Self-Care Sunday: Menstruation Station
I had my period this past week, and I was so happy it arrived. Since I stopped taking the Pill in October, every period I've had feels like a celebration of my body and its natural cycle. This one was a couple weeks late - it turns out stress really can delay your period - and experiencing that variation made me even more grateful that my period, post-hormonal birth control, is once again a useful indicator of my general health and wellbeing.
Like many people, I have used standard pads and tampons for most of my life. It wasn't until I went vegan almost a year ago that I started questioning the safety and ethics of these products, sparked by a video on tampons by Emily at Bite Size Vegan. Not only do most menstrual products contain chemicals toxic to our bodies and the planet, they're also tested on animals in grotesque ways. Making the leap to new products was a bit daunting at first, but with the help of the Internet and word of mouth, I found what works best for me. The following are my vegan, body-friendly period essentials.
Thinx Underwear - I first discovered Thinx around the same time I became vegan. I had always hated the idea of using an insertable menstrual product, and I was really late to the tampon game (read: twenty years old) because I was so reticent to use them. Thinx - super-absorbent period underwear - seemed like the perfect alternative for me, and they did not disappoint. They offer different styles of underwear with various absorbency levels, ranging from one to two tampons' worth. I was initially skeptical of the claims, but after successfully wearing a pair for ten hours at work on my heaviest day, I was sold. The only drawback is that if you do happen to want to change during the day, you have to carry an extra pair with you. I will also say that I have a relatively light flow, and friends of mine have mentioned that their Thinx leaked a little if they wore them all day. For me, the only issue is wanting to change them if I'm out all day and evening, which is why I started using my next essential in addition to my Thinx.
Ruby Cup - The Ruby Cup is a menstrual cup, similar to the recently popularized Diva Cup. It's made from medical-grade silicone, comes in two sizes, and is available in a variety of cute colors (mine is pink). The company also donates one Ruby Cup for every one purchased, which is incredibly important given the educational ramifications for girls who aren't able to attend school due to their lack of access to menstrual products. Like any menstrual cup, there's a learning curve when one starts using it, but I love it and will never go back. Just make sure to give yourself a good two cycles to get used to it - the first time I wore mine I was convinced it got stuck and spent twenty minutes in a New York City bar bathroom trying to get it out. Think of it as a valuable opportunity to get to know your body better!
Yogi Woman's Raspberry Leaf Tea - Going vegan triggered a series of lifestyle changes, one of which was becoming much more careful about what I put in my body. I used to pop Advil like candy during my period in order to ease my cramps. Once I started researching more natural alternatives, I realized that I wanted to avoid taking pain medication for my cramps as much as possible. My friend Alexa has always been the holistic health advocate in my life, and I've never been so grateful for her knowledge as when she recommended this tea. It significantly reduced my cramps, and sipping hot tea also tends to calm me down when I'm feeling anxious and moody due to hormone swings.
Blackstrap Molasses - This is a newer addition to my menstrual routine but has quickly become a staple. I find I tend to crave iron-heavy foods during my period, which is likely due to iron loss through bleeding. While I love spinach as much as the next vegan, I enjoy a little sweetness too, and this is a perfect one-two punch of nutrients and deliciousness. I eat oatmeal every day (oats + peanut butter + flaxseed + cinnamon + frozen blueberries) and have been adding a tablespoon or so of blackstrap molasses to my recipe for a daily boost. Pairing it with Vitamin C in the form of fruit or juice increases your body's iron absorption as well, so strawberries or orange juice would make good companions to the oats. Another vegan friend tops her peanut butter toast with a drizzle. Add it to tea, coconut ice cream, cocktails, whatever!
A general disclaimer is that I realize that while Thinx and the Ruby Cup will save money over time, they do require more money up front to purchase, and this is not possible for everyone. If you are sticking with traditional menstrual products, I recommend buying organic, bleach-free tampons and pads whenever possible. Happy cycles, everyone!