what is a menstrual cup

Menstrual cups: how they work and how to use them

07 Apr 2021

Menstrual cups – or period cups - have continued to grow in popularity since they were first launched onto the market in the United States in the late 1980s.1

They are now one of the favourite solutions to having a zero-waste period.

Some women love them straight away, rave about them and never look back – tampons, what tampons?

Others need a little time to get to know their own anatomy in order to make sure that the cup is placed correctly so there are no leaks and that it is comfortable.

Most young women start their periods with disposable sanitary towels or tampons, so it is totally natural if you feel slightly unsure about trying something reusable.

But the reality is that period cups are simple to care for, economical when compared to disposable (or even reusable) pads and they definitely help you understand your own anatomy better.

Wait, what is a menstrual cup?

A menstrual cup or period cup is a small device made out of medical-grade silicone that is inserted into the vagina to catch blood during your period.

They are an alternative to tampons or sanitary towels.

Menstrual cups are environmentally friendly, since they can be washed with gentle detergent or sterilised and reused again and again.

And they are long-lasting: some manufacturers say they will keep going for a decade or more!2

What size menstrual cup should I get?

Understandably, many people are a little anxious about menstrual cup use before they try them, but some things are simple, such as which size to get.

Unlike pads or tampons, which come in flow sizes, you only need one size of menstrual cup.

No faffing around with light, medium or heavy flows. Simply buy the size that is right for you and use it throughout your period, whatever your flow.

Most menstrual cups, such as Moon Cup, OrganiCups and Lunette, only come in two sizes: a smaller size for women under 30 and those who have not given birth vaginally and a larger size for older women or those who have given birth vaginally.

The Enna Cycle cups come in three sizes – the smallest size being for those under 18.3 It is your pelvic floor muscles that hold the cup in place, so if you know yours are particularly strong as you do kegel exercises, or weaker after multiple childbirths and/or participating in sports that involve lots of jumping around, you might want to try the size up or down.4

How does a menstrual cup work?

Menstrual cups work by catching the droplets of blood during your period.

They are non-absorbent, so you simply empty the contents down the toilet, wipe with tissue and reinsert.

During your period you can rinse with water or a weak vinegar solution.5 Some manufacturers advise steaming or boiling your cup after each period. The Enna Cycle cup comes with a handy steriliser pot for just this task.6

How to use a menstrual cup

The first thing to know is that you will have to get familiar with your vagina – menstrual cups need to be inserted in the right place. If this thought makes you squeamish, lean in: it is a positive thing to know about your body and how it works!

Read the manufacturers’ instructions first. Most will tell you how to fold the cup so it can be inserted with ease. The cup should be inserted lower than a tampon. The cup’s tail should be just outside the entrance to your vagina.Many of the brands have a stem you can trim to size to perfectly fit your body.

When you are ready to empty the cup, simply feel for the tail and pull gently. You might need to slide your fingers around the edge of the cup to release the suction.

Keep the cup upright until it is completely out of the body, then flush the contents down the toilet, rinse or wipe the cup, then re-insert.

Are menstrual cups for everyone?

Yes, but some people may wish to talk to their doctor first.

For example, those with IUDs (coils) should consult their gynaecologist as the menstrual cup’s suction could affect the string of the IUD.

Anyone using a contraceptive ring should consult their doctor first for similar reasons, as the placement of the cup could affect the ring’s effectiveness.

It is also best to avoid menstrual cups if you have any vaginal health issues, or if you are using any topical medication in your vagina.

Menstrual cups should not be used for post-natal bleeding.

Are moon cups the best?

The best menstrual cup will depend on your preferences!

If you like the idea of a product being tried and trusted, the company that makes the famous Moon Cups has been around for over 30 years. Other brands include the Lunette, which claims to be “the most widely distributed period cup in the world” and comes in two colours; and the Enna, which comes with two cups, an applicator and a steriliser pot.8 You might also be interested in our article, ‘How to have a zero-waste period.’ Shop Menstrual Cups

Last updated: 20 October 2020

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