If you follow me on Instagram you may reminder that way back in December 2016, I purchased a menstrual cup. I promised to let you all know how I felt about it after I had used it for a little while. And this, over a year later is my comprehensive personal run down on using a cup! If you don’t like period talk, I suggest you skip this post.
I want to preface my thoughts and experience using a cup by saying whatever you choose to use during your period is an incredibly personal decision, and while I am enthusiastic about using a menstrual cup, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the right method for you. But if you are thinking of trying a cup hopefully this will give you the confidence to make that decision for yourself.
What was I doing before using a cup?
Prior to trying a cup I was using applicator tampons. I’ve only recently heard the theory from non-applicator users that apparently us applicator-preferrers don’t like touching our bodies, which is why we use applicators…. which I find a little odd but I guess might be true for some women? For me, I consider my period to be heavy and I find applicator tampons to do a better job versus a non applicator.
When it comes to my period, it is incredibly regular. It always lasts four-five days and I consider it to be heavy during day one-two and light-medium the rest of the time. When using tampons, I use Super or Super Plus Tampax during the first two days of my period, and Regular for the remainder. However I have not used a tampon (or other collection method) in almost 10 months. Early on in my transition to cups, I tried to switch back to tampons because I felt lazy but I found it really uncomfortable, I cramped a lot and it was the end of using tampons for me.
How did I choose my cup?
At the time I purchased my cup there were no retailers in New Zealand selling them. Instead I headed to Put A Cup In It and found there was a cup that came in a make up-esque compact. I was sold. This is NOT the way I recommend you make the decision about what type of cup to use FYI. And I do think I may be better off trying a different cup made from a softer silicone.
This is probably the part that is the most off-putting for women – you are going to have to figure out for yourself through trial and error which cup is right for you. However there are tonnes of recommendations on Reddit and various websites and YouTube videos that you can definitely start with the most common/popular shapes and go from there. I recommend this quiz to start.
My first time using my menstrual cup
My period arrived the day after my cup did. It happened to be my birthday and the middle of summer and I wanted to go for a swim…. no time like the present.
The Lily Cup Compact comes with a tonne of info and guidance of how to insert, and I just followed those instructions and off I went to the beach. It felt a little bit weird, and crampy (I think the suction on your cervix the first few times, on day one, can be a bit full on) but swimming was great. I kept standing up in the sea and looking down to check for leaks (much to my husband’s amusement) but no issues there.
The thing about using a cup for the first time is that you have no awareness of what a full cup feels like…. so I kept trying to take it out because I wasn’t sure how full it was. I do not recommend doing that…. you will get REALLY over the cup if you keep taking it out and then have to re-insert.
The first time I tried to take my cup out (two hours or so after insertion), I couldn’t. I was tugging and tugging on the stem of the cup and the suction would not release. It took me about four hours to figure out how to break the suction and during this time I made the mistake of I googling why I couldn’t just tug this thing out, and stumbled across an article about a woman who got her cup stuck to her cervix and had to go to the ER…. and I FREAKED OUT.
Turns out you merely have to break the suction on your cup by squeezing the bottom to get it out, but I decided that the crampy feeling, the newness, the freaking out about it getting stuck was enough for today and that considering I was going out for dinner I would go back to collection method that was more familiar! In hind sight all I had done was to put the cup in perfectly the first time, and that suction is what is preventing leaks.
And then I didn’t touch my cup for five months. I think it was just easier to rely on old faithful tampons, and it was too new and I didn’t know what I was doing and I wasn’t sure if I could rely on my cup or my insertion of my cup so it was just too hard.
Making my menstrual cup my number #1
In April we headed overseas on an awesome holiday, where I happened to get my period (early) during the 14 hour flight. Yay.
I read about these women who could use a menstrual cup for an entire flight and I regretted not continuing to use mine. So once we were back in May I decided I need to try this cup thing again, and that I didn’t want to spend $20 a month on tampons anymore.
And ironically I could not seem to perfect that suction of the first time around.
There are loads of tips on how to know if your cup is in correctly, but basically it needs to be fully open so that the mouth of the cup can create suction. The design of my cup means it is a bit harder to open it fully due to the collapsable nature of the compact. So I don’t recommend this style of cup for an anxious beginner!
