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This post may be a bit TMI, but I’m a believer in de-stigmatizing periods, and I wish there was a post like this when I was deciding on a low waste period solution.
Before I bought my menstrual cup, I did a lot of research on what they are and how you use one. I watched videos and read the instructions on various companies’ websites, but nothing seemed to explain clearly enough how to use the darn thing. Eventually I bit the bullet and bought one.
I chose Organicup for a few reasons: there packaging is 100% paper, their cups are vegan, and they are not dyed. You can get one yourself here! They also have come out with a Mini version for teens or those who need a smaller size cup. What’s more, each cup comes with its own organic unbleached cotton storage pouch.
NOTE: This is NOT a paid advertisement. I have been using Organicup since 2018 and recommend them because of my positive experience.
Obviously, everyone’s bodies are different and what works for me may not work for you. The main takeaway should be menstrual cups should not be painful to insert, wear, or remove. If it is, ensure you are putting it in correctly otherwise maybe menstrual cups are not right for you. There are plenty of other options available including reusable pads, period-proof underwear, or even just applicator-free tampons and organic cotton disposable pads.
What Is A Menstrual Cup?
A menstrual cup is a low waste option for periods to replace disposable tampons and pads. Cups are made from medical-grade silicone so they are safe and flexible to insert. The blood collects in the cup portion, and the little stem helps in cup removal. The holes near the top of the cup help to create the seal.
The cup will form a seal against the vaginal walls and collect blood throughout the day/night. When I was trying to figure this all out, I thought they suctioned around the cervix. Totally not the case. The seal holds the cup in place and prevents leakage. This can be scary (how will I get it out?!), but don’t worry. Stay calm, and a good pinch of the cup should release the seal.
You can wear them for up to 12 hours although some people have claimed this long can start bacteria growth and suggest to wear it shorter. I wear mine for a max of 10 hours, usually less. The menstrual cup will hold the blood which you can dump into the toilet. Then you wash the cup and reinsert it. A single cup can last years, which cuts out hundreds of disposable tampons or pads.
Most menstrual cup brands have a pre-birth and post-birth sizing option. The pre-birth size is slightly smaller than the post-birth size. As I have said, Organicup also has a Mini cup that’s even smaller.
Worried about using a menstrual cup with an IUD? This study states there is no increased risk of IUD expulsion for women using a menstrual cup.
How To Insert A Menstrual Cup
First Time Prepwork
When you first receive your menstrual cup, you should boil it. Boil a pot of water on the stove that’s deep enough to fully submerge the cup. You do not want the cup to sit on the bottom of the pot as the high heat may deform the cup. Boil for 3-5 minutes, remove, and let dry and cool down.
You should do a dry practice run before your period to get comfortable with insertion and removal. There are two main methods recommended for insertion: the half fold and the punch down fold. The half fold is exactly what it sounds like, pinching and folding the cup in half. I use the punch down method because it creates a smaller initial insertion area as shown in the pictures below. For this fold, you push your finger down on the rim to press a portion of the cup inside itself.
I stand in a slightly squatted position for insertion. I pinch the cup with my index finger and thumb to hold it closed and push it inside. This usually involves bringing my fingers lower mid-insertion to ensure the cup fully enters the vagina. I then roll my thumb to one side to pull the wall of the cup to ensure it fully opens. It can get very frustrating when the cup refuses to open and you have to take it out, rinse (to clear the air holes), and try over and over. Rolling my thumb has been very helpful in making sure the cup opens, but it doesn’t work 100% of the time. Just remain patient.
You will feel the cup open and may here a “pop” sound. You should check with a finger around the bottom of the cup for dents indicating an improper seal. Using both your thumb and finger, you can twist the entire cup which sometimes will get it to open, but otherwise take it out and try again.
If the stem is too long and is uncomfortable, you can cut it (while not inserted) to a better length. To aid with insertion, you can also use a lubricant such as water or coconut oil. You should not be able to feel the cup while it’s inside of you.
Many companies say their cups can be worn up to 12 hours, but there are some concerns about bacterial growth when the cup is left in for that long. Leave the cup in for as long as you are comfortable with, keeping under the 12 hour limit. I do not wear my cup overnight for this reason and because I just do not leak overnight so why bother?
Leaks can occur due to improper seals or positioning. I sometimes leak a little, but I think it is the blood that was below where the cup sits because it’s usually just a small bit shortly after insertion. Organicup recommends running your finger around the cup to remove this excess blood, and that has helped reduce my leakage.
Now you can exercise, swim, sleep, whatever! (Do not have vaginal sex while wearing the cup; that’s pretty much the only thing you can’t do.)
How To Remove A Menstrual Cup
When it comes time to remove my cup, I stand in the same position as for insertion. You should tense your abs to push the cup lower so you can reach it better. Personally, the stem of my cup will invariably get pushed against the vaginal wall so I use my finger to “loop” around the cup and re-center the stem.
Next I insert the same thumb and index finger used for insertion and gently tug the stem of the cup. Do NOT just pull the stem to remove your cup. The suction will not release that way, and it can hurt you. Gently tugging while tensing your abs will also bring the cup further down.
Once the cup is far enough down to reach it, you can squeeze the bottom to break the seal. Then twist and wiggle the cup back and forth while pulling it out. Keep the cup upright so as not to spill the blood. Finally I dump the contents into the toilet and wash the cup.
How To Clean A Menstrual Cup
During my period, I rinse the cup out with warm water and mild soap after each removal. You should be sure to clear the air holes. To do this, I repeatedly fill the cup with water, seal the top with my palm, and squeeze with my other hand to shoot water out the holes. Just be sure they aren’t aimed at you!
You can pat the cup dry before insertion. I will dry the cup for the first reinsertion attempt, but I usually don’t bother on subsequent attempts so the water aids with insertion. Then you can reinsert the cup following the steps above.
Once my period is over, I will boil the cup for 3-5 minutes using the same instructions as for the initial cleaning. This will kill bacteria remaining on the cup from use and ensure it is clean for next month. I use that funky spaghetti spoon when I boil my cup for several reasons: I can easily cradle the cup without it floating away thanks to the “fingers” creating a little barrier, I can put the stem through the center hole or support the cup from the inside using the “fingers”, and I can easily drain the cup out at the end because the “fingers” keep the cup in the spoon.
After boiling, let the cup dry and cool down, and then you can store it in its cute baggie for next month!
To repeat, everyone is different and has different methods, levels of comfort, and bodies. This post is my method for a low waste period and may not work for you.
Let me know if there’s something I didn’t address in this post! Where are you still confused?