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Tampons, pads and menstrual cups: What should I use?


New to periods and need a little bit of product advice? We’ve pulled together this guide to help you out. Get the low down on tampons, pads and menstrual cups so you can discover which might work best for you.

We’ll start with our top tip, which is to never feel pressurised to use a product that you are not comfortable with. Your period is a big part of your life, you need to find what works for you.


Our first top tip: Build a period kit

We love the idea of building up a ‘period kit.’ This is basically a selection of products that you swear by on your period, plus a few extra items such as a hot water bottle for period cramps!

When you’re new to the whole period game, a period kit can be a lifesaver. Keep it stocked up to ensure you never get caught short and are left feeling uncomfortable.  You could even have multiple kits, for example, one at home and one in your locker at school – just in case!


Now let’s look at some of the options…

Depending on your flow you might use one of these products or a combination. Read on for more info on each product:



Tampons are inserted into the vagina to absorb menstrual bleed. They come in a range of absorbencies depending on how heavy your flow is!

It’s important to always use the lowest tampon absorbency you can get away with. Using an unnecessarily high absorbency can put you at risk of getting Toxic Shock Syndrome (more on TSS here).

Tampons are available with an applicator or without an applicator. An applicator tampon can help with inserting the tampon, to make things a little bit easier. We at TOTM advocate cardboard applicators because unfortunately, plastic applicators have a hugely negative impact on our planet!

When you buy tampons, they will come with a leaflet with insertion tips to help you out. It can be trial and error getting used to inserting tampons. Just remember to relax when giving this a go.

Now, if you’re using tampons it’s important to change every 4-8 hours. This is not just to ensure the tampon performs, but also because if you leave a tampon in for prolonged periods at time you can develop irritation, infections and potentially a life-threatening disease (TSS). We mention this not to scare you! But it’s important for any tampon-user or cup-user to know and understand TSS.

Tampons are a popular choice for menstruators because they are convenient. The NHS do advise that if you use tampons to switch to pads at night.



Pads are an external period care product. They are designed to stick to underwear and absorb menstrual flow externally. They again come in a range of absorbencies to cater for different needs, from light to heavy. You might find you need a super pad at the start of your period (if you have a heavy bleed) and a lighter pad towards the end of your period. It’s important to adjust absorbency to suit your period.

You can get pads with wings, and without wings. A pad with wings will fold around your underwear so you get added security during use.

If you use pads, it’s important to use the right absorbency and change every 4-8 hours. If left unchanged pads can leak and they can also cause irritation. This is partly because menstrual bleed can disrupt the pH balance in your vagina.

For nighttime use, it’s recommended to up your pad absorbency or use a slightly longer pad to keep you protected whilst you sleep. At TOTM, like with all period care, we advocate organic cotton pads. This is because conventional pads can contain up to 4 carrier bags worth of plastic! This is not just bad for the environment, but it can also be uncomfortable against the delicate skin in the vaginal area.


Menstrual cups

Cups are a reusable period care product. You use them in place of tampons. They do however sit lower than a tampon and have a very different shape, so insertion is a little different. With a menstrual cup, you need to fold before you insert into your vagina. There are many folds so it’s worth trying out different types before you use the cup on your period.

A menstrual cup can be re-used.  Simply remove the cup, empty the contents into the toilet, clean the cup with water and then reinsert. It can also be used for multiple cycles. You just need to sterilise the cup in boiling water after use and then store safely ready for your next period. Cups are therefore good for the environment (zero waste) and they can also save you money. You buy once and keep the cup for years!

A menstrual cup can be used by itself, or you can choose to alternate with pads (at night for example) or you could use a cup alongside a liner for added protection. If you are new to using a cup, using a liner for back-up is good practice. If the cup is not inserted correctly it can feel uncomfortable or potentially leak. It can take a few attempts to place the cup correctly so it’s just a case of following instructions carefully and trying out different fold techniques until it feels comfortable.


Tips to help you manage your period

Hopefully, that clears up a few of your questions around period care products. Never feel embarrassed to ask questions or seek help if you are unsure what to use on your period. Here are extra top tips to help you with managing your period:


Never flush disposable products

If you do use disposable tampons or pads, be sure to always pop used products in the bin. If you flush these items they can damage the environment and pollute oceans (more info here).


Skip fragrance

Some tampons, pads and liners have fragrance, lotions or deodorants to help you ‘feel fresh’ on your period. Truth be told, these can actually irritate skin or even cause an allergic reaction. Your vagina is super sensitive so always opt for unscented products.


Heavy flow

If you cannot get on with products due to a very heavy flow, it’s important to speak to a medical professional. During your early menstruating years your period might be irregular. But if you are bleeding very irregularly (for prolonged periods of time) and/or you are bleeding through tampons or pads continuously and you find it difficult to avoid leaks, speak to your parent or guardian. It’s so important to never suffer in silence.

Hope this guide helps you out on your first period! You can also find more tips here. Got a question about periods? Drop your comment below.

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