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6 Period Questions You Always Wanted to Ask, Answered by a Gynaecologist

Social taboo of an unspoken topic will always be a roadblock towards incorporating changes.

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Not traumatically induced, yet menstrual blood is the most hidden blood, rarely spoken of and almost never seen, except privately by a woman – Judy Grahn.

1. What are some of the basic menstrual hygiene rules every woman should follow?

Before I elaborate on ‘hygiene’ let me stress upon the fact that there is nothing unhygienic about menstruation. Its just ‘physiology’ and not pathology. The only thing that needs to be taken care of is that you stay clean. Getting obvious with your menses is still an embarrassment to woman.
The body has an excellent defense mechanism and one is protected even during menses. But keeping a dirty or soiled cloth intimate with your body for a long time can cause untoward reactions. The most common is bad odour. This can put one in a tight spot, especially young girls at school.
A dried out pad, worn over a long time can also cause localised allergic reactions leading to irritation, itching and uneasiness. The best thing to do is to change the pads frequently. We can’t fix a number but it’s good to change 3 to 4 times a day. One needn’t wait for the pads to get all soggy. Accumulated body secretions, even if not blood can cause discomfort.
Proper disposal of used pads should be taught to all. It’s not a very good sight to watch the pads being devoured by dogs on the streets. Pads can harbour serious infectious agents for conditions like HIV too and need to be disposed off properly especially when it comes to such patients.

Some women use old clothes as pads. Though the practice should discontinue we must remember that we live in a country with a great economical divide. Moreover it is not always about money but also about just a tradition sometimes, one that they have always followed. It’s preferable to use the sanitary napkins but if at all a cloth has to be used it should be clean and not damp, nor infested with insects and rodents.

In villages, some people reuse them. It indeed sounds a little disturbing! But life is not fair to many. To some every penny and yes, every pad counts. But if at all they have to be reused they must be washed well and completely dried up in sunlight.

Any infection from the vagina gets easily transmitted to the urinary tract and hence hygiene is always important to them. We have good washes too that can keep the body clean and can be used regularly.

Menstruation is just physiology and unless one is not bleeding excessively, the body can take care of itself. We must add lots of fluids, and spike up our diet with proteins and iron all days of the year. Let’s not treat menstruation as those days marked in red.
If ever there is any abnormal shift in the cycle, do not hesitate to contact the doctor.

2. Where do most women go wrong as far as menstrual hygiene and care is concerned?

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They feel they have to behave a little differently. Right from the beginning, women are taught about the special care that they have to take during this period and that something abnormal is happening. The changing body dynamics can be a little alarming to the immature mind but this is where the parents and even the schools need to step in. The ‘feeling of being impure’ has to be removed.

Strangely, women sometimes are rather miserly when it comes to buying napkins. Not realising that an uncomfortable cloth keeps them irritated and easily bogged down. Sanitary pads are more comfortable and user-friendly, easier to dispose off too and women should understand this.
Most women, even rural, would spend on bindis and bangles rather than sanitary napkins. Sounds like a cliché but it is the inside that matters and not the outside. There is a lot of misogyny prevalent in our society. We should teach our women to break cultural taboos and rigid traditions.

3. What are some of the areas related to their period cycle that women are unaware of and shouldn’t be?

It is very important to be aware of any deviation in the periods. The amount of bleeding and the character of pain can be suggestive of something going wrong inside. Pregnancy and even infections like tuberculosis can produce obvious changes on the menstrual pattern. Excessive bleeding can lead to anemia.
Abnormal bleeding patterns can mask a cancer too. Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women in India. Pregnancy is another reason and should never be ignored as just another changing phase of life. We must take medical advice only from an expert.

Stress and some hormonal disorders like thyroid problems can also cause abnormal bleeding.  Lack of exercise, faulty lifestyles and improper diets lead to menstrual irregularities and can have long term consequences on the body.
So the take home message is to put on our running shoes , leave the stress behind and eat healthy.


In collaboration with Aakar Innovations, The Better India is setting up a sanitary pad manufacturing unit in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that will not only produce eco-friendly or biodegradable sanitary pads, but will also employ women from rural communities around the area.

Contribute for the campaign here.

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4. What are some myths related to menstruation? And what’s the reasoning or belief behind them?

These are myths, deeply inbred in our culture. But it’s the faulty interpretation of our culture that has created this social bigotry. In older times those dealing with body fluids were thought as impure and were treated like untouchables. Menstruating women came under this category. This was ‘ritual impurity’. They were not allowed in the temples. This has been taken up by many women’s groups and recently there has been much debate over it too.

Apart from barring them from doing any puja , women were not allowed in the kitchen and had to sleep in a separate room. They could not touch many types of food like pickles. They could neither wear new clothes. And at the end of menses they had to wash their hair along with all their bedding. These are just myths and need to be busted.

5. Tampons vs pads- which would you recommend and why? Also, what alternatives do women in rural areas use? How safe are they?

Tampons are not very user friendly. It has to be inserted and if not done with clean hands and in a clean surrounding has a potential to cause infections. Some women tend to forget tampons inside which can get disastrous. Blood is a good culture medium, and in a warm and moist climate, especially in unclean surroundings, it favours the growth of microbes. It never became a popular choice and does not go down well with the cultural temperament of majority of Indians. So presently pads are a more viable option and must be promoted in the country.
For those who cannot buy pads, either they are made available to them through a government initiative, else they have to use clean clothes and dispose them off properly.

Used sanitary napkins are one category of waste nobody wants to talk about. They finally end up in landfills. Apart from the wood pulp used, chlorine bleach is a key ingredient used to whiten the pulp. There are concerns about it being an environmental hazard. The solution would lie in developing and using alternatives like Shecup , reusable sanitary napkins made from cloth and biodegradable sanitary napkins. Most biodegradable napkins are less expensive and eco-friendly.

6. What are the side effects of birth control pills or any other medication taken to control the menstrual cycle? How do these medications work?

 

Birth control pills work by preventing ovulation. They have an added effect on making the endometrium or the lining of the uterus less receptive to any embryo. They change our hormonal milieu and hence reduce the amount of bleeding. This can be a desirable affect for those having excessive bleeding. Moreover in a country where iron deficiency anemia is prevalent, this is an advantage. But in some women who already have decreased amount of bleeding ,it further reduces the flow and becomes a matter of concern. For some, menstrual blood is impure blood that needs to get removed every month and hence they become worried. They just need to be counseled and reassured.
Women who gain weight develop hormonal disturbances and start skipping periods and have reduced bleeding. Women tend to take it otherwise and believe they are getting fat because of not bleedin g. Again this myth needs to be busted. It is sedentary lifestyle and improper diet that causes most menstrual problems.

Social taboo of an unspoken topic will always be a roadblock towards incorporating changes. It shall need a lot of counselling and spreading awareness. And more than anything it will need an open mind.


In collaboration with Aakar Innovations, The Better India is setting up a sanitary pad manufacturing unit in Ajmer, Rajasthan, that will not only produce eco-friendly or biodegradable sanitary pads, but will also employ women from rural communities around the area.

Contribute for the campaign here.

Unable to view the above button? Click here


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Written by Tripti Sharan

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Tripti Sharan, a medical doctor and author of the book 'Chronicles of a Gynaecologist' is a gynaecologist and obstetrician by profession, and a writer in her moments of introspection.As she strives to empower women by promoting health and awareness, her biggest challenge has been getting past the stereotypes and overcoming the misogyny prevalent in the society.