Real talk – you do have to get quite intimate with yourself to figure out how to use a cup. I have learned a lot about the position of my cervix. It’s important to know because it impacts how full your cup is… if your cervix dips down into your cup during your period, the cup will hold less and appear to leak without actually being full. This issue doesn’t affect every woman, but it certainly is good to know that your cervix moves up and down during your cycle.
But how do you change your cup/does it leak/how do you know it’s full?
Generally I can get through a full working day without emptying my cup but I have emptied it in public bathrooms. Of all the unclean things human beings do, I don’t think wiping out a cup with wipes or toilet paper and reinserting it with clean hands is any more gross than inserting a tampon in the same conditions. It’s something I don’t really think about anymore.
Leaks – yes I have had a few. Before I started using my cup, I experienced a lot of clotting during day two. I felt like the majority of my period happened on day two and those clots were big. But within the realms of normal apparently, but sometimes alarmingly large and long. Clots and cups don’t really work together – the clot would displace the contents of the cup and cause leaks, or try and sneak around the outside of the cup.
However after three months of using only my cup, I haven’t had any clots at all. So this issue no longer occurs. I believe my tampon use (particularly the high absorbancy of a Super Tampax) was exacerbating my clotting and flow generally. I have no proof but I haven’t always experienced clots, and there is a correlation.
I’ve also had leaks from simply leaving my cup in too long and it being full. One day I tested how long I could leave my cup (obviously a day I was at home). FYI on my heaviest days it is 6-7 hours, on my light days it is 12-15. I have left my cup in for 24 hours before and it was great – you are going to have to find out what works for you.
The most common cause of leaks is not creating suction, so once you figure out what cup works for you and how to insert it, you shouldn’t experience too many leaks. One thing that is key to know is that your cup usually has three or four tiny little holes along the mouth of the cup, to create suction. If those holes are not big enough, or aren’t clean you will struggle to create suction. I suggest checking the holes everytime you remove your cup.
As I mentioned I have tested how long I can leave my cup in but the cup does become a little heavier and you may feel the sensation of a full cup as it sitting slightly lower. If the cup has a stem you may feel the stem is no longer fully inside you when your cup is full. You will learn what a full cup feels like for you – or you just set a baseline experiment like I describe above – I recommend a quiet weekend, where you leave your cup in for X hours to see how long you can go without leaks and get used to that feeling of a full cup.
Doesn’t a menstrual cup feel weird?
No – I don’t feel it until it’s full. For the first few months I struggled to pee with a full bladder with my cup in, I think the cup was pushing against my bladder and confusing me. But that sensation stopped.
I swim wearing my cup (and no rushing off to the bathroom after to change a tampon), I’ve done high intensity core work via pilates and yoga while wearing my cup, I’ve run wearing my cup. No issues, no sensation of feeling it, no slippage, no cramping.
What is the best part of using a cup?
Not carrying tampons. Leaving it in for 12 hours on light days. Not buying tampons.
Shorter periods – I can’t find an official answer on why this would be but I have a theory that tampons prolong my period because they dry everything out, the absorbency stopped my period in its tracks sometimes for half a day at a time, and then it would come back… it was very annoying – not an issue anymore!
Easy cleaning – boiling water once a month, or a cleaning solution (bought or home made). Space in my bathroom cabinet no longer full of boxes of tampons.
Less period related, leakage anxiety (is that sweat or is my tampon leaking…. you know what I mean!)
The menstrual cup has exploded into the mainstream in the last year, with two New Zealand retailers and one producer of cups now in the market. I love the marketing of The Hello Cup and the ethos of My Cup NZ who donate cups to women in need. I personally want to get a hold of a Lena Sensitive Cup because I find my current cup a touch firm, and I find the ribbed shape challenging to create suction. When I bought my Lily Cup Compact, my biggest fear was people seeing my cup, me carrying this huge cup around, and the lack of discretion… now after a year, I am a total convert and I don’t care who knows about my cup… so my priority is the right fit.
Would you be keen to try a menstrual cup? Have you tried one? Let me know!