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Bleeding women

For a young girl who’s just had her first menstrual period, choosing and using the right pads and tampons can be rather difficult and bewildering.

IN an earlier article, I wrote about the challenges that young girls experience when facing their first menstrual period, and the pressures faced by parents who realise it’s time to have “that talk” with them. I have already discussed the emotional and psychological issues that parents need to address, but an equally important aspect of talking to your daughter is teaching her how to care for herself when she has her period. This means teaching her about using sanitary pads and tampons.

It may seem like common sense to you, but for a young girl facing an overload of information and products, a little guidance will help. What pad your daughter chooses will depend on her flow and her personal preference. It may be a good idea to get her a normalsized pad with wings for day use, as well as an overnight pad for bedtime.

Using pads

Sanitary or menstrual pads are the most common menstrual products in the market here. They are easy to use because they consist of a pad that has an adhesive back that sticks to the bottom of the underwear. The absorbent side of the pad is usually made of wood cellulose fibres, similar to paper, and an additional top layer of perforated plastic that helps to keep you dry. All pads have these basic features. What differentiates the products in the market from each other are additional characteristics. There are thick pads for heavy flow or thin and ultra-thin pads for women who don’t like the bulkiness of thick pads. There are pads with or without wings, which are thin flaps that wrap around the sides of the underwear to hold the pad securely in place.

Pads also differ in length, as some women prefer extra long pads for overnight use so that they do not stain their clothes or bed linen. As the design technology improves, there are even pads that are curved to fit the body better or tapered at the end for thongs. What product your daughter chooses will depend on her flow and her personal preference. It may be a good idea to get her a normal-sized pad with wings for day use, as well as an overnight pad for bedtime.

More important than the choice of pad is the method of using and changing it. A pad should be changed every four to six hours, and no longer than that. If your daughter’s flow is very heavy, she should change her pad even earlier. This is to maintain good hygiene and comfort, as well as prevent unpleasant odours. Another crucial lesson to impart is how to discard used sanitary pads. After changing a fresh pad, the used one should be wrapped in toilet paper or in the wrapper of the new pad, and disposed in a sanitary bin or garbage bin. Remind your daughter never to throw a sanitary pad down the toilet bowl. This has been the source of headaches for schools where toilets have become clogged because some girls o not know any better.

Going for tampons

Tampons are an alternative to sanitary pads, and preferred by some women for several reasons. Tampons are inserted into the body and are considered to be more discrete and, for some women, more comfortable. The tampon is cylindrical in shape and measures about the length of the thumb. The absorbent surface is usually made of cotton or a cotton/rayon blend. If your daughter chooses to use tampons, you have to teach her how to insert and remove it. Some tampons come with applicators, a special cardboard or plastic tube-like thing to help your daughter insert it into her vagina. She can also just use her fingers to insert it.

To remove it, she should pull the string that is attached to it and dispose of it the same way as with sanitary pads. If your daughter worries that the tampon will “get lost” inside her body, reassure her that this is not possible because it is too big to go through the cervix (the opening at the top of the vagina that connects to the uterus). Tampons also come in different absorbencies to suit women with different levels of flow. Just like with pads, tampons should be changed every four to eight hours.

Tampons may seem to be able to completely block the flow of menstrual blood from the body, but this is not the case. Similar to pads, tampons merely absorb blood and once it has reached its absorbency capacity, it will have to be changed.

Use with caution

Using tampons require extra caution due to the risk of a condition called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). TSS is a serious but uncommon infection, caused by the Staphylococcus aureus bacterium, that can occur if tampons are left in the body for too long. It is believed that certain types of high-absorbency tampons provide a moist, warm home for a certain type of bacteria to thrive. This is why tampons should never be left in for more than eight hours, especially high-absorbency tampons.

Teenage girls are bound to be forgetful or easily distracted, so you should make your daughter aware that this is a practice that should be followed to prevent serious repercussions. If your daughter has left a tampon in for too long and has symptoms like sudden high fever, a faint feeling, watery diarrhoea, headache, and muscle aches, take her to a doctor immediately. You may be concerned about the chemicals found in tampons, especially since they will be worn internally. To ensure that the tampon fibres are clean, manufacturers will put them through a bleaching process. You can look for tampons that have undergone a chlorine-free bleaching process, using hydrogen peroxide or dilute sodium hypochlorite instead.

Another chemical that may be found in tampons is dioxin, which is recognised as an environmental pollutant. However, only a very minute amount is used in tampons and the level is so low that it poses a negligible risk to health. To be safe, you should ensure that the brand of tampons you use has been tested and regulated by the authorities.

Traditional beliefs

In the Asian context, there are some fears about using tampons as it is believed that it will cause a woman to lose her virginity. Among certain cultures and religions, tradition holds that unmarried women have to remain virgin until their wedding night. However, a girl’s hymen can be broken in many ways, such as through injuries, accidents, sports, penetration due to medical examinations, and use of tampons or douches. These incidences do not mean that a woman is no longer a virgin, as her hymen was not broken due to sexual intercourse.

In fact, in the Islam religion, a husband should not hold his wife in doubt if her hymen is broken due to reasons other than sex. Having said that, it may be better for unmarried Muslim women to avoid using tampons due to the negative implications it can bring about upon marriage

This is something that you should explain to your daughter, as it is part of her journey towards becoming a woman. Whatever she chooses to use, it should be something that she is comfortable with.

The Star Newspaper, Sunday June 20, 2010

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