Natural Family Living
Question: I keep hearing about cloth menstrual pads, and it sounds like a great idea – I think! What’s the scoop?
Kendell Schafer responds: Four years ago after the birth of my daughter, I was given some lovely mesh panties to put on over an even more lovely, gigantor, disposable absorbent pad. I have never been a “pad girl.” Only in extreme cases did I wear a disposable menstrual pad. I was brought up using tampons, and gosh darnit, I liked 'em!
During the course of the next few days, my tender nether regions became heat-rashed, itchy and -- well, smelly. I was frustrated with the “super absorbent” pads, knowing my tampon days were still weeks or months away. My pubic hair became painfully attached to the clingy adhesive strips. In addition to enduring the discomfort of stitches in my most delicate of places, I had to wear a “diaper”!
In a moment of clarity after a warm bath with my new babe, as I lovingly pinned her soft cloth diaper on, it hit me. “I'll fold up this flat diaper here! Yesss!” It was such a sweet relief, the feel of the cool, soft cotton against my skin. I didn't sweat! I didn't itch! I folded and refolded those flat diapers, using them for hours at a time. I just tossed them into the diaper pail when I was done with them.
After a brief stint with tampons when my flow returned at four months postpartum, I returned to cloth. I started with tri-folded washcloths, began making layered flannel rectangles to tri-fold when my husband began complaining of the lack of washcloths and then moved on to making myself shaped pads with snap-around wings.
Benefits of cloth
In my own experience, one of the more favorable impacts of using cloth has been the reduction of discomfort during my menses. Many women I've spoken with report much the same; their previously heavy, painful flow becomes more manageable, with a noticable reduction in cramping. I had previously suffered from long, drawn-out cycles with lots of painful cramps. Now that I'm using cloth pads and my body is able to expel what used to feel “backed up” by tampons, I feel so good about my moon time.
Other benefits women are pleased about are the reduction in odor and temperature while wearing cloth. The perfumey smell of disposable pads coupled with my flow was offensive and very embarrassing. You'll change your cloth pad about as often as a disposable, but there's no perfume or weird chemical reactions happening with cloth pads. They don't smell, and you don't smell. As Rebecca of ApronStrings Baby Things has said, "Remember, blood not only is part of you, it is what sustains life. It is certainly not gross."
I began looking around in my local natural living stores and found some brand-name pads that were available. Luna Pads and Glad Rags were the first I discovered. I began my search online and found many different styles made from a variety of fabrics. Many Moons is a popular brand, and DiaperWare has a nice variety of cloth pads and great starter packages.
Styling and features
There are pads made with PUL (polyurethane laminated fabric) or Ultrex™ layers for waterproofness. Other pads use a backing of light- to mid-weight WindPro™ polyester fleece or even wool for a breathable, wetproof barrier. There are pads made from flannel, hemp/cotton blends, sherpa, organic cotton flannel and fleece, plush burley knit terry and scrumptious velour. Some makers use a microfleece stay-dry top layer to wick away moisture.
In addition to the choices in materials available, you'll find an unbelievable selection of different styles of “mama pads” made by WAHMs (work-at-home-moms) in many sizes to fit any size or shape. They range from quilted AIO (all-in-one) styles with or without a moisture barrier, such as the ones at Hidden Pearl Creations, to a versatile snap-on style that allows you to choose between a large range of body and soaker materials and styles which are available at Freshies!. One of the more popular styles is the pocket style, which is a holder with an opening into which you can place as much absorbency as you need for each phase of your cycle; try those available at Pandora Pads or Liz's Cloth.
I've found pads sized from a petite six-inch thong style to a 14-inch flared postpartum style. Most pads have snap-around wings to hold them in place, but there are also wingless pads like those found HERE that fit snugly inside your panties. Or look at pads supported by a discreet belt for panty-free wear made by Reddy's Pads. Sarah at Woolybumbums has been working on crochet wool holders with button-on pads; these are on my own list to test out for next cycle.
Wear and care
Caring for your pads is a simple matter -- for me, almost a ritual. I usually hand rinse in cold water, then store them in our wipes pot (we use cloth wipes too, but that's another story for another day). I keep a little pot full of water and baking soda with a drop of tea tree oil. We toss our wipes and my pads in, changing the water daily. On wash day, I dump the works into the washer, wash on hot with a little natural detergent like Nature Clean or SA8 (regular detergent works fine, too). I do a second short cycle with a drop or two of tea tree oil and dry with our clothes or towels.
For wool pad bodies, I simply hand wash with a rub of my bar shampoo and lay flat to dry overnight. Occasionally, I'll re-lanolize the wool. It's not necessary to do it frequently unless the pads are being used for incontinence (lanolin helps neutralize the urine when it comes in contact with the wool). At the end of my cycle, I machine wash the woolies in a mesh bag on cool and lay them flat to dry.
I used to soak my pads separate from the wipes, in a mesh bag. Daily, I'd pour the water into my plants. Yes, you read that correctly! The nutrient-rich soak water (provided you haven't added anything to it) is great for your plants -- and no, your plants won't start smelling funky or get bugs unless perhaps you let your soak water sit for days first. Fresh daily, it's a wonderful monthly fertilizer. Unfortunately, the constraints of a small bathroom convinced me to give up my separate pot for now.
If you have a wee one (or two, or three) in diapers, you can hand rinse the pads -- or not -- and toss them into your diaper pail. If a pot of water on your floor is a concern for your curious children or pets, you can simply hand rinse and toss them into a “dry pail.” You can also forgo the rinsing entirely and simply wash them with diapers or dark laundry. Warm or hot water is fine, and regular detergent is ok as long as they're rinsed well. Detergent buildup can cause irritation in some women. Wash dark or bold-coloured pads with like colous until any excess dye has bled out.
Staining is usually not a problem. I’m not personally concerned about stains; they're my pads, after all, and who's looking (besides the contractor who renovated my bathroom and had to clean out my forgotten pad drawer, of course)? But if you personally can't stand the ghosts of months past on your cloth, make sure to rinse well and treat them with Bac-out, hydrogen peroxide, lemon juice or even sunshine. Never use bleach. After a yeast infection, I'd advise ironing them with a hot iron to sterilize them – and do your undies, too.
Cloth menstrual pads are soft, breathable, comfortable, re-usable -- and best of all, they are pretty! There's no better treat to give yourself during your moon time than soft, beautiful cloth pads to wear … well, than the pads and some chocolate … and a warm heat pack, and a good book ...
Go with the flow!
Sew Your Own Pads
Born To Love
One Stop Diaper Shop
WAHM Pads Directory
Ten Tips for Women With PMS: www.earthyfamily.com/A-PMS.htm
© Kendell Schafer
Kendell Schafer is an artist, poet, designer and owner of Freshies! cloth diapers. Read more about Kendell.
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