Everything You Need to Know About Menstrual Cups

Jan 21, 2020 8:08:25 AM / by Metro OBGYN Team posted in Women's Issues

Menstrual cups are an alternative to tampons and sanitary pads, but do you know the benefits and risks involved? How do they compare to those other forms of menstrual hygiene? To help answer these questions, we've compiled a comprehensive list that will help you decide if menstrual cups are right for you!AdobeStock_164066463

Regarded as safe within the medical community, menstrual cups have minimal risks which are very unlikely to occur when the cup is used correctly. That said, all menstrual hygiene products carry some degree of risk, particularly when misused — making it essential that you’ve done your research about any sanitary product you use.

Potential Risks 

Irritation

There's a number of reasons why irritation can occur with a menstrual cup, many of which are completely preventable. 

Inserting the cup without proper lubrication can be a main source of irritation and discomfort. Applying a small amount of water-based lubrication on the outside of the cup can help to prevent this type of irritation. Always check the manufacturer's recommendations on the product packaging for further clarification. 

You should also be sure that you have the right size menstrual cup, since using a cup that is too big can also cause irritation. Also be sure you’re cleaning the cup properly between uses to avoid both irritation and infection.

Infections 

Although rare, menstrual cups can cause vaginal infections. In most cases, it's usually a result of bacteria from your hands transferring to the cup rather than the actual cup itself. Yeast infections and bacterial vaginosis can develop if the bacteria in your vagina (and vagina pH) becomes imbalanced.

You can minimize this risk by washing your hands with warm water and antibacterial soap before handling the cup.

It's advisable to wash your cup with warm water and a fragrance-free, water-based soap before and after use. For reference, a good brand to use for this would be a Neutrogena liquid soap, but you can consult your pharmacy for an alternative.   

TSS 

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS) is a rare, yet serious, complication that can result from bacterial infections.

It happens when Staphylococcus or Streptococcus bacteria — which exists on the skin, nose, or mouth — are pushed deeper into the body. TSS is typically associated with leaving a tampon inserted for longer than recommended, or wearing a tampon with an absorption rating much higher than necessary.

There has only ever been one report of TSS associated with the use of a menstrual cup. In this case, a small scrape was made on the inside of the vaginal canal during an initial cup insertion. This allowed Staphylococcus bacteria to enter the bloodstream and spread throughout the body.  

Although your risk from TSS is minimal, there are a few things you can do to make those risks even lower: 

  • Wash your hands thoroughly with warm water and antibacterial soap before handling your menstrual cup.
  • Clean your cup as recommended by the manufacturer with warm water and a mild fragrance-free, oil-free soap, before inserting the cup.
  • Apply a small amount of water or water-based lubricant (per manufacturer's instructions) to the outside of the cup to help with the initial insertion. 

Menstrual Cups vs Other Menstrual Hygiene Options 

Safety

Menstrual cups are relatively safe if inserted with a clean pair of hands, removed carefully, and cleaned appropriately. If maintaining the cleanliness of your cup is an issue, you might prefer using sanitary pads or tampons. 

Price 

A reusable cup has a one-time price, usually between $15-$30. It can be used for years with proper care. Disposable cups, tampons, and pads must be continuously bought and can cost up to $5 or $10 a pack! 

Sustainability 

Reusable menstrual cups can reduce the number of pads and tampons left cluttering landfills and require fewer resources to produce when considering their long life span. 

Ease of Use 

Menstrual cups may not be as easy to use as sanitary pads, but they are similar in nature to tampons, at least in terms of insertion. Removing a menstrual cup properly can take time and practice, but this will get easier as you use the cup more often. 

Are There People That Shouldn't Use Menstrual Cups? 

There aren’t any official guidelines around this and most manufacturers recommend cups for all ages and sizes, but menstrual cups may not be the best option for everybody.

You should talk to your OBGYN before using a menstrual cup if you have any of the following: 

  • Vaginismus: Can make vaginal insertion painful
  • Uterine Fibroids: Can cause heavy periods and pelvic pain
  • Endometriosis: Can cause painful menstruation
  • Variations in uterine position: Can affect cup placement and effectiveness

Having one or more of these conditions doesn't necessarily mean that you shouldn't use a menstrual cup, but instead means you may go through some discomfort during use. Your health care provider can discuss your individual benefits and risks and guide you on your product selection.   

Finding The Right Cup For You

Menstrual cups come in various shapes and sizes, so it can be tough to know which cup is the right one to purchase. Luckily, we've got a few tips to help you out: 

Size

Most manufacturers will offer a ‘small’ or ‘large’ cup. This language is common across manufacturers, but there is not a standard for sizing dimensions. A small cup is usually 35 to 43 millimeters (mm) in diameter at the rim of the cup. Large cups are usually 43 to 48 mm in diameter.

A smaller cup may be better if you've not yet had intercourse or if you typically use low-absorbency tampons. If you've had a vaginal delivery or have a weak pelvic floor, you might find that a larger cup would suit you better. Sometimes it just comes down to trial and error. 

As a general rule of thumb, select a cup based on your age and history of childbirth rather than your anticipated flow. The volume it can hold is important, but you ultimately want to make sure the cup is wide enough to stay in place.

Material

The majority of menstrual cups are made from silicone, but you may find some that are made of rubber or that contain rubber components. If you are allergic to latex, this means the material could irritate your vagina or give you a dangerous allergic reaction.

An easy way to avoid this is to always ensure that you read the product label before use and always strive to learn more about the product material. 

Hopefully, this comprehensive guide will help you decide if a menstrual cup is right for you. If you feel like we haven't covered an aspect you have a concern about, don't hesitate to contact us, or even better — book an appointment and talk to us regarding menstrual hygiene. We're here to help.

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Metro OBGYN Team

Written by Metro OBGYN Team

Metro OBGYN is an independently owned practice that provides compassionate, convenient care across the spectrum of women's health services.

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