Have you been feeling like your cramps get worse the minute you put a tampon in? You're not wrong.
For as long as I could remember, I've used menstrual pads and tampons during every single menstrual cycle.
For context, I was never one of those women who had severe cramps. My discomfort was mild, if any at all...until I gave birth to my children via caesarean. That's when things changed for me. During each cycle after childbirth, I began to feel every single reproductive difference in my body from: ovulation, feeling my eggs attach to my uterine wall, the beginning of my period coming on, and even down to knowing when my uterine wall was contracting back into place once it came time for my period to end.
Since the start of my period 20 something years ago, I've tried my fair share of brands from Always, Kotex, and most recently Seventh Generation, which markets as a chlorine-free, fragrance-free and bleach-free organic alternative to the other brands. I thought the switch to an organic brand would make my periods free of cramping and maybe even have shorter cycles, but I found that my periods up until this point (after childbirth) were consistent with discomfort and harsh cramps.
What I found out this month blew my mind. When my cycle started, I decided to use only pads. It had been 4 days and I've been considerably and noticeably without any menstrual pain or discomfort. It was almost as if this cycle was like the ones I used to have before having a caesarean.
Today changed the entire trajectory of my menstrual cycles going forward. When I ran out of pads today, I used the tampons that I had in my cabinet. I immediately started feeling sharp pains in my abdomen, lower back pains, shooting pains in my thighs, and a throbbing sensation in my buttocks. I could easily classify this feeling as contractions because that's exactly what it felt like.
For the last 7 years, I've had this same extreme discomfort that I figured was normal. It didn't dawn on me until having 4 days of no pain that my body was reacting to the tampon insert and the pain I was feeling was merely subjective to the toxins that are inside tampon ingredients.
This experience has completely shocked me. I thought I knew EXACTLY what to expect during my cycles, but for the last 4 days while only using pads and having no pain whatsoever then boom... crippling pain the minute I decided to use tampons.
So why is this?
Can tampons cause my cramps to worsen?
It has not actually been scientifically proven that tampons cause cramps. In fact, there isn't a mainstream article in search results that links tampon usage to "causing" cramps.
Tampons can, however, cause cramps to intensify and feel worse.
Tampons, generally speaking, are made out of cotton , rayon, or a blend of the two. They are mixed with absorbent fibers and work by inserting into the vaginal canal to soak up menstrual fluids. As the tampon absorbs fluid, this causes tampon to expand and ultimately puts more pressure onto the pelvic walls, causing an influx of discomfort or pain.
Though this isn't the case for every menstruator, according to The Fornix, this can be true for those who experience dysmenorrhea during their cycles.
What is Dysmenorrhea?
Dysmenorrhea is a term used when your menstrual period interrupts your everyday quality of life. It can be described as causing severe pain felt in the pelvis, abdomen, lower back, and upper legs during menstruation. Some describe pain or sensitivity in the vulva as well.
When tampons expand in the vaginal canal, those who experience dysmenorrhea have noticeably more discomfort when using tampons or menstrual discs versus those who use pads or other menstrual solutions.
When I learned this I had two questions: 'If tampons don't cause cramps then why was I experiencing a significant difference in pain while using tampons than not, and why wasn't I cramping before using them?
So I checked out some feedback from Quora from others who had the same concerns.
One user said, "I think it depends on the person. For example, when I was younger as a teen and into my 20s, tampons made my cramps worse! Into my 30s and now early 40s, tampons help my cramping. I can always tell when I need to change it because I start cramping. Once I change, they subside. I've never had children either but developed adenomyosis inside my uterus in my mid 30s so it is likely all relative somehow. :)" -JS
Another said, "Yes, tampons can cause additional cramping during menstruation.
Many women who switch from using tampons to other products like menstrual cups notice a significant change to their menstrual cramps or find their menstrual cramps stop all together, there are several theories on why this is and why tampons may increase menstrual cramps.
Tampons may expand into the cervix causing increased cramps - pressure on the cervix, irritation of the cervix, fibers collecting in the cervical opening. Tampons may irritate vaginal tissues and may pull on vaginal walls while they absorb moisture, pulling and irritating vaginal walls may add to discomfort. Ingredients in tampons may be hormone disruptors." -Anonymous
And another said, "for some reason this used to happen to me too, I’m not sure why. I don’t think it’s normal, and it’s certainly not pleasant." -Jenny Tan
One thing that is notably consistent among all these users is there was once a concern and driving question in the back of their mind making them seek answers from others. They too were looking to pinpoint the answer if it could be possible that tampons are causing cramps. With some of these responses holding over 14 MILLION views, this speaks volumes to the level of concern that individuals face concerning the use of tampons.
Are they safe? According to the FDA, yes. But if you are having discomfort during each menstrual cycle and personally feel that tampons could be the cause of worsening cramps, there are other alternatives that can possibly make your menstrual cycles more pleasant.
What can I use instead of tampons?
If tampons cause your menstrual cycle to feel more painful, I recommend looking into these alternative instead.
Menstrual Pads. Pads are absorbent liners that can be placed inside of your underwear to catch the menstrual fluids. They are generally made with cotton and rayon or a blend of the two. This option is seemingly preferred among beginners, those with a heavier flow, and those who want to allow their body to have a regular flow without restriction, interference from items like tampons, or simply prefer the item for comfort. Most pads can be worn for 4-6 hours before needing to replace. Pads come in a variety of options to accommodate flow changes and are safe for kids, tweens and adults. They are sometimes referred to as sanitary napkins as well.
Menstrual Discs or Cups. Menstrual discs and cups are one of the newest menstrual products made. They are used by squeezing the sides of of the disc or cup and inserting into the vaginal canal to cover the opening of your cervix to catch the menstrual blood into the product. These items do come with a bit of a learning curve on how to position the product, and thus is generally used by non-beginner menstruators. Menstrual discs are considered to be a less eco-friendly item compared to cups, as discs are meant to discard after each use. Cups though are generally used by those who prefer a reusable option in comparison to disposable sanitary napkins, discs or tampons. Discs are generally made with made with silicone and plastic, while cups are generally made with medical-grade silicone, rubber, latex, or elastomer. Discs can be worn up 4-6 hours, while cups can be worn up to 8 hours without change.
Period Panties. Period panties are made with a built in absorbent pad that absorbs menstrual blood and fluids while wearing. They are made with 100% cotton and won't fill your body with harmful or toxic chemicals that make their way into your bloodstream. This option is designed to fit tweens, teens and adults as the pad is built directly into the size of the underwear. It's design is preferred for those who want the convenience of reusable pads, discreet wear, and presumably more comfort. They are easy-to-wash and still have a flow variety just like sanitary napkins. Depending on the flow: light, regular, heavy, overnight, period panties can be worn between 10-12 hours without odor or leakage.
No matter what your preferred choice of menstrual products are, extreme discomfort should not be ignored and tampons are not the only option to absorbing menstrual fluids.
What are your thoughts? Have you experienced more discomfort while wearing tampons? Chime in below in the comments.