Are Menstrual Cups Friend or Foe?

September 12, 2019

Menstrual cups were first introduced a couple of decades ago, and have re-emerged in popularity within the last 5-6 years. The resurgence of the trend has been focused on a conscientious approach to feminine hygiene—to produce less waste and to spend less money. But is the trend only a passing popularity, or are menstrual cups a viable option? Are menstrual cups safe and effective?

“Menstrual cups are a great option for many women who haven’t had optimal results with sanitary napkins or tampons,” says Kristin Caldwell, DO, OB/GYN with Kettering Physician Network Women’s Health. “A lot of women have sensitivities to certain products or ingredients, and menstrual cups can fill a needed role for these women. They are just as safe as tampon use.”

Some studies have shown some side effects associated with the menstrual cup, and these effects are typically associated with sizing and placement of the cup. While toxic shock syndrome is a risk with menstrual cups, the risk is not any higher than the one associated with tampons.

Caring for the cup

Proper care is key when it comes to menstrual cups. Dr. Caldwell explains that the cups can be left in place for up to 12 hours, as long as women are practicing good hygiene with placement. “It is safe to leave the cup—or a tampon for that matter—in for that long. Women should just be aware that the more frequently you change them, the less likely you are to have some bacterial buildup.” Always wash hands and the cup with warm soap and water. Women should avoid washing the cup with chemical cleansers, as these can lead to breakdown of the silicone.

If women are experiencing trouble with the menstrual cup, Dr. Caldwell notes that their problem is usually related to proper fit. “The best way to gauge what size you need is based on age and whether or not you’ve had children,” she says. “The smaller sizes are for women under 30 or for those who have not had children. We typically advise women to start with the smaller size, and, if you’re having leakage, then you can try sizing up.”

Frequently asked questions

Dr. Caldwell says that one of the most common questions women have about menstrual cups is whether or not they can be safely used if you have an intrauterine device (IUD). “The answer is yes, they are safe, even if you have an IUD in place,” says Dr. Caldwell. “I just caution women to be aware when removing the cup, because sometimes the IUD strings will set beside the cup, and you may accidentally grab the strings. Just take extra care with removal.”

Dr. Caldwell encourages women to address any period concerns with their gynecologist. “There’s still a stigma associated with the menstrual cycle, when there really shouldn’t be.” Dr. Caldwell says she focuses on educating and helping these women. “Don’t be afraid to ask any questions you may have, no matter how big or small.” 

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