What's a menstrual cup? It's what you'll wish you had if you've been traveling, found yourself in the middle of nowhere and suddenly realized - its heeeere... Your period.
And not a pad in sight.
Generically it's called a menstrual cup, a small silicone or rubber cup you insert instead of a tampon when you get your period. It doesn't absorb menstrual fluid (like tampons and pads) but collects it instead.
What's with the menstrual cup?
It's so comfortable that you won't even feel it's there, and you won't have any bulky supplies to pack. One cup can last 5-10 years, so you won't run out. And it costs very little - about the price of a sandwich in Europe. Add up how much you spend on tampons or pads over half a decade and you'll see why you need one.
A typical menstrual cup
You can use menstrual cups in pretty much any travel situation - even when swimming, running or hiking. They can hold up to three times as much flow as a tampon, so they're ideal when you're heading somewhere you won't have access to a toilet for hours.
The cups come in different sizes so you'll have to make sure you get one that fits. It needs to be comfortable, and if it's too small it may leak.
How to fold and insert a menstrual cup properly
You also have to insert it properly. It's not very difficult - it just takes a bit of practice to fold and insert properly. After a few times, it'll start to 'feel right' and you'll know you've inserted it correctly.
How to remove a menstrual cup
Taking it out the first time can be a bit challenging, but the technique just takes some getting used to: you push from the inside, pinch the bottom of the cup to release the suction, and pull it out gently so nothing splashes.
On days when your flow is heavy or when you are not able to empty it so often, you might want to back up your cup with a pad, just in case.
Cleaning your menstrual cup
Menstrual cups need rinsing every day or so, and sterilizing at the end of your cycle. In a pinch you can go for a few days without rinsing.
If you're in a remote area make sure the water you use is clean. It should be drinking water, mineral water or boiled water you can take to the toilet with you in a bottle.
If you don't have access to clean water, remove the cup, empty it and wipe it clean with a tissue. Wash it as soon as you have access to clean water.
The most important thing is to have clean hands when you insert or remove the cup.
At the end of your cycle, boil the cup for a few minutes and put it back in its bag. Some cup producers recommend sterilizing their cups in other ways, for example with soapy water or a solution of vinegar and water, so check the specific washing instructions for your cup brand. Importantly, never use scented soap to wash the cup, as the perfume can cling to the cup and irritate you inside.
Maria introduces RubyCups (one type of menstrual cups) to young women in Kitgum, Uganda in a pilot study by the authors and Danish Red Cross Youth. The study is investigating the safety of using menstrual cups in rural areas with little access to water.
I'm sold... what are the advantages of a diva cup again?
The diva cup does have disadvantages...
All things considered, most women who have used the cups rather than pads or tampons rave about them. I use one myself and have done so for three years. And I'm raving!
Here's how to buy a menstrual cup
There are at least 20 producers of menstrual cups: several US and European producers, one in Kenya, a couple in South Africa, some Russians, and many Chinese. The official manufacturers' sites are not necessarily where you can buy them cheapest.
The simplest purchase point is online at Amazon though there are others, including the Ruby Cup in Kenya and the MpowerCup in South Africa.
Still want to know more? Check out this users' forum for great questions and answers.
Maria Hyttel (left) and Marianne Tellier are public health professionals working on reproductive health issues in East and West Africa. They and their colleagues at WoMena Ltd are doing research on the hygienic safety of menstrual cups in northern Uganda.