As we all adjust to these new ways of living, Brook’s Let’s Talk. Period team in Liverpool, give some practical advice for parents and carers on how to use this time to have important conversations with young people. Written by Education and Wellbeing Specialists Jenny Gilchrist and Emma-Louise Kemp, with support from Education and Wellbeing Coordinator Natalie Hughes-Crean.
A person who menstruates can expect to have an average of 500 periods in their lifetime. And people who have periods know (pregnancy or medical intervention aside) that their cycle will continue come rain, come shine, regardless of special plans or global pandemic.
At Brook, we know that many people are experiencing difficulties at this time and that self-isolation can be a cause of anxiety and upset. Our experts want to help so that periods are not adding to this stress.
We want everyone to feel informed and supported to manage their period in a way that they choose to, safely and healthily. Remember to take the extra care you need to look after yourself and those in your household.
A key point to be aware of is to make sure that people are not using period products for longer than recommended in an attempt to make them last longer. There are some real dangers that surround the over use of products including Toxic Shock Syndrome. See our website further information on periods. It’s also a good idea to check the expiry date on any pads or tampons that you have at home to ensure that they are still safe to use and to avoid irritation to the vagina or vulva. If you have any pads or tampons at home that you won’t use up over the next few weeks – why not donate these to a local charity, neighbour or friend?
Most period products are still available in stores, online and at some other places (e.g foodbanks), but there remains a number of people who are unable to access these products or wish to use an alternative. If you wish to reduce your contact with others or have not been able to get hold of any products, there are some sustainable options for you to use. Check out our ambassador Hannah Witton for videos on period sustainability.
Menstrual cups are small containers made of a flexible material like rubber or silicone, which – similar a tampon – are inserted into the vagina to catch blood and stop it flowing out. Unlike tampons, they are reusable – one simply empties the blood out of the cup, washes it, and can then reinsert it. A menstrual cup can also be a cost effective way to manage periods in the long run as one cup can last for up to 10 years. Menstrual cups are still available to buy online – read Brook’s blog on menstrual cups.
Reusable Pads & Pants
Another option would be to wear a reusable pad. Reusable pants are underwear or swimwear with a built-in absorbent layer. Once worn, they can be washed and used again. Whether you buy them or want to make your own, these are something to consider. You can find reusable pads in some health and beauty stores, sustainable stores, and online. If you want to make your own, it is simple to do at home and might even be a fun way to spend some time if self-isolating. Be sure you follow all safety guidance. See this how-to guide.
If you do not have any period products available to you – it’s not the end of the world! Many people who have periods have been ‘free bleeding’ for centuries. Free bleeding is an active choice of people to not use any products during menstruation to absorb or collect their flow. Some people feel empowered when free bleeding as they feel natural and comfortable. You are not putting yourself at risk of any health conditions by free bleeding, so if you prefer to bleed openly, go for it. Just be aware of the usual safety precautions of bleeding openly (blood-borne diseases, like HIV, can be transmitted via menstrual blood)[i] If you have to free bleed due to a lack of products you could sit on an old towel and wear old clothing.
These are a few options – you can mix and match in combination with single use products, or just use one! Remember that there is no ‘normal’ period and how you manage yours is your choice. Stay safe, be kind yourself and take each cycle as it comes.
Tips for parents and carers
While your young person is at home with you and having limited social contact with the outside world, you will be their first port of call for all of their period-related needs and questions.
This may be something you have not done before, but it is important that your young person knows that you are there and available for them to have these conversations. Remember that periods are not just a biological function; there are also the social, practical and emotional aspects to consider.
Here are some top tips for starting these conversations:
Don’t wait for them to come to you.
We know how hard it can be to instigate these conversations, but the last thing you want if your young person suffering in silence because they are too afraid to talk to you. You could create a safe space for them to talk to you by letting them know that you’re there for them to talk to if they need anything, and that includes their menstrual and intimate health.
If you are in a mixed household, it’s really important to normalise period talk. Don’t assume that it’s only the people who have periods who need to know about them. There is a lot of stigma and taboo around periods and keeping these conversations secret only works to perpetuate this and re-enforces stereotypes. That is not so say that sensitivity isn’t required – just try and remember that education and information is for everyone.
If you are nervous or embarrassed, the likelihood is that your young person will be too. Keeping the conversation relaxed will teach your young person that periods and menstruation related matters are ok to talk about. Periods are a natural experience and are nothing to be ashamed of.
Be open, honest and accepting.
Periods can be a sensitive topic for many young people and it can feel quite embarrassing to talk about. Make sure you let your young person know that they can talk about anything they want with you and that you won’t judge them, just help.
Take some time to research the different products available. Give them options. It helps to be factual – don’t share personal opinions or preferences around products. We have included some sustainable options in this post, but it’s important that young people are given the choice to manage their periods how they would like to. Bear in mind that having this discussion may lead to questions about sex so it may help to be prepared for that. Brook has a wealth of free resources to help!