Once you get your period, you’ll need to use something to soak up the menstrual blood. Your choices are a pad or a tampon. If you’ve ever seen them on the store shelves, you know there are many varieties to choose from. How do you know which one is right for you?
Let’s start by explaining exactly what each one is.
Tampons and Pads
Sanitary pads: Sanitary pads, also known as sanitary napkins or menstrual pads, were one of the earliest forms of feminine hygiene and are still widely used today. Offered in various lengths and absorbancy levels, pads are often preferred by women on light-flow days or for when they might be spotting between periods. Some women combine a tampon with a pad for extra protection. The disadvantages associated with sanitary pads are that some women find the product uncomfortable or find that it isn’t suitable for certain types of physical activity.
In one study evaluating women’s use of tampons or menstrual pads, the researcher found that while most women used tampons, women younger than 41 were far more likely to use them. She also found that even tampon users still pop on a pad, often wearing one along with tampons, and that about one in four women in perimenopause (ages 48 to 54) use tampons and/or pads between their periods.
Pads are rectangles of absorbent material that you stick to the inside of your underwear. Some have extra material on the sides (called “wings”) that fold over the edges of your underwear to better hold the pad in place and prevent leakage. Sometimes, pads are called sanitary pads or sanitary napkins.
Pros of Pads:
- It’s less likely to leak.
- Easier to use since it doesn’t have to be inserted
- No risk of toxic shock syndrome
- Provide the best overnight protection against leaks
Cons of Pads:
- Can make crinkling sounds when you move
- Can show under your clothes due to bulkiness
- More restricted with activities; definitely no swimming when wearing a pad!
- Have to wear full coverage underwear with them
Tampons: Tampons, which have been around since the 1930s, are the most popular choice of feminine protection for women younger than 41, according to a prominent study. Women often choose tampons for greater physical freedom during their period. Like sanitary pads, tampons are also offered in various sizes and levels of absorbency. It is recommended that women change tampons at least every four to eight hours, using the least absorbent type to manage menstrual flow. Tampons are not recommended in between periods. Some women may remember the connection between superabsorbent tampons and an outbreak of toxic shock syndrome (TSS) in the 1980s, but these “hyper absorbable” tampons were taken off the market and the incidence of toxic shock syndrome plummeted. However, there is some evidence that women who use tampons may have an increased risk of urinary tract infections.
Tampons also absorb menstrual blood, but they work from inside the vagina. A tampon is also made of absorbent material, but it’s pressed tight into a small cylinder shape. The question all girls wonder is — how do you put them in? Some tampons have applicators, which are plastic or cardboard tubes that help put the tampon in place. Other tampons can be inserted using your fingers.
Many girls start out using pads, but might want to use tampons when they do sports or go swimming. You’ll want to talk to your mom or another woman you trust when you are trying to decide which is right for you.
Pros of Tampons:
- Tampons are small and discrete
- No wet feeling when wearing them
- You move freely
- You can’t feel them
Cons of Tampons:
- You can forget you’re wearing them
- They can cause TSS
- Can take time to find the right absorbency
- Can be uncomfortable to insert and remove
Tampons Vs. Pads – which should I choose for my first period?
Most girls start out using pads, but some go straight to tampons. There’s not a right or wrong answer. Whether you choose tampons or pads, all that matters is that you’re comfortable with what you wear and that you feel totally protected. If you’re not sure, talk to a woman you trust like your mum or sister to get their input on tampons vs. pads!
How are pads used?
Pads are worn inside your underwear to collect your menstrual flow. They come in different sizes, styles, and thicknesses. Some have extra material on the sides called “wings” that fold over the edges of your underwear to help keep the pad in place and give better protection. A thinner, shorter version of a pad is a “panty liner.” Some girls wear panty liners on the last days of their periods when the flow is light or on days when they think their periods will come.
How often should I change my pad?
Change your pad at least every 4–8 hours or whenever it seems full or feels wet and uncomfortable. Some girls change their pads each time they urinate.
How are tampons used?
Some tampons have a plastic or cardboard applicator tube that helps slide the tampon in place. Some tampons do not have applicators and are inserted with just your fingers. A short string attached to the end of the tampon hangs out of your vagina to help you remove it later.
How do I choose a tampon?
Just like pads, tampons come in different sizes for heavier and lighter periods. The tampon package will tell you how much fluid it will absorb. A “super” tampon, for example, is thicker and is meant for heavy flow. A “slim” or “junior” tampon is slender and is meant for lighter flow.
How often should I change my tampon?
You should change your tampon at least every 4–8 hours. Leaving a tampon in for a long time has been linked to toxic shock syndrome. When your flow is heavier, you may need to change it more often.
Preventing Toxic Shock Syndrome
It’s very important that you change your tampon every few hours, even if your period is light. Why? Because leaving one in too long — like all day or all night — puts you at risk for a rare but very dangerous illness called toxic shock syndrome (TSS). That’s why it’s a good idea to use the least-absorbent tampon you need. That may sound weird. You might think the most-absorbent one would be best because you wouldn’t have to change it as often.
But when you keep a tampon in too long, bacteria can grow. Girls who use very absorbent tampons are most at risk for this especially if the tampons are kept in for a long time, giving the bacteria plenty of time to grow. These bacteria can grow within the tampon, enter the body from inside the vagina, then invade the bloodstream, releasing toxins that can cause a very severe, and occasionally life-threatening, illness.
Symptoms of TSS include high fever, vomiting or diarrhea, severe muscle aches, a feeling of extreme weakness or dizziness, and a rash that looks like a sunburn. If you ever have these symptoms while wearing a tampon, remove it and tell an adult immediately. Have someone take you to the nearest emergency department as soon as possible.
But remember that this problem is very rare and most women never become ill from using tampons. When deciding whether to use pads or tampons, it’s really up to you. Some girls like tampons because they can go swimming with no problem, and they are easy to store in a purse or pocket. Another advantage to tampons is that they can’t be felt because they’re inside the body. A pad may feel bulky to some girls.
Other girls like pads because they’re easy to use, and it’s easier to remember when to change them since you can see them getting soaked with blood. Many girls switch back and forth: Sometimes they use tampons and sometimes they use pads, depending on the situation, where they’re going to be, and their menstrual flow. Some use pads at night and tampons during the day. And some girls with heavy periods use tampons together with pads or pantiliners for added protection against leakage. If you have any concerns or questions about your period, talk to your doctor.
Even if you haven’t started your period yet, it’s a good idea to be prepared by carrying a few pads or tampons with you, just in case. Then, if today is the day, you’ll be ready!