*Warning: If you are male, you probably don’t need (or want) to read this post. This one’s for the ladies only!
Photo from Crea8tiveMama on Etsy
Guest Post by Kate from Modern Alternative Mama:
Many of you mamas out there probably did or do cloth diaper your babies. We all know about the benefits of that; Emily has written about it quite a lot! But while this seems to make sense to many of us, using cloth for ourselves – also known as “mama cloth”, for our menstrual cycles – seems a little, well, odd. But the option is out there, and it’s really not as strange as you might think.
What is Mama Cloth?
So what is it, anyway? Mama cloth is basically reusable pads that you use during your period. There are many different sizes and styles out there that you can purchase. There are actually also reusable tampons (often crocheted and stuffed with batting) that you can make (not sure on ‘buy’ yet!). An additional option is a reusable menstrual cup, like the Keeper or the Moon Cup (click the link to read my review of it).
Cloth pads are made of different materials, depending on which type you get. But the backing is often PUL or another waterproof material; the middle is something absorbent, and the top is flannel, suedecloth, or another soft fabric. Basically, it’s like a mini-diaper. Doesn’t that sound fun?
All of the mama cloth I’ve seen has wings on it. The wings fold under and snap on the outside of your underwear. Since there’s no sticky backing, this keeps the pad in place (at least most of the time).
Why Would I Want To Do This?
I know, I know. Like you need one more thing to wash, right? There are already the diapers, the kitchen towels and wash cloths, maybe even the family cloth. So much cloth! But trust me, these are not a big deal to care for, and health-wise, they’re definitely worth it.
Disposable menstrual pads have the same issues that disposable diapers do: they’re full of bleaches and other toxic chemicals. One of these bleaches is dioxin, a chemical that is actually banned in Europe and other countries. We don’t know exactly what this does in terms of human exposure, but it can cause cancer and other problems. Some women have noted that their cramps and pain eased significantly after they switched to cloth, because they were no longer being exposed to these chemicals.
These pads also don’t allow breathability (unlike cloth pads). This means that you’re more prone to yeast infections and other infections when you use them.
Tampons have been associated with TSS (Toxic Shock Syndrome). And although it’s not as common today as it was in the 80’s (the particular brand/type of tampon that was causing most of the cases was pulled from the market), it still does occur.
Tampons, too, have been bleached with dioxin and other chemicals, and you are inserting them into your body. Your body will easily absorb these chemicals! Exposure is cumulative, too, so the longer you use these products, the more you are at risk!
Many women think that cloth is more comfortable. It’s softer (not all crunchy and papery!) and it bends and moves more with your body. Depending on the design of your pads (some are pockets), you can make them more absorbent, if you need it. You can also buy custom shapes, or sew them yourself, to get what works best for you. And, although it may not really matter, you can buy them in pretty colors and prints, which might just brighten your day a little bit when you see them!
And I know a few of you are wondering…no, it’s not gross. The pads absorb really well and wick the moisture from your skin, so as long as you change your pad regularly, you don’t feel gross. Certainly no more so than in any other pad. They don’t usually leak, either, as long as they stay in place. If they don’t stay in place, it might be that they’re too small or not fitting you very well and you need a different design. But in general they’re not messy or any more likely to cause “problems” than disposable pads.
How to Care For Them
Mama cloth is really easy to care for, especially if you already cloth diaper. They can actually be tossed into the same wet bag as the diapers, and washed along with them. They may stain if you do this, though, since blood is more likely to stain than other stuff. If you don’t care (because really, who’s going to see them?), then go ahead with that!
If you don’t like that option, or if you’re not currently cloth diapering a baby, there’s another way. When you remove a used pad, you can either stick it into a small, zippered wet bag; or if you are at home, you can keep a small (covered!) bucket with some water and Bac-Out in it. Soak the pads in the water and Bac-Out until the end of the week, then dump the whole thing in the washer and wash on hot, with mild detergent (the same as what you’d use for cloth diapers – free&clear, Charlie’s soap, soap nuts, etc.). Make sure you do an extra rinse so they’re really clean, then you can either put them through the dryer, or hang them to dry.
If you buy your pads, make sure you read the care instructions. Although similar, different types of fabrics may require different care. And of course, each person’s washing machine, water (hard/soft), type of detergent, etc. will affect the washing process. If the first way you try doesn’t do the job, try something else.
Where Do I Buy It?
There are tons of shops out there that sell mama cloth. Etsy is a great place to try, because many sellers there make it themselves (and many will take special requests if you wanted a different size, color, etc.).
Many cloth diaper stores, like Nurtured Family, will also sell mama cloth, too, so if you have a favorite shop, check to see if they carry any.
Health food stores may have some options available, too, although they are often more limited. If there’s a smaller one in your area that carries items from local artisans, that might be the best place to check.
Local craft fairs, parenting exhibitions, or other “natural” places might have it, too. For example, my local midwives’ practice carries a lot of these types of things.
Can I Make It Myself?
Yes! If you are crafty, sewing your own can be an excellent, and frugal, way to go. I designed and sewed my own when I first got into mama cloth. I had designed and sewed all my diapers, too, so it seemed only fitting.
There are lots of free patterns out there. There are also patterns you can pay for. Some women choose to take their favorite disposable brand and simply trace it (a little big, to allow for seams) to create their own pattern. If you have sewn diapers, you can often use scraps you have leftover. Thin quilt batting is easiest for the absorbent layer (it’s a neat tip and what I used for mine!).
Here are a few resources for patterns: http://www.sewingclothdiapers.com/cloth-mama-pads.html, http://rctdiapers.webs.com/freepatterns.htm.
