Menstrual Cup Leaks - Oh No!
You’ve finally made the decision to leave tampons and cloth pads behind you in favor of an eco-friendly, clean alternative. Congratulations!
Unfortunately, the blissfully leak-free experience you anticipated doesn’t appear to be in the cards for you – perhaps your period is even messier than it was during your tampon and pad days, and your trusty Ruby Cup or Sckoon is still ruining your favorite underwear.
This is far from uncommon among women new to the cup experience. In fact, many menstrual cup instructions provide disclaimers that it often takes more than a few times to really nail down the insertion process and avoid pesky leaking.
Before abandoning your menstrual cup altogether, figure out why you’re leaking so that you can find your personal, leak-free solution.
Four Reasons your menstrual cup is leaking
Reason 1: Your cup isn’t inserted properly
This is by far the most common cause for menstrual cup leaking. Quite simply, menstrual cups take some serious getting used to. For women accustomed to tampons, their insertion practice is usually relegated to a haphazard one-finger shove up the vaginal canal; menstrual cup insertion, on the other hand, requires much more finesse and care, especially for novices.
In many cases, improper insertion occurs when the menstrual cup isn’t landing in the correct spot. This confusion can be alleviated by a simple anatomy lesson: the vaginal canal links the uterus to the vaginal opening, and the cervix is essentially a barrier between the uterus and vagina. During the period, blood flows through a tiny hole and into the vaginal canal, and the location of the cervix ensures that your menstrual cup, or any other menstrual item of choice, can't get lost.
The Cup vs. The Tampon
Let's compare the cup to one of the most common products on the period market: the tampon. The menstrual cup sits under the cervix so that it can collect your blood when you menstruate (and in an ideal scenario, prevent pesky leaks).
The cervix typically sits fairly high in the vagina, with some exceptions (see Reason #3), so the menstrual cup usually pops open beneath this barrier.
Tampons, on the other hand, typically sit much closer to this barrier, hence some of the discomfort often associated with that insertion process.
One of the simplest ways to prevent leakage and improve your cup experience is to simply get to know your body. Do some research on female reproductive anatomy, look at diagrams and pictures, watch YouTube videos – anything to help you visualize how your menstrual cup sits in the body, and by extension, why it's leaking.
Reason 2: It isn’t “popping” open
The “pop” is a descriptor for that magical moment when a menstrual cup finds it sweet spot beneath the cervix and flowers open. Visually, this process makes sense. Fold the cup so that it’s small enough to fit inside your vaginal walls, then let go and wait for the pop.
There are numerous ways to fold the cup, however, and they’re all perfectly valid – for different women. Everyone’s muscle tone is unique, so certain folds may not allow for that desired pop, leading to icky menstrual cup leaking.
The only solution here is to just keep practicing and try a different fold. Here’s a brief breakdown of the pros and cons of two of the more popular folding methods:
- The C Fold: This is one of the simplest options. All it involves is folding your cup in half, forming the titular C shape. Unlike other options, however, the C fold isn’t very economical when it comes to space: it’s fairly wide, which can make inserting it into the vagina somewhat uncomfortable.
- The punch-down fold: This essentially involves pushing down one side of the rim of the cup, then squeezing the sides together. Unlike the C fold, this option makes for a very narrow end-product, so insertion may feel much easier. The potential downside to this option is that it can be harder to pop open completely, due to how compact the folding process is.
Still Not Working?
If you’ve cycled through these options and still haven’t found your perfect fold, you may need to do some simple adjusting.
One simple way to achieve that desired pop is to rotate the menstrual cup and wiggle it from left and right while tugging the base of the cup lightly downward. Once it's properly inserted, you should be able to feel pressure from the suction when you try to pull it downward. You can also run your finger around the outside of the menstrual cup: if you feel a slight crease, it's likely preventing the formation of a vacuum, so you'll need to remove and reinsert.
Reason 3: Your cervix is low
Every woman's anatomy is unique, so if the many tips and tricks you've played with aren't leading to results, your body may simply be built differently. Most cup instructions are written for women with high cervixes, but if yours lies low, you'll likely encounter more of a learning curve with your cup, subsequently leading to unnecessary leaking. Cervix height and swelling can also change during different parts of the cycle, so what works one day may not work the next.
