The what and why of period leakage
Period leakage got you down? You’re not alone. In fact, there are two types of bleeders:
- Those who have had a leakage incident
- Those who will have a leakage incident
Frankly, we consider it a rite of passage. If you haven’t endured the hazing that is period leakage, let us kindly break it down for you.
The trickle of blood down your pant leg, ruining your clothes with a noticeable stain, drawing unwanted attention to your vagina, the feeling that everyone is staring at you, and no exit strategy – it doesn’t take much to turn a small leak into what feels like a full-blown crisis or a Mount Vesuvian event.
Whether leaks happen in public or private, they are NEVER convenient.
The three P’s of period leakage
Period leakage is the accidental bleeding that happens when your panties, products, and planning don’t sync up. It’s the embarrassing result of failed menstrual products.
Sometimes, the position of your pad is crooked or the tampon you’re using is not the correct level of absorbance needed. Sometimes the size or length is insufficient because you chose the winged overnight maxi pads and the right answer for that particular panty and product combination called for extra-long wingless. Whoops.
In any of these scenarios, leaks are an unwanted surprise. Ask anyone with a heavy flow about the odyssey they face during the high tide of their period and leakage is probably near the top of the list.
What causes a heavy menstrual flow?
Heavy flow, sometimes referred to as menorrhagia, happens most frequently to teenagers and perimenopausal women. During both of these life phases, estrogen levels run high while progesterone levels run low.
Truthfully, no one knows what makes some flows heavier than others (unless it has to do with an underlying condition). And sometimes leaking has nothing to do with the strength of menstrual flow.
Some of the most common culprits of leaking include:
- Sleeping position
- Tampon malfunction
- An incorrectly inserted menstrual cup
- An already full pad
- A pad that wiggles loose or relocates
- A pad ill-prepared for your strength of flow
- A sneeze…it happens, we’ve all felt it.
When it comes to leakage, you are not alone!
Not every menstruator suffers from bloat or food cravings during their period, but just about every menstruator has at least one embarrassing story about the time their period leaked. If it was a public leak, the story is probably even more memorable than a typical leak sprung while sleeping.
Google “periods” and you will immediately find embarrassing moments – horror stories – about women bleeding in public and the seemingly infinite ways that period spots have ruined favorite pants and skirts.
You will find a long list of embarrassed women mortified on their first day at a new job, or shamed when standing up from the table at an important date. Oh that? That’s just…my period.
How have these brave women endured the embarrassing aftermath of leaks?
Some have taken to carrying oversized tote bags while on their period. Tote bags serve the dual function of transporting endless period products, wet wipes, and spare clothes and also creating a barrier of protection from the overly-critical eye.
Some women have stopped wearing white pants.
Some have had no choice other than to stretch t-shirts over stained pants.
Some have sought out toilet paper for rescue, using it to stuff, dab, or blot away the blood and/or clot torrential bleeding.
And if you were to ask what every woman’s waking thought is during the height of her period, it probably sounds something like, Am I leaking?
Warning, period leakage may cause anxiety, humiliation, shame, self-doubt, low self-esteem and, yes, period leaks actually stop time.
Period leaks happen…and they’re pricey
Period leaks cost money, and when they happen, you say “goodbye” to your saucy lingerie, your 800-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, and your favorite skirt. If you’re frugal, you have a drawer full of period undies – cotton casualties from menstrual pads gone awry.
Sometimes, bleach gets the stain out. Sometimes it doesn’t. There’s that weird risk-benefit evaluation all menstruators perform when deciding between white and black fabric, whether it be for sheets, undies, pants, shorts, even bathing suits.
That said, here are a few tips for blood stain removal:
Try a little dab of white vinegar to the offended area. The sooner you can tackle the stain, the more likely you are able to resuscitate the accused item.
Wash any stained pants in cold water and don’t transfer to the dryer until the stain has fully lifted.
You should already be washing your underpants by hand and letting them air-dry… since none of us actually do this, stained underwear is the right catalyst to start caring for your lingerie. If the stain still won’t lift, seize this as an opportunity to start a drawer of the aforementioned “period panties.”
Next time, you’ll have a drawer of already-stained underwear you can slip on until you’re ready to switch to a more reliable menstrual product (ahem, maybe a menstrual disc or cup?).
How to prevent period leaks
Your leak prevention strategies may feel a bit like waging a war on menstruation or gravity. This is particularly true for women who have heavy periods. But here are a few tips and ideas to consider:
Hormonal birth control: The pill has been proven to slow bleeding and make lighter periods. Hormonal birth control also improves the regularity of periods and can help you predict when you will bleed next. For some, the hormonal IUD or pill will even stop periods entirely. However, do your research before you talk to your doctor or OB-GYN and make sure you’re well-informed about potential side effects.
Period tracking: There’s an app for everything these days. Unfortunately, there is no app to erase the embarrassed feeling that follows period leakage – so try a period tracker app to plan ahead. Period trackers can be useful in measuring regularity and determining when you can expect your next heavy day. Get in the habit of doubling up on period protection (like wearing a menstrual disc and a pair of period underwear) when things are predicted to get especially bloody.
Period underwear: We’re not talking about the stained pairs you stashed away in that extra drawer (although those are still great for when you’re spotting). We’re talking about specially-designed, absorbent, peace-of-mind-inducing period underwear that functions like a hybrid granny panty-meets-maxi pad. For folks with an extra heavy flow, they’re great as backup – but they can also be your one and only if you’re on a mid-to-lighter day.
Switch up your sleeping position: Sleep is prime time for pad sabotage. Sometimes, adjusting your sleeping position can help with, well, gravity—and make you less likely to leak. If you usually sleep on your side, try rolling over onto your back or even sleeping on your stomach.
Try a different period product: Menstrual cups and discs are less likely to leak and because they can be safely worn inside your body for up to 12 hours at a time—and they have a way higher capacity than your average pad or tampon. Both Flex Disc™ and Flex Cup™ (the full fit size) hold the same amount of period blood as three – yes, three – super-absorbency tampons. So, a lot. And as long as you’ve got your insertion and positioning tactic down, leaks are pretty rare.
BTW, a super-absorbency tampon holds about 12 milliliters of blood. A regular tampon typically holds around 5 milliliters. Another reference point: A fully soaked overnight pad holds anywhere from 10 to 15 milliliters of fluid.
Period leaks: Key takeaways
So, maybe you have a contingency plan. Maybe you brought vaginal wipes and an extra pair of panties with you to work or class. But, other than that, there really isn’t a perfect solution for period leakage because tampons and pads are made for zero gravity (or for people who aren’t planning to get up and move).
If you’ve changed up your period product and switched to a menstrual cup or disc, we applaud you. Hopefully, you’re well on your way to a worry- and hassle-free period. If for some reason, you’re still experiencing leaking with either of those products, it’s a good idea to double-check your insertion technique.
With cup leaks, it’s usually because the cup isn’t the right size for your body or hasn’t fully opened up after insertion (so there’s no seal). With disc leaks, it’s usually because the disc isn’t positioned far enough down and back, or isn’t properly tucked into place behind the pubic bone.
For troubleshooting, check out the following guides:
This article is informational only and is not offered as medical advice, nor does it substitute for a consultation with your physician. If you have any gynecological/medical concerns or conditions, please consult your physician.
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