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Sanitary pads, also known as sanitary napkins and menstrual pads, are soft absorbent materials worn by women in the inside of the underwear to hold the flow of menstruation. Most commonly a sanitary pad has an adhesive side to make it stick to the underwear while the other side is made from a highly absorbent material like wood fibre.

Sanitary pads are pretty easy to use and dispose of which makes it a most prefered option for women when they first start their period.

Did you know?

The idea of menstrual pads comes from wound dressings made by French nurses in the world war I? They used cellulose fibre padding to stop bleeding in wounded soldiers as it has a better absorbing capacity than normal cotton wool bandages. This idea was later picked up by some well-known companies and that’s how menstrual pads came into existence. Although it took long before these pads were available to common people at a reasonable price.

At present, sanitary napkins are more easily available to most of the urban population in developed and developing countries.

Whether you are looking for more info on how to use menstrual pads or types and safety of sanitary napkins or just scrolling through, out of sheer curiosity, this article will definitely answer some of your questions.

  1. How often should you change a sanitary pad?
  2. How to chose the right sanitary pad?
  3. How to use a sanitary pad
  4. How to dispose off a napkin
  5. Types of sanitary pads
  6. Disposable sanitary pads
  7. Reusable sanitary pads: Cloth pads and period panties
  8. Biodegradable disposable sanitary pads: Eco-friendly sanitary napkins
  9. Doctors for Sanitary pad: types, benefits and how to use

Sanitary pads are specially made to keep the moisture and blood locked in and to avoid leaks. Quite obviously they can last for long, without posing a threat of a stain. However, it is best not to use the same pad for a whole day. Instead, change it every 3 to 4 hours. This will not only make you feel more comfortable and clean but also reduces the risk of UTIs and other vaginal infections.

You might need to change your menstrual pad sooner if you are into sports or some form of physical activity to avoid leakage or staining with accidental slipping of the pad.

In case of reusable cloth pads, it is best to change them before they are completely soaked.

Most of us do not really worry about choosing a pad, let alone the right pad as per your menstrual flow and daily needs. And if you got your first period or are new to using sanitary pads, you might find yourself confused with the number of options available at the super market aisle. In fact, majority of women end up using the same pads as their mother, unable to grasp the fact that they might just need a different one. Here is an easy guide that may help you to know how to chose the right pad for you:

  • Women who are starting with their periods can opt for regular sized pads at first but may switch to bigger ones if they notice a heavier flow.
  • If comfort is more important to you, it is better to chose a thicker pad since they provide a better support, but if you want to be more discreet, go for thin and ultra thin varities.
  • Special pads are also available to hold post-partum bleeding. You can check the kind you want for maximum comfort and leak proofing.
  • Go for panty liners or regular sized pads in those early days of period and the 4th and 5th day if you generally have a light period.
  • A lot of brands are now providing speciallised packs that consists of different napkins for every day of your period, both for moderate and heavy bleeding. You can get yourself one such packs and see if that suits you better.

If you have never used a menstrual pad before or just got your first period and are apprehensive about the right way to use a sanitary napkin, you can be absolutely sure that it is a safe and easy process. Here is how you can change or apply a napkin correctly without getting yourself bloody.

Applying a new pad

  • Buy the right size of pad as per your flow. The abovementioned sections explain you just how you can ascertain what size and pad are right for you.
  • Get into a washroom so you can get some privacy and easy access to water. Always wash your hands before using a napkin. This will help prevent infections.
  • Next, pull out the napkin from its packing. It might have a tiny flap to open. You’ll find the pad has a paper sheet on one side. Gently remove this strip, it’ll reveal a sticky layer of plastic. This layer is used to make the napkin stay over your underwear.
  • Put the napkin precisely in the centre of your panties. Make sure that it lines up with your vagina and does not stick to one side or more towards the front or back of the underwear. This would be much easier with napkins that have wings (small flaps that wrap around the panties to improve adhesion and keep it from moving from its place).
  • Once the napkin is properly in place, pull out the paper from the wings to expose another layer of adhesive sheet. Gently, turn the wings to the outside of the panties and stick them too.
  • Get your panties back up and ensure that the napkin feels perfectly fit.

