Monday, February 6, 2012

Mama Cloth Demystified

This is about 1/5 of my beloved mama cloth stash!

If you knew me in person, you might find it surprising, to say the least, that I am writing publicly about my personal menstrual care. However, I know there are many people out there wondering about mama cloth (the term I find that is most commonly used to refer to cloth menstrual pads in the various online communities I frequent), and while I am far from an expert of any kind on the subject, I would love to share some of my own thoughts and experiences.

When I first got my period, my mom didn't want me to use tampons. I hated disposable pads so much that I "practiced" using a tampon one night when she and my dad were out bowling. I used disposable tampons exclusively after that night, but sometime between children #2 and  #3, my uterus tilted severely, and tampons became very uncomfortable for me and leaked terribly. When it was apparent during exams when I was pregnant with child #4 that the tilting had gotten worse, I knew I was going to have to switch to pads permanently, but the thought of using disposable pads regularly was not at all appealing. I always despised that period of postpartum bleeding when pads had to be used. I don't find them at all comfortable, I am constantly aware of their presence, I hate the adhesive sticking to things it shouldn't stick to, I hate that they could be full of harmful chemicals my body might absorb, and I hate it's yet another disposable product (as I was already hating about tampons too) that we mindlessly toss into the garbage can, and subsequently, landfills. I had already been cloth diapering for some time at that point and was aware of cloth pads, so I made the decision that as soon as I got out of the hospital and brought baby home, I would start using mama cloth.

If you cloth diaper and are familiar with the excitement and downright giddiness that can come with "fluffy mail," yep, you can get that with cloth pads too! I had so much fun ordering beautiful hand dyed bamboo velour pads, ripping open the packages and then looking at my beautiful, growing stash! If you can believe it, I absolutely could not wait to be able to use them after baby was born!

I was not disappointed. I can vividly remember the very first time I put a cloth pad on. I had just taken off a disposable pad the hospital had given me. As soon as I put the cloth pad on, and I am not exaggerating here, my entire body breathed a gigantic sigh of relief and nearly melted in comfort. I was immediately in love and haven't looked back.

If you have looked into cloth pads, you may have seen it often said by many that their periods are shorter and less intense than with disposable products, and that has been absolutely true for me. My periods are 2-3 days shorter than they used to be (two cycles ago, it was only three days long!), and my cramping is far less intense. I have not looked deeply into the science behind this, but I have seen it said that tampons especially have a negative effect on vaginal health and have been shown to make periods heavier and even more uncomfortable. I shudder thinking about what I was putting in my body all those years.

Mama cloth is available in many different fabrics. I have bamboo velour, cotton (woven and flannel) and minky (a poly fabric with a bit of a nap to it). I love them all for different reasons. My bamboo velour pads are beautifully hand dyed, and it offers a bit more absorbency right on top. The bamboo does not stay quite as soft as some of my other fabrics, especially if I line dry it. I like the cotton woven fabrics because of all the fun prints, and it seems a bit "lighter" to me, so I like it for when I am working out, walking/running, etc., though they are the ones I have to really watch, as they seem to stain easily if not rinsed well after use (though a stain wouldn't be the end of the world, of course). The flannel stays fairly soft, but it shows wash wear right away, and I can see it being the first needing to be replaced. I like my minky because of the fun prints it comes in, and some of mine is hand dyed too. Minky does not stain or show much wash wear, so the tops stay super soft and looking like new.

I have never had a leak with my cloth pads. I also have never had a problem with bunching, slipping, etc., save for the one time I wore a pantyliner that was way too short to a high-energy Zumba class, and it traveled upward several inches in the back (I was fine with a longer one the next session that week)! Almost all of my pads are backed with fleece, which helps keep it in place and offers leak-resistance. They all have tabs/wings that snap around my undies, and a snug but comfortably-fitting pair of undies can help keep it in place as well.

While you certainly have to invest more in a stash of mama cloth than you would grabbing a package of disposable pads or tampons from the store, there are ways to build your stash economically. Purchase just one or two pads each payday or when you have some extra money to spare. Watch for sales and discounts. And if you take good care of your mama cloth, it will last for several years. I have been using the bulk of my stash for almost two years, and none of them are anywhere near needing to be replaced! I have to admit I have many more pads in my stash than I need, but I enjoy picking up a fun print/colorway here and there.

My mama cloth has been very easy to care for. Always check your pad manufacturer's care instructions to see what they recommend for the specific fabrics your pads are made of. I prefer not to soak mine, as I fear it will be hard on the fibers, but there are those who keep a lidded bucket/container in the bathroom and throw the pads in there after changing and before laundering. I prefer less fuss and wear on my pads and simply give mine a quick rinse in cold water and throw them in a small wet bag (a zippered waterproof bag) I keep in a cabinet under the sink in the bathroom, and I wash them with either a load of cloth diapers or towels in warm water (most manufacturers recommend not using hot water, and never a "sanitize" cycle). You could of course wash them in a small load alone as well. I often hang mine to dry, though I machine dry them on a warm/medium heat setting too. You should never use chlorine bleach or fabric softener on any of your mama cloth. Chlorine bleach is not only harmful to the environment, it's incredibly hard on fabrics and can shorten their life. Fabric softeners are usually full of perfumes, dyes and chemicals, and they can compromise the absorbency of your pads. You don't want any of that stuff near your nether regions anyway!

I have been asked several times about the cost of laundering my mama cloth. I am already doing several loads of laundry a week, so it's easy to throw the pads in with towels or diapers as I mentioned, and it doesn't affect our water/gas/electric bill at all. After rinsing them, I would have no qualms about even throwing them in with a load of my clothes. I imagine that even doing a couple separate small loads once a month would add no real noticeable cost (we have our own washer and dryer, and I do laundry for a family of six). It might take some elbow grease/persistence, but I see no reason why mama cloth couldn't be safely hand washed if necessary.

Worried about what to do when you're out? It's a cinch! I have a mini wet/dry bag that I keep in my purse-- a couple clean pads go in one compartment, the used pads go in a separate compartment. It's small and discreet, very convenient (there will be an opportunity to earn a free mini wet/dry bag as well as a small wet bag, so say tuned for that). All of my pads also lend themselves to being rolled up and then the wings/tabs snapped around it so it forms a nice little "package" that can easily be placed in a purse, diaper bag, desk drawer, etc.

When it comes to using, transporting, laundering, etc. my mama cloth, there has honestly never been the slightest bit of an "ick factor" for me. In fact, I find my routine now FAR less "icky" than letting all the waste from disposables pile up in the trash. It immediately became second nature, and I don't even give it a thought anymore, it's become much more normal to me than using disposable products. Menstruation is a normal, healthy, natural bodily function, and I am really amazed at how caring for myself as naturally as possible during that time has made such a huge difference in how comfortable I am, both physically and emotionally. Really.

I hope I have answered some of the questions some of you might have about cloth pads, though I am sure there are things I didn't even think to touch on. If you have questions, feel free to ask them here or e-mail me at Again, I am certainly not an expert, and what works for one might not work for another, but I use them and love them and enjoy answering questions that might help encourage someone to try mama cloth!

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