2020 Period Product Explainer
Best Products For Each Type Of Flow
Medically Reviewed by: OBGYN Dr. Heather Bartos
- Different products may be useful for different days of your cycle, as well as from cycle to cycle. So experiment, stock up on different options, and see what works best for you.
- Your day-to-day activities and how comfortable you are with your body are just as important as your period flow volume when thinking about which period products to use.
- Bleeding too much and too little are both reasons to check in with your healthcare provider. Menstrual discs and cups allow you to see your flow better, so you can take note of your period patterns, color, consistency, and blood clots, all signs of how your body is doing.
The Full Read
Finding the best period products is all about how they feel in your body and making sure they support your needs which can change with age and even cycle to cycle. The first thing that comes to mind for most is whether you have heavy or light periods, but you should also consider your unique circumstances (e.g does inserting something inside your vagina make you tense up?) as well as your daily schedule (e.g are you running from work to that HIIT class?).
While options for period management were pretty scarce even just a few years ago, today, you have lots of options!
Let’s take a look at the different types of bleeding that can happen throughout the cycle, and what your options are for supporting your body’s flow during these times.
We’ll walk you through the best products for:
- Light Period Flows
- Medium Period Flows
- Heavy Period Flows
- Period Blood Clots
- Painful Periods
Spotting, or light vaginal bleeding outside of your period, can occur at different times for a variety of reasons such as:
- Throughout the menstrual cycle: While not everybody does, it can be normal to spot before and after your period, and/or during ovulation.
- Going on or off birth control: Because birth control rewires your hormonal systems, it is not uncommon to spot when starting or stopping it. Some forms of birth control may cause more spotting and bleeding than others.
- Pregnancy-related: During initial implantation, post-miscarriage, post-abortion, and/or post-birth, bleeding and then spotting are all considered normal.
- Perimenopause and puberty: These reproductive stages are times when the uterus, the ovaries, and the brain begin to change how they communicate, so spotting can occur.
- Inflamed cervix: If spotting occurs after penetrative sex, it could be from your cervix being “bumped” by the penetrating visitor. Spotting from cervical inflammation can also be a sign of infection, though, so it is a good idea to get checked out by your healthcare provider if you aren’t sure. (1)
**If ever you aren’t sure why you are spotting and/or you feel concerned, it is always a good idea to check in with your health practitioner.
Best Products For Spotting:
Since your flow is so light, you won’t want to need to change your product too often.
- Light pads
- Period underwear
- Menstrual discs
Other Things to Consider:
- Tampons: We recommend that you steer clear of tampons, since irritation can occur when there isn’t enough fluid for the cotton to absorb, making removal painful. Ouch!
- If your spotting is postpartum or pregnancy-related, you may want and/or need to avoid inserting anything inside you as you heal.
- Perimenopause: If you are experiencing vaginal dryness but don’t like the sensation of wearing a pad, menstrual discs can glide right in regardless of vaginal moisture. You can also use a little water-based lube if necessary.
Everyone’s period is different. To top that off, most of us even experience different flows at different parts of our period, not to mention from cycle-to-cycle... Like on day three when your period gets light so you get excited, but on day four, you’re bleeding like you just started your period. So, we recommend being prepared with different products to support your changing needs. In other words, “which 'fit are me and my vagina feeling today?”
Best Products For Light and Medium Flows
If it’s been a minute since your last sex ed class, we’re here to help. Here are the latest options:
- Reusable or disposable pads
- Tampons (preferably organic)
- Period cups
- Menstrual discs
- Period underwear
- Free bleeding
Other Things To Consider:
- A light pad or tampon can usually hold 3 mL of blood when fully soaked, whereas a medium or “regular” pad/ tampon can hold up to 4 mL when fully soaked. (2) Not much of a difference, right? Menstrual discs and cups are great options because the same product works equally well for different levels of flow.
- If your flow is on the lighter side, we recommend discs, since it can easily glide in without friction or having to deal with cup folds.
- If you have more of a medium flow, a menstrual cup is a great, eco-friendly choice.
- If you choose pads or tampons, be sure to change your product every couple of hours even if you aren’t soaking through them to avoid infections.
- For light flows with tampons, make sure to use the smallest size needed to avoid an uncomfortable removal situation later. Cottonmouth of the vagina is no joke!
- If you struggle with vaginal infections, avoid tampons and try pads, discs, or a cup. Discs and most menstrual cups are made with materials that do not promote bacterial growth or upset vaginal flora.
If you notice that your period is shorter than 3 days, and/or you are using only a total of around 5 pads or tampons throughout your entire cycle, or seeing less than 5 mL of blood in your menstrual cup, you may want to check in with your provider. (2, 3)
Best Products for Heavy Menstrual Flows
Heavy pads and tampons can typically hold around 9-12 mL of fluid, and super pads and tampons can often hold around 12-15 mL. Every brand is a bit different, though, so read the label for guidance.