Changing a pad

  • Grab a fresh napkin and go to the washroom. Wash your hands properly.
  • You’ll need to squat or sit down on the toilet seat or near a drain, especially if the bleeding is heavy. This would ensure that any flow would go directly into the drain and not stain your clothes.
  • Gently, pull the napkin from the clean area on the corner of the pad. Do not touch the blood stained part or pull from the side.
  • The napkin would easily come off. Fold it over itself so that the used part is inside. It will keep your hands from being stained. Do not bundle it up too tight.
  • Now, open a new pack and use its cover to put in the used napkin.
  • Apply the new napkin and discard the new one in the dustbin.
  • Never flush a used napkin down the toilet. It is not made from biodegradable material and would eventually choke the drain. Avoid flushing biodegradable napkins too. They can go to the landfill and be turned to soil.

Not considering the biodegradable varieties, most sanitary napkins are prepared from non-decomposable compounds and plastic. Throwing used menstrual pads in open would not only create cultural nuisance but it also is harmful to the environment. Additionally, used napkins contain attract infectious organism which may then easily spread through air. Mentioned below are some of the factors that should be kept in mind before throwing sanitary pads.

Dos

  • Properly wrap your used napkin with the absorbent layer in the inside and the adhesive layer on the outside. Then slip this napkin inside the packing of the new one before disposing of it. This will prevent the growth of pathogenic microbes.
  • Always throw a used napkin inside a dustbin. You can also use a separate dustbin for this or put them with the dry garbage.
  • Always use a covered dustbin for throwing your menstrual waste. This will keep a lid on the stench both literally and figuratively.
  • Make sure your garbage gets picked up every day or at least once in two days. 
  • In case your area does not have a proper garbage disposal facility, you can always burn used napkins.
  • Make sure that you wash your hands properly after throwing away a used napkin. 
  • Always dry a reusable napkin under the sun to make sure they are sterilised properly. You can also use an antiseptic detergent to ensure sterility.
  • You can bury biodegradable napkins for decomposing. 

Donts

  • Never throw a used napkin out in the open.
  • Never flush the napkin down a drain, it may just end up choking all your drains.
  • Do not leave the reusable napkins unwashed for long. Wash them soon as you take them off or soon as you get home. 
  • Do not dry reusable napkins in shade, it won't do any good even if you have washed it with antiseptics.

Menstruation makes an important part of a woman's life, marking the onset of reproductive age. But keeping the big words aside for a while, let’s accept the fact that it is discomforting and stressful, not to mention painful for some. Choosing the right sanitary pad is not only important to ascertain ease but also for avoiding infections. Fortunately, a lot of big brands have some or the other form of sanitary napkins that are made to suit different type of blood flow (heavy and light) and you can easily buy them from a local store near you. They are available in both disposable and reusable forms and you have an array of choices ranging from the standard wood pulp to the all-new and eco-friendly banana fibre or hyacinth pads. If comfort is more your thing, you can always grab a cotton pad or padded panties that come in all sorts of design and colours. Who said periods can't be fun?

Let us have a look at all the types of sanitary pads that could help you glide through those few days of the month with ease.