Interested in mama cloth yet? Give it a try! Buy a few and see how you like them. And if they don’t work for you, check out the reusable menstrual cups. There are lots of great, green, safe options out there!
Kate is a work-at-home mom to two kids, Bekah, age 3; and Daniel, age 19 months. She is married to Ben, a wonderfully supportive husband! She blogs at Modern Alternative Mama, where she writes about natural health, real food, parenting, and all things “green.” In her “free” time, she enjoys sewing, crafting, cooking, and playing with her children.
I’m so glad that Kate was willing to tackle this subject for me! It’s still on my “Changes to Make” List, but I thought that some of you might be interested in learning more about this. I hope this post gives you the inspiration and courage to green your feminine care!
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I’ve been wanting to try mama cloths. But, I do martial arts. I’m wondering what options would be good for me while I’m in class.
I would think a menstrual cup, like the Diva Cup or Keeper, would work well for you while doing martial arts – they catch the flow inside rather than on the outside, and I guess they fit pretty snugly inside. Hope that helps!
April L. says
I switched a little over a year ago, and have never looked back. In fact, I get my pads from Crea8tive Mama on etsy. I recognized her work at the top of this post. I have saved money, they feel better next to my skin, they’re healthier…I could go on and on about why I love them so much. And honestly? The ick factor really isn’t that bad. I rinse mine out really good in the sink, and then store them in a bucket of water/vinegar under the sink. I wash them with my towels and they come out great!
Thanks so much for sharing your experience April!
I’ve wanted to switch over to cloth liners now for some time. I recently converted from tampons to the Diva Cup and the Lunette cup. I love them! (Ultimately I prefer the Lunette, but both are great.) There is a bit of a learning curve, but once you get the hang of it it is AWESOME. And green, too!
I love mama cloth. I had my doubts switching over but I had heard that it can reduce cramping so I had to give it a try. I use fleece & wool back with OBV tops & it’s ALMOST a pleasure every month now. So comfy & my cramping has been reduced significantly. I do a spin class & never have a problem with moving or anything.
I used the Diva Cup for a couple months before I got pregnant and I’ll never go back to the disposable pads and tampons. It works g so well. Not only is it green, but also frugal! I’ve considered making some cloth pads — there’s a really easy template and instructions for making them in Amanda Soule’s book, Handmade Home.
This has been on my changes to make list for awhile, and I’ve decided it’s going to be made before the next ‘time of the month’ rolls around. I’ve heard so many good recommendations that I am convinced!
Thanks for the informative post. 🙂
Wow! The first item on my internet to-do list today was “look for info about making cloth pads”, and I wondered if there would be something on your blog… and there it is right at the top! Fantastic timing. Thanks! 🙂
Last month was my first time using a menstrual cup (from MeLuna) and I absolutely love it, but I want to make some pads to go with it in case of leaks. I know it’s a learning curve like others have said but I’ll feel happier having the extra safety on heavy days or when travelling… not wishing to go into too much detail!
Will pass this blog post on to others. Thanks again.
Glad we could be of help to you Mika! 🙂
I’ve never heard of the MeLuna cup, I’ve only really looked into the Diva Cup, I guess I’ll have to do a little more research before I make a decision what to purchase.
I have a post about this on my blog as well –http://peacefulwillowfarm.blogspot.com
We use the diva cup, reusable tampons (you can buy on etsy, link in my blog) and some reusable panty liners. They are great!! Read all about it on my blog!
Mary Bernard @ Look In Your House says
Wow! Lots of good info. I have been intrigued about this for a few months now, doing my research. You ladies may have just given me the courage to give it a try. LOL.
By the way, what’s a “family cloth” that Kate references?
Mary, “family cloth” is a term for cloth wipes used instead of toilet paper.
Thanks for running this article, Emily! I hope it will help more women learn about the joys of reusable feminine supplies! I think they are really great. One thing Kate didn’t mention is that you can save a lot of money by using cloth pads or a reusable cup because the cost per use is less, and washing pads costs basically nothing if you put them in with other laundry, and the cup gets clean with just a small amount of water.
Oh, just for the sake of accuracy: dioxin is not a bleach; it is a chemical byproduct created when plant materials (paper, cotton, rayon) are bleached with chlorine.
Thanks for your input ‘Becca!
I got into mama cloth right after my first baby was born (at home, so no stocked supply closets) – I ran out of big post partum pads and, improvising, stuck a trifolded washcloth in my underwear. It worked great, and was so comfortable I told my mom not to worry about picking up pads, but bring me another 6-pack of washcloths! My underwear kept it in place and, in almost four years (granted, with two additional pregnancies in there), I have had no issue with blood leaking through. I experimented with making more diaper-like pads (since I do sew diapers) and I bought one from a WAHM, which is a lot more absorbent but really bulky, and I’ve just found it unnecessary; I prefer the washcloths. And since I do use a Diva Cup most of the time, it’s not been a big issue. Question, though – when you say quilt batting for absorbency, do you mean cotton batting? I’ve seen bamboo too, and wool, but most of what I see is polyester, which is fluffy but not the least bit absorbent (see: Gerber prefolds).
Kathryn Grace says
I’m long past bleeding, but hot flashes can still sneak up and get the better of me. I like to wear a changeable pad so I don’t have to sit in puddles of my own sweat when those flashes explode through my pores. I’ve been using GladRags for awhile now, but they are difficult to find in organic cotton, and they are bulky. I’m going to follow your links and learn more about these Mama Cloths. Thank you for covering this important topic.