What is a menstrual cup and how do I use one?
A menstrual cup is a feminine hygiene product used as an alternative to tampons during your period. Menstrual cups are silicone or rubber, flexible, and inserted into the vaginal canal to collect blood during menses. Unlike tampons, these cups collect blood rather than absorb it and are less likely to cause infection.
Another benefit to the menstrual cup is that it can hold more blood than a tampon can absorb and therefore needs to be changed less frequently. Most cups can be worn for up to 12 hours if your flow allows. This eco and financially-friendly option draws many people to the menstrual cup. However, learning how to use the cup may deter some women.
The learning curve
Insertion and removal of the cup can be challenging for some, and emptying the menstrual cup can be messy. Finding the right fit may also be problematic as each cup is slightly different. If you have specific sizing concerns or concerns about your appropriateness for using a menstrual cup, it is recommended you consult your OB or midwife before use.
How to find one that works for you
There are multiple factors to consider when deciding on the right menstrual cup:
- Your age
- The heaviness of your flow
- The length of your cervix
- How much the cup can hold
- If you have had sex
- If you have given birth vaginally
People under 30 years old who have not had a vaginal birth should use smaller cups. Larger cups often work best for people over 30 years old who have given birth vaginally and if they have a heavier period. We love this “cup quiz” that will help you narrow your choices!
How to insert a menstrual cup
- To insert the cup, you’ll first need to wash your hands thoroughly and wet the cup’s rim with water. Wetting the rim will reduce friction with insertion and make the application more comfortable. You can also use a small bit of lube (here are some of our favorites).
- Once you’ve done this, fold the menstrual cup in half. You can insert the cup while on the toilet or stand with one leg propped up on the toilet or side of the tub, whatever position feels best for you where your pelvic floor is most relaxed.
- Next, insert the cup into your vagina with the rim facing upward.
- Release the cup once inserted fully. The cup should form a seal via suction that will prevent leakage and collect menstrual blood.
- You should not feel the cup once inserted. You should also be able to perform daily activities and move freely without discomfort or leakage.
How to insert a menstrual cup without pain
To insert the cup without pain, try putting your feet on a squatty potty or stand with one leg propped up on the toilet or side of the tub. You’ll want to insert into the vaginal canal when your pelvic floor muscles are relaxed. Try getting into a deep squat position and bear down as if you’re having a bowel movement. If needed, exhale upon insertion like you’re blowing out birthday candles.
How far to insert a menstrual cup
Once inside, the top should be open and not still folded. Unlike a tampon, nothing should be “sticking out.” Also unlike a traditional tampon, the cup will be lower in the vagina.
How to remove a menstrual cup
- With a clean hand, insert your index finger and thumb into your vaginal canal.
- Pinch the cylinder of the cup to fold it in half again to release the suction seal.
- Once out, empty the cup into the toilet. You should rinse the cup with soap and warm water before re-inserting it into the vaginal canal.
How to clean a menstrual cup
You should first read the instruction manual with your specific cup, as they all have slightly different instructions. Then, empty your menstrual cup at least once every 12 hours.
Some people prefer to sterilize their cups by boiling them in between cycles. Your specific cup will have detailed instructions. Store your menstrual cup in the pouch it comes in. It is essential to keep the air flowing around your cup to prevent moisture build-up, so don’t store it in an airtight container.
The pros and cons of the cup
Some of the pros include:
- More prolonged usage compared to tampons
- Reusable cups can last 6-10 years when cared for appropriately
Some cons include:
- Difficulty finding the right fit
- Insertion and removal can be messy
- Vaginal irritation
Ultimately, this might not be the right feminine hygiene product for you. However, it can be a good option for clients looking for other options besides tampons.
Our favorite menstrual cups
- The Diva Cup is one of my favorites. They offer model 0 for those under the age of 18, model 1 for those under 30 who have not yet had a baby, and model 2 for mommas like myself (given birth) or for those over 30.
- Cora Women is another great option.
- Lola is a great option as well for not only cups, but all things period.
Janelle Trippany PT, DPT, PRPC, CLT is pelvic floor physical therapist in Seattle, WA where she lives and works with her husband and little boy. She is passionate about providing personalized care through every stage of a woman’s life, whether that’s during pregnancy or the postpartum period and beyond. She aims to make every treatment session friendly and comfortable and works to empower women in their healthcare journey. When not working, she loves hiking, camping and exploring the beautiful beaches of the PNW.
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