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Tampons, Pads, and Other Period Supplies

When you get your period, you'll need to use something to soak up the menstrual blood. There are lots of different products out there. It might take some experimenting to find what's right for you.

Most girls use on or more of these:

  • pads (or sanitary napkins)
  • tampons
  • menstrual cups

What Are Pads?

Pads are rectangles of absorbent material that attach to the inside of a girl's underwear and catch menstrual blood. They're sometimes also called sanitary pads or sanitary napkins. Some pads have extra material on the sides. These "wings" fold over the edges of your underwear to help hold the pad in place and prevent leaking.

There are many different types of pads, including:

  • super
  • slender
  • overnight
  • scented
  • maxi
  • mini

Some girls have heavier bleeding with their periods and others have lighter bleeding. And most girls have a light days and heavier days. Pads can vary by size or by absorbency. You want to try to find a pad that is big enough that you don't worry about leaking through, but is small enough to be comfortable. It might take a little bit of experimenting to find the right pad for the different times of your period.

Some pads are scented or come with a deodorant in them. But these can irritate the vagina or cause an allergic reaction in some girls.

How Do You Use Pads?

Pads should be changed every 3–4 hours, even if you have a light flow. Regular changing prevents buildup of bacteria and stops odor. If you have a heavier flow, you might need to change pads more often to make sure you don't leak.

There are two types of pads that do the same job, but are used a little bit differently.

  • Disposable pads. Most pads have a sticky strip along the bottom. You peel off the paper strip that covers the adhesive and press the pad into the crotch of your underwear. If the pad has wings, you wrap these around the bottom of the crotch.

    To remove the pad, unstick it from your underwear and wrap it in toilet paper. Put it in the trash can or in the special disposal box that's found in most bathroom stalls. Don't try to flush a pad down the toilet because the toilet can become clogged and make a big mess.
  • Reusable pads. These pads are washed after each time you wear them. They're sold in natural health stores and online. These kinds of pads snap or clip onto a girl's underwear. Girls might use these pads because they feel they're better for the environment or to save money. It's all a matter of personal preference.

What Are Tampons?

Tampons absorb blood from inside the vagina. A tampon is also made of absorbent material, but it's compressed into a small tube. Tampons come in different sizes and absorbencies for heavier and lighter periods.

Tampons also can come with or without deodorant. There's no need for deodorant in a tampon, though, because changing tampons regularly usually gets rid of any odor. The deodorant in tampons can irritate the vagina, and could cause an allergic reaction in some girls.

Some tampons come with an applicator. An applicator is a plastic or cardboard tube that guides the tampon into the vagina. Other tampons are inserted using a finger.

Some girls find that a slender size, applicator-style tampon is easier to use when they first start their periods. An applicator with a rounded top can be especially helpful for beginners. The first time you use a tampon, try to do so on a heavier flow day. This will make the tampon slip in easier.

How Do You Use Tampons?

A tampon is put into the vagina using an applicator or a finger. After washing your hands, follow the directions that come with the tampons carefully and be sure to relax.

It's very important to change tampons every few hours and that you wear the absorbency type that is right for you. Change a tampon every 4–6 hours or when it's saturated with blood.

Tampons have a string attached to one end that stays outside a girl's body. To remove the tampon, pull gently on the string until the tampon comes out. Wrap it in toilet paper and throw it in the trash.

Don't flush a tampon down the toilet. Even when the box says a tampon is flushable, tampons can still cause problems in some plumbing systems.

Because you can't see a tampon, you'll need to remember when it's time to change. If you forget to change it, you may get spotting or leakage on your underwear or clothing.

If it's time to change your tampon and you can't find the string, don't worry! The tampon is still there. Reach in with your fingers to find the string. It may take a minute to do because the string might be a bit hard to grab.

Some girls worry that tampons can get lost inside their bodies. But there is no way for this to happen. The vagina holds a tampon in place and the opening of the cervix (located at the top of the vagina) is too tiny for a tampon to get through.

It's important to change tampons often. A tampon that's left in too long won't get lost. But a girl may get a discharge, odor, or an infection. And never put a tampon in and leave it in all day or all night, even if you have a light period. Doing this puts girls at risk for a rare but very dangerous disease called toxic shock syndrome (TSS).

What Is a Menstrual Cup?

Like a tampon, a menstrual cup is inserted into the vagina. Instead of absorbing blood, the cup catches it before it flows out of the vagina. Menstrual cups are made of flexible materials, like rubber or silicone.

You can't see when the cup is full, so empty it (or, in the case of disposable cups, throw it away) several times a day. Instructions that come with the cup explain how to do this.

Because some menstrual cups look like a diaphragm, girls might wonder if a menstrual cup could be used as birth control. But a menstrual cup does not prevent pregnancy.

How Do I Decide What to Use?

Choosing a type of period protection is up to you. Some girls like tampons because they're easy to store in a purse or pocket. Tampons and cups are also helpful for girls who do sports like swimming, since you can't wear a pad in the water.

Some girls prefer pads because they're easy to use and it's easier to remember when to change them because you can see them getting soaked with blood. And some girls with heavy periods use tampons together with pads or pantiliners for added protection against leaking.

Many girls switch back and forth depending on:

  • their situation
  • where they're going to be
  • their menstrual flow
  • time of day (day or night coverage)
Date reviewed: October 2019