Most of us go through our periods very secretively and don’t really bother to figure out if our practices are hygienic or not. At times, we may wear the same napkin for a whole day. Women in villages and smaller towns still use reusable unhygienic cloth during their periods. And since periods are considered unclean, they are not even allowed to use detergent for washing the soiled cloth well in some households.
Here are some tips to maintain hygiene during your periods, some of which you may not know about:
1. Choose your method of sanitation:
Today there are a number of ways including the use of sanitary napkins, tampons and menstrual cups to stay clean. In India, most unmarried girls prefer to use sanitary napkins. If you do decide to use a tampon remember that it is essential to choose one that has the lowest absorbency rate for your flow. While there are some women who choose to use either different types of sanitary napkins on different days of their periods or different methods of protection (like a tampon and a sanitary napkin), there are some who prefer to stick to one type and brand. The best tip here is to try and use one brand for one type of protection for a while to know if it helps your needs. Frequent switching between brands can make you uncomfortable since brands are as unique as you, they suit everyone differently.
2. Change regularly:
Menstrual blood – once it has left the body – gets contaminated with the body’s innate organisms. This rule applies for even those days when you don’t have much bleeding, since your pad is still damp and will have organisms from your vagina, sweat from your genitals, etc. When these organisms remain in a warm and moist place for a long time they tend to multiply and can lead to conditions like urinary tract infection, vaginal infections and skin rashes.
The standard time to change a sanitary pad is once every six hours, while for a tampon is once every two hours. That being said, you have to customize the changing schedule to your needs. While some women might have a heavy flow and would need to change more often, others will need to change less frequently. There are a few instances where your sanitary napkin or tampon might not be completely used – usually on days when you have a lesser flow – but you must change at regular intervals.
In the case of tampons it is very important because, if left inserted into the vagina for long periods of time it can cause a condition called TSS or toxic shock syndrome – a condition where bacteria infiltrate the body leading to severe infection that can send to the body into shock – that requires emergent treatment and can lead to serious complications and even death.
3. Wash yourself regularly:
When you menstruate, the blood tends to enter tiny spaces like the skin between your labia or crust around the opening of the vagina and you should always wash this excess blood away. This practice also tends to beat bad odour from the vaginal region. So, it is important to wash your vagina and labia (the projecting part of female genitals) well before you change into a new pad. If you cannot wash yourself before you change make sure to wipe off the areas using toilet paper or tissue.
4. Don’t use soaps or vaginal hygiene products
The vagina has its own cleaning mechanism that works in a very fine balance of good and bad bacteria. Washing it with soap can kill the good bacteria making way for infections. So, while it is important to wash yourself regularly during this time, all you need to use is some warm water. You can use soap on the external parts but do not use it inside your vagina or vulva.
5. Use the right washing technique:
Always wash or clean the area in a motion that is from the vagina to the anus. Never wash in the opposite direction. Washing in the opposite direction can cause bacteria from the anus to lodge in the vagina and urethral opening, leading to infections. Read about urinary tract infections.
6. Discard your used sanitary product properly
It is essential to discard your used napkins or tampons properly because they are capable of spreading infections, will smell very foul. Wrapping it well before discarding it ensures that the smell and infection is contained. It is advised not to flush the pad or tampon down the toilet since they are capable of forming a block and can cause the toilet to back up. More importantly it is imperative that you wash your hands well after you discard your used napkin since you are likely to touch the used portion of the pad or tampon while discarding it.
7. Beware of a pad rash
A pad rash is something that you might experience during a period of heavy flow. It usually occurs when the pad has been wet for a long time and rubs along the thighs causing it to chaff. To prevent this from occurring, try to stay dry during your periods. If you do have a rash, change your pads regularly and stay dry. Apply an antiseptic ointment, after a bath and before bed – this will heal the rash and prevent further chaffing. If it gets worse do visit your doctor who will be able to prescribe you a medicated powder that can keep the area dry.
8. Use only one method of sanitation at a time
Some women who have heavy flow during their periods tend to use either (i) two sanitary pads, (ii) a tampon and sanitary pad (iii) a sanitary pad along with a piece of cloth. This might seem like a good idea, but it actually is not, changing regularly is a better option. Using two pads or a tampon and a sanitary pad is bad because the two pads absorb the blood and you don’t see that they are completely used up you are unlikely to change at regular and healthy intervals. This can lead to rashes, infections and in the case of tampons even TSS. Another consideration is that if one does use a piece of cloth as extra protection that cloth may not be the cleanest thing to put next to your private parts. Lastly, the whole two pad structure is extremely uncomfortable and can leave you with a bad rash and an even worse temper.
9. Have a bath regularly
To some it may seem like the most inane advice, but in some cultures it is believed that a woman should not bathe during her periods. This myth was based on the fact that in the olden days women had to bathe in the open or in common water bodies like a river or lake. But with indoor plumbing having a bath is the best thing you can do for your body during your periods. Bathing not only cleanses your body but also gives you a chance to clean your private parts well. It also helps relieve menstrual cramps, backaches, helps improve your mood and makes you feel less bloated. To get some relief from backaches and menstrual cramps, just stand under a shower of warm water that is targeted towards your back or abdomen. You will feel much better at the end of it.
10. Be ready with on-the-go stuff during your periods
When you have your periods it is important to be ready. It is important to have extra sanitary pads or tampons properly stored in a clean pouch or paper bag, a soft towel, some paper tissues or towels, hand sanitizer, a healthy snack, bottle of drinking water, a tube of antiseptic medication (if you are using one).
Changing your pads/ tampons regularly is essential, so you will need extra. More importantly storing them properly so that they don’t get contaminated is as important as changing. Pads or tampons that remain in your bag without a clean pouch to protect it can also lead to infections like UTI (urinary tract infection) or vaginal infections. The soft towel can be used to wipe your hands or face if you wash them. Paper towels are the important to wipe off the excess water after you wash your private parts. It is best you don’t use toilet paper for this as it tends to shred and tear when it touches water. Your hand sanitizer is a very important factor here. You will need it to clean your hands and you can use it to clean the flush knob and tap faucet as well. The snack is a backup in case you feel weak or run down during the day and the bottle of water is to help you stay hydrated throughout the day.