Disposable pads are one of the most easily available sanitary napkins and are hence more well-known. Usually, they contain a layer of cotton, an absorbent layer made from wood pulp, which helps soak all of the period flow and prevents leaks better than cotton cloth. They also contain odour control layer and a some form of antibiotic to prevent infections. Commercial pads are available in many sizes and thickness and can be chosen on the basis of your flow. These include:

  • Panty liners: Panty liners are for all of those intial and last days of your period when you are not bleeding that much or are not sure if you are on yor period yet, but can’t risk spotting. They are thinner and smaller than your regular pads but have an absorption layer that can easily handle light flow without giving you a skin rash. So, the next time you are unsure of your date, just opt for a panty liner instead and say goodbye to unease and itching.
  • Medium or regular pads: This type of napkins are good for people who do not have a heavy period. It absorbs well and are just the right size for a moderate flow.
  • Heavy flow and maxi pads: These type of pads are bigger and more adjusted to a heavy period. They may also be a bit longer than the regular pad to provide you with the feeling of extra security at night. They can last longer, and work well for the days where you can’t really change your pad every few hours.

Thick pad vs thin pad

Most commercial pads are available in thin, ultra thin and thick varities, which you can pick up as per your liking or convenience. Both of them work equally well and none is better than the other. However, thin pads are more discreet and easily move with you whereas thicker pads are generally said to be softer and provide a better cushion.

According to a study published in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology, using a thinner sanitary pad produces lesser stress and psychological symptoms as compared to a thicker pad. So, take your pick according to your mood.

Benefits of disposable pads

  • They are easily available and are easy to use.
  • They come in a variety of sizes and shapes and in thin and ultra-thin varieties that make you feel more comfortable in almost any kind of clothing.
  • They have perfumed layers that keep you free from period odour.

Disadvantages of disposable pads

  • They are not as easily available in rural parts of India and are still a bit costly for the poor sections of the society.
  • They cannot be disposed of easily since they are not biodegradable.
  • Wearing the same pad for long hours causes skin itching, irritation and rashes. They are not that comfortable in light periods either.
  • Menstrual pads do not leave breathing space for your skin, which causes dampness in vaginal area. Together with skin rashes, this increases the risk of vaginal and skin infections. (Read more: Vagina and vaginal health)

Do disposable pads cause cervical cancer?

It is a popular belief that long term use of disposable sanitary pads increases the risk of cervical cancer in women. These pads contain some amount of chemicals such as dioxins, which are known to have carcinogenic effects on the body. However, research studies suggest that the amount of dioxin present in these pads is not enough to pose a risk of cancer. So, it is best that you talk with a gynaecologist to know more about the safety concerns of this type of sanitary napkin.

Yes, you heard it right. There are sanitary napkins that you can reuse and no they are not at all uncomfortable, nor do they leak like your usual cloth pads. In fact, there is a chance you might just end up liking them too much. Let us have a look at the modern marvel these sanitary pads are.

  • Cloth pads: Unlike their disposable counterparts, reusable pads are made entirely from cloth along with some other absorbent material like cotton, bamboo or hemp to prevent leaks. They also come with wings to avoid the napkin from moving too much.
  • Padded panties: Padded panties are just like your normal underwears with a layer of leak proof material in the centre. It is completely safe to use for light periods or as an extra layer of protection in your heavy period days. The absorbent layer also contains antibiotic chemicals so there is no chance of getting an infection.

Reusable pads and panties are usually cheaper than their disposable alternatives. And what’s more, you can just wash them the next day and dry them under the sun, to prevent microbial growth and they are good to go again. A reusable pad would last for more than just a few years when washed and kept properly in a clean and dry place. They are also available in different sizes, colours and patterns, because why not make them more interesting than just being more comfortable and chemical free?  

Alright, so it has all the advantages of a sanitary pad but then the question remains:

How effective are reusable cloth pads?

Well, it might interest you to know that despite all the fears and dogmas, reusable pads are quite safe to use and do not leak as easy. Still doubtful? You can try them for yourself. Eco-femme is a Tamil Nadu based company that makes reusable cloth pads for women in India.

Benefits of reusable pads

  • More comfortable and softer than disposable pads. So, there is no chance of getting a skin rash.
  • Can be used more than once.
  • Contains natural fibres, so you are not being exposed to plastic or chemicals, which may have its own side effects.
  • Reusable pads are known to reduce period pain.
  • It supports smaller and local companies.

