Pads or tampons?

Your period needn’t mean you can’t do everything you usually do – have a bath or shower, swim, cycle, run. You can carry on as normal providing you use the right sanitary wear for you. There are basically two items you can use – pads or tampons – and both are made of a sterile, cotton-like material that absorbs your period.

There is a rather bewildering range available in the shops but you should buy the type that suits you and your budget, and wear the type that you’re comfortable with. Pads (also known as ‘sanitary towels’) go into your knickers – there’s an adhesive strip to make them stick and sometimes ‘wings’ to make sure they don’t slip. Tampons are inserted into your vagina, usually via a small disposable tube. Most girls use pads to start off with. All packaging has clear diagrams to show you what to do but it’s very helpful to talk to someone (your mum, a sister, a friend) who is already menstruating and get their advice.

Some girls do not have access to hygienic pads or tampons and may use material such as toilet paper or even socks to absorb the blood. Some also stay at home, missing school, while they’re having their period. If you cannot afford to buy sanitary wear, your local food bank should be able to help. The Trussell Trust website will show you where your nearest bank is. If you or your family can afford it, please consider donating sanitary wear to your local food bank. You could be helping a teenage girl just like you. Thank you.

Which type and how often?
Pads and tampons come in various sizes and levels of absorbancy, depending on how ‘heavy’ a period is. This means how much blood you usually lose during your period. A ‘light’ period means not very much blood; a ‘heavy’ period means more. There are special, slender tampons designed for girls. You usually change your pad or tampon every few hours (but you don’t need to change it overnight). Public toilets should have special bins for disposing used pads and tampons but wrap them and put them in the bin at home (do not flush them down the toilet).

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Always follow these hygiene rules when wearing a tampon:

  • Wash your hands before inserting or removing a tampon.
  • Change your tampon at least every 4–5 hours, or more often if necessary.
  • Choose the correct tampon absorbency. Use small-sized tampons when your flow is light. TSS (see below) occurs more often when super-absorbent tampons are used, so don’t use these unless your period is very heavy.
  • Don’t wear tampons all the time during your period – use pads at night and tampons during the day.
  • Only ever use a tampon when you have your period.

Toxic Shock Syndrome (TSS)
This is a rare but very dangerous infection that can occur in girls who wear tampons. When a tampon is in your vagina, it creates the perfect conditions for some harmful bacteria to grow. This bacteria produces a toxin that causes severe illness. Girls are less likely to have antibodies to fight this toxin and so TSS can occasionally occur. It is very rare but it is important to know what the symptoms are and how to reduce your risk.

The symptoms of TSS are similar to those of the flu. If they happen while you have your period and you are wearing a tampon, they may be a sign of TSS. If you have a fever, a rash, dizziness or vomiting while wearing a tampon, remove it immediately and contact your doctor straight away or go to your nearest A&E. The symptoms of TSS usually appear quickly and can include:

  • Flu-like symptoms (muscle aches, headache, redness of your eyes, mouth and throat)
  • A sudden high temperature
  • Dizziness, fainting or lightheadedness
  • Vomiting
  • A sunburn-like rash
  • Diarrhoea