- Period cups
- Menstrual discs
Other Things To Consider:
- Menstrual cups can hold up to the equivalent of three super tampons and be worn up to 12 hours, so for those who have a heavy period, you may have found your new BFF.
- An added bonus of using cups to manage your flow is that you could end up saving up to $300 a year!
- Menstrual discs are also a great choice for heavy bleeders who prefer a longer-wear, disposable option. Similar to cups, discs can hold up to six teaspoons of fluid (aka three super tampons worth) and can be worn for up to 12 hours. [Note: Some heavy bleeders will notice “leaks” when they use the restroom which is normal. Just remember to push the disc back up and you’re all set!]
- If you want to work out, a menstrual cup or disc is a great option, as it won’t fall out of place and can be kept inside for long periods of time. Lotus pose in a soaked period pad isn’t our fave thing either.
- Menstrual cups and discs are also a lifesaver for those who soak through tampons and pads throughout the night. They both can be worn for up to twelve hours.
- If you have a long day out and about and you don’t think you’ll have access to a private bathroom with a sink, you may want to avoid using a cup and opt for disposable options instead.
- Always have back up. This is likely a no brainer for those who are no stranger to heavy flows, but consider bringing different kinds of back up with you, like tampons of different sizes and menstrual discs, so you can choose what works best in the moment of need.
- If you opt for period underwear, it is important to know how much fluid it can hold. If your flow is particularly heavy, you may want to use another period product in combination, and consider your underwear more like stain-management.
If you are soaking more than sixteen regular tampons or pads per cycle, produce more than 80 mL of blood per cycle, or your period lasts for more than 8 days, this is considered menorrhagia, or an excessively-heavy flow. This is a good indication to check in with your provider. (2)
When should you go to the hospital for heavy menstrual bleeding? If you ever soak through two pads in one hour (like, top to bottom soaked), and/or are feeling dizzy, faint, confused, or are passing out, that is not normal. Get in touch with your provider.
Side Note: Blood Clots & Periods
Small period clots can be a normal part of your period, but if you start to see lots of them, or large period clots (bigger than a quarter), you should reach out to your care provider.
This is why products where you can actually see your period blood are so helpful! Menstrual cups and discs are great for tracking this.
Best Products for Painful Periods
There are lots of reasons you can experience period pain, but debilitating pain is not considered normal (although it is very common). If your period pain is making you curl up in bed all day, and/or is affecting your work, relationships, or mental health, it’s time to reach out and get some support.
Other Things to consider:
- For some, putting anything inside the vagina during bleeding can exacerbate the pain. Switch to period underwear, pads, or reusable cloths if this is you. Other folks report that menstrual discs help with their cramps since it sits in the widest part of the vagina, the vaginal fornix. This may be because the flexible material moves with uterine contractions (aka period cramps) instead of pushing back against them like tampons would.
- Heating pads can be a lifesaver. Place the pad on your lower belly and snuggle with it in bed.
- If you’ve never tried a CBD suppository, now’s the time. Medical cannabis expert and Registered Dietician Jillian Tuchman explains that CBD includes cannabinoids that are both anti-inflammatory and antispasmodic (aka helps soothe muscle spasms, which is essentially what your uterus is doing when you’re on your period). By inserting the CBD topically instead of taking it orally, it can work its magic more quickly and directly. It may also make you feel less stressed which helps with, well, everything.
Other Factors To Consider When Choosing Period Products:
Sometimes the decision will depend on more than just your flow. Here are some other considerations.
- Am I comfortable (physically and emotionally) inserting something inside my vagina? This can be more difficult for those who have experienced any form of trauma.
- Do I want an eco-friendly option instead of disposables?
- Will I have access to change my period product throughout the day? Will I have access to clean water?
- Am I going to be in a place where my risk of infection is higher, so inserting something multiple times a day increases my risk of infection?
- Am I working out today?
- How do I feel about sitting in my own fluids (e.g in a pad or period underwear)?
The best way to take care of your period is to listen to your body. Even with an understanding of your flow and all the right tools in hand, sometimes, the product isn’t the issue at all -- your body is simply asking you to slow down while your uterus is hard at work. The more you are in tune with and aware of your unique body, the better you’ll understand what products make the most sense for you, and when.
- Harvard Health Publishing. “Cervicitis.” Harvard Health. Accessed March 28, 2020. https://www.health.harvard.edu/a_to_z/cervicitis-a-to-z.
- JARDIM, NICOLE. FIX YOUR PERIOD: Banish Bloating, Conquer Cramps, Manage Moodiness and Become a Menstruation Maven. S.l.: VERMILION, 2020.
- Hendrickson-Jack, Lisa, and Lara Briden. The Fifth Vital Sign: Master Your Cycles and Optimize Your Fertility. Fertility Friday Publishing Inc., 2019.