Disadvantages of reusable pads

  • Despite being reusable they are not biodegradable.
  • Need to be washed and dried after every use.
  • Cultural norms make it difficult to dry or wash these pads in a family setting or in the open, especially in developing countries and rural areas.
  • It is difficult to switch to reusable pads because of the dogmas attached to cloth pads.
  • Depending on the area you live in, these pads could be more expensive than the usual disposable ones.
  • Used napkin needs to be carried when changed outside the house.

If you are an earth-lover or concerned with the too many side effects of disposable napkins but are just too lazy to use reusable pads, you can opt for disposable biodegradable napkins. These come with the dual benefit of being biodegradable and as easy to dispose of as your usual pad. Just like reusable pads, these are prepared from natural substances such as bamboo, banana fibre, water hyacinth etc. A number of local brands make these eco-friendly pads in India. These include Saathi (from banana fibre), Jani (from water hyacinth), Sakhi, Anandi and Natra care are some other names that are known for preparing 100% biodegradable menstrual pads in India.

Let us have a look at some of its pros and cons.

Advantages of biodegradable pads

  • Gets degraded within a short period of time, thus reducing the total sanitary waste in an area.
  • Can be made without major impact on the environment. According to a study, making a disposable sanitary pad uses a lot of wood, and trees are more difficult to grow back then bamboo. Similarly, water hyacinth can be cultivated much more quickly.
  • Easy to use and are comfortable and soft. They do not stick to your skin and provide better air circulation.
  • Most of the natural products that are used for preparing eco-friendly pads are rich in antibacterial compounds that prevent infection. So, these pads do not have any added antibacterials or chemical compounds. 
  • Bamboo fibre is known to mask body odour and has a better absorbing capacity than plain old cotton.
  • Thanks to their eco-friendly nature, these pads are being promoted in rural areas by the Indian government.
  • They support local companies and small business owners.

Disadvantages of biodegradable pads

  • Price and availability of biodegradable pads would vary depending on the area you are in.
  • They can only be used once, so need to be bought over and again.
  • May pose a risk of infection if worn for a long time.
Dr. Kavita Singh

Dr. Kavita Singh

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
2 Years of Experience

Dr. Nidhi Bothaju

Dr. Nidhi Bothaju

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
3 Years of Experience

Dr K Supriya

Dr K Supriya

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
4 Years of Experience

Dr. Safeena Akhtar

Dr. Safeena Akhtar

Obstetrics & Gynaecology
4 Years of Experience

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References

  1. National Health Service [Internet]. UK; Periods
  2. Autumn Stanley. Mothers and Daughters of Invention: Notes for a Revised History of Technology. Rutgers University Press, 1995
  3. Journal of Textile Science & Engineering. Natural and Sustainable Raw Materials for Sanitary Napkin. OMICS International. [internet]
  4. Center for Young Women's Health. What’s the difference between a panty liner and a pad? Which one is better?. Boston Children's Hospital, US
  5. Nazirah G Mohamed, Nurdiana Z Abidin, Kim S Law, Mika Abe, Megumi Suzuki, Ahmad M Che Muhamed, and Rabindarjeet Singh. The effect of wearing sanitary napkins of different thicknesses on physiological and psychological responses in Muslim females. 2014; 33(1): 28. PMID: 25189184
  6. Michael J DeVito and Arnold Schecter. Exposure assessment to dioxins from the use of tampons and diapers.. 2002 Jan; 110(1): 23–28. PMID: 11781161
  7. TeensHealth. Can I Wear the Same Pad All Day?. The Nemours Foundation.[internet]
  8. University of Missouri. [internet]. Kansas City. https://info.umkc.edu/womenc/2018/02/13/5-reasons-why-you-should-try-reusable-menstrual-pads/
  9. Vydehi Institute of Medical Sciences & Research Center. Menstrual Hygiene – The Present Scenario and Adverse Effects. Rajiv Gandhi University of Health Sciences. [internet].
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