If you have a low or hanging cervix, your menstrual cup may be too long, making it very easy to push rim of the cup into the side rather around the cervix itself. Alternatively, the cervix may end up sitting inside the cup itself. If you suspect this to be a problem, simply run your finger around the cup's rim to see if you've missed the cervix, in which case simply pinch the base of the cup and pull until it's below the cervix. Then angle the cup towards your cervix and do another finger check to ensure that everything is sitting properly.
What Else Does This Mean?
A high cervix also means you may need to simply empty your product more frequently or consider a larger size, as the cervix is dipping into the cup and taking away valuable room for blood.
Reason 4: Your cup is the wrong size
For the most part, standard-sized menstrual cups provide ample room to collect all your menstrual fluid within a 12-hour period. For some women, however, a heavy flow means that the menstrual cup doesn't have the necessary capacity.
There are two simple solutions if you believe this to be the case. First, try emptying your menstrual cup more frequently during your heavy days. This adjustment means that you'll probably need to resort to occasionally having to rinse your cup in a public restroom, however. If this sounds unappealing, or if you have such a heavy flow that this tip doesn't do the trick, consider buying a higher capacity cup. The average menstrual cup holds around 20 ml of blood, while larger sizes can hold anything from 37 to 42 ml – much greater than a tampon or pad's capacity. Finally, you may need a backup option for these particularly heavy days, such as a pantyliner or period underwear.
I'm still leaking!
If you've poked and prodded, wiggled and tugged and tried every menstrual cup option on the market, but leaks are still resulting in a messy period, you may need to consider another option.
Say you like the idea of an eco-friendly product that's light on leaks but heavy on comfort, but the menstrual cup continues to let you down and you don't want to return to pads.
Enter the menstrual disc.
Unlike a menstrual cup, discs like FLEX sit in the vaginal fornix, the widest part of the canal. Menstrual cups which use suction to stay in place (and require pinching the bottom of the cup to remove), whereas discs work with your natural anatomy to stay in place behind your pubic bone.
Discs are not only less complicated when it comes to placement, but also require far less trial and error. Say farewell to testing fold after fold to find your perfect method. With a disc, simply pinch and insert.
What’s So Great About A Menstrual Disc?
Although the benefits of menstrual discs are many, three stand out: cleaning, sex, and cramps. Menstrual cups regular emptying and cleaning, as well as the occasional boiling in water to prevent bacterial buildup and infection. This makes for some awkward bathroom experiences and a fairly messy process overall; even though the product is reusable, you'll end up using plenty of toilet paper to make up for the pads you're replacing.
Discs are disposable, so there's no need for disinfecting or upkeep. And, because they last for 12 hours, discs produce 60% less waste than tampons and pads do.
Leaks at a glance
Discs vs. Cups
Menstrual cups also sit low enough that they need to be removed for vaginal intercourse. Alternatively, the placement of discs allows for no-mess, no-leak sex, and by extension, no mood-dampening runs to the bathroom or awkward towel sex. Finally, discs are comfortable, with no additional discomfort after insertion.
Discs vs. Tampons
Tampons, in contrast, are stiff and don't mesh with your body's natural movements; discs often eliminate unnecessary cramping, leading to a comfortable experience, even on your heavy days.
Discs vs. Gravity
These perks are all fine and good, but what about the holy grail of menstrual product needs: protection from leakage? Menstrual discs, provided they're inserted properly, do not overflow or leak.
Discs require far less trial and error than menstrual cups do, so you won't notice any spotting during your first few cycles with the product.
There’s no need to shop around for the proper size; discs hold blood up to five times that of tampons, so even with a heavy flow, there's no need to worry about leaks.
The Bottom Line on Menstrual Cup Leaks
Every woman's body and menstruation is different, so it takes some research to determine which product is perfect for you. Despite what health classes and TV ads may imply, tampons and cloth pads are far from the only options on the market. If you're looking for a product that results in little to no leaking, we guarantee it's out there – but it might not be in the form of a Super Jennie or LENA Cup. Quite simply, menstrual cups leak, and sometimes even diligent practice can't eliminate the problem.
The Flex Company offers a great alternative, with many of the same benefits: they are odor-free, eco-friendly, and perfect for women with heavy periods. It also, however, has plenty of perks that you won't find with reusable products -- most notably, a leak-free, comfortable cycle.