 2 toddler audience and at that point privacy in the bathroom was pretty non-existent. Finally I found a sale on the Diva cup and went ahead & got it, privacy was still an issue so I got a slow start, then I found someone who was doing a bulk order of the UK Mooncup & having it shipped over here, so I went ahead & got one of them as well. Somewhere about the same time, I finally mastered the use of the Diva cup, and the girls were old enough that I could consistently slip off to the bathroom w/o an audience when needed, so I started using a menstrual cup predominantly, and the cloth pads only rarely. Having 2 menstrual cups, while not necessary, is nice, I can keep one in my bathroom & one in my purse (when not in use) so I have one handy wherever I am when my period starts. As far as which one is "better" it seems to vary from person to person here's a site w/ comparisons & such. I will say, while I haven't tried the Mooncup US (from the makers of the Keeper) I've seen one and the size/shape look to be exactly the same as the Mooncup UK. It's SOO nice to have to worry about packing pads or tampons when we go on vacation and such!! (if you'd like to get a Diva, Keeper, or Mooncup US, e-mail me and I can give you information for getting them at a lower price through a co-op I run).
Cloth pads don't have the learning curve of the cup (& can be used post partum). The brand I got is no longer available, I've tried some Amaz Padz and been happy with them, and I've also heard good review of Mom & Me Creation pads, which are hemp fleece (if I were buying pads now, they're what I would try because they're natural fibers instead of the polyester fleece that is on many brands (including the ones I have now)). My "washing routine" has evolved depending on the other laundry I do. If you use cloth diapers, you can just wash them with the cloth diapers, same routine and everything. When I first started using cloth pads pre-kids, I would rinse them out in the sink right away, and then throw them in the next load of towels (which I washed on hot, and didn't use fabric softener with anyway, so same basic "routine"). Now I wash them with the rags, towels, & wipes, and I do a soak cycle for that load same as I would for cloth diapers, so I don't bother rinsing them out prior to the soak cycle. If you buy pads, they'll come w/ washing instructions, though feel free to post here w/ specific questions & I'll answer if I can.
If you sew at ALL, pads would be easy to make, one site with directions is this one though there are others.
I realize the "eww factor" when you first hear all of this, but trust me, its SOOOO worth it! Give it